Updated: Jul 8, 2020
One autumn afternoon nearly a decade ago, two girls were gathering nuts with their arms looped through old easter baskets. The blonde girl’s mother picked up her hours later, and in the car, the girl noticed pink bumps on her arms. Her mother told her that they were probably hives from the mold on the nuts or from the nuts themselves. Two years later, a positive radioallergosorbent test (or RAS test) for a pecan and walnut allergy changed the blonde girl’s life forever. She would have to read the labels on everything from candy bars and cereal to cheese and bakery goods. Another positive RAS test for nearly every type of nut including peanuts only added to her eating difficulties.
Every time she declined a dessert, she had to explain her food allergies and became discouraged when no one understood her other than her parents and younger brother (who suffered from the same allergies). As the blonde girl grew up, she learned what kind of questions to ask and how to read food labels. She felt like her allergies were an inconvenience to everyone around her. Her peers told her just to eat nuts anyway, and to inject herself with her Epi-Pens.
Epi-Pens are not allergy shots. No, it would not be worth it to “risk it” just to eat something nutty again.
I am that little blonde girl. My name is Hannah, and I have suffered from food allergies for nearly my entire life. Before it was peanuts and tree nuts, I had an egg allergy which I thankfully outgrew. I was born and raised in Middle Georgia, where everyone seems to cover everything from cinnamon rolls to brownies with nuts. It is frustrating walking into restaurants, only to have to leave because they cannot cater to my needs. More often than not, they make you feel like you are an inconvenience instead of admitting to their own incompetence and laziness.
Your allergies are not a preference or an inconvenience. You are not the problem, your allergies are. Though allergies affect nearly every part of our lives, they do not have to control us. Yes, you can eat out with your friends, you can have frozen yogurt—from the frozen food section of the grocery store—and yes, you can have that fancy coffee drink. You may have to ask people to jump through a few extra hoops to ensure your safety, but it’s so worth it to drink that iced mocha.
My gluten-free journey began in 2005 when I was in third grade. My mom was always super sick, and one day, she went in for a biopsy to determine if she had Celiac Disease. When the test came back positive, my parents decided to have my brother and I tested. We both tested positive for the autoimmune disorder and both began eating a strict gluten-free diet. At the time, “gluten-free” was unheard of. My family no longer went out for fancy dinners, ate fast food, or participated in school and work lunches. We resorted to eating baby food because we had no convenient products available to us.
I was tested again, but this time, I tested negative for Celiac. I was excited that I no longer has to follow the terrible gluten-free diet. Little did we know at the time that the Celiac panel only showed positive results when the body is exposed to gluten. I had been eating gluten-free for so long my body was able to heal itself. I didn’t think anything of the test, so I resumed my diet of Oreos and pizza.
In 2011, while I was in tenth grade, my favorite meal at the school cafeteria was mac and cheese--which I ate almost daily. I went on a family trip to Disney World (a company that is currently extremely helpful to those with food allergies) and we ate at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. I ate the chicken nuggets while my mom and brother ate whatever sad excuse of gluten-free meals were available at the time. Over the course of the trip, it became increasingly difficult to eat food. Gluten had been harming my body so much so that I was unable to swallow the nuggets I was trying to eat. My mom recommended I tried eating gluten-free for the rest of the trip. When I suddenly felt better, that was when I knew I most likely had Celiac or some form of gluten intolerance.
Growing up in a gluten-free home and with huge lifestyle changes at a time when there were few to no resources about our condition was difficult. Our classmates were not understanding of our reaction to the smallest cross-contamination. It was heartbreaking at the time, and still is, to be offered birthday cake and having to explain why I can’t eat it. I have been forced to pay for events that include food I cannot eat. A local entertainment complex asked me to leave when I brought in my own food due to their lack of gluten-free food items. I ate my food in my car in the parking lot while my co-workers enjoyed pizza inside.
I want to be able to roll out of bed in the morning and run to Krispy Kreme for a doughnut. I want to eat burgers, and sushi with friends, and eat funnel cakes at the fair. Growing up, I wished I could do all the things “normal kids” were doing but I couldn’t. I wanted to find resources to prove to myself that people with this lifestyle were thriving, but results were limited.
I am so excited to be able to share my experiences with the gluten-free lifestyle, and hope that I am able to help people who are just starting out and feeling hopeless!
Our purpose with Eating Confidently is to help guide young people, and those new to food allergies on how to adjust to their new lifestyle. Though we have years of experience in dealing with food allergies and intolerances, it never gets easier. Our hope is that we can instill confidence in you so that you feel that you have control over your allergies, whatever they may be! So, if you want to join us, buckle up, and let’s take control over your allergies!