Saturday, April 5, 2014

Guest Post: What Most People Don't Understand About Food Allergies

While Jen is dealing with her own egg allergies and trying to get her toddler's CSID under control, Jane reveals what it's like to live with an adult with serious food allergies.  While most of us can graze on whatever is on the free food table at work (really who doesn't say "Doughnuts..!  I shouldn't but....") And many of us can freely orient our social situations around drinking, snacking, and eating.  For some, meals are a gauntlet.

 Jane is a 30-something teacher who lives with her husband and naughty cat in Wisconsin.

Food and Food and Food
Food is so important to our culture.  There is rarely a social engagement that goes by that doesn't include some sort of food as part of it – breaking bread is a social ritual, after all.  My husband has gluten intolerance and many, many food allergies and the impact of food restrictions on our lives cannot be understated. We come late to avoid being part of the meal, we pre-eat ahead of time so we're not starving and we only pick at what is almost certainly (but of course not certainly) safe, and we have people over to our house, but don't let them touch anything in our kitchen.  If we are completely honest with ourselves, even if someone swears they cooked a gluten free meal, we don't believe them. It's so easy to forget to check that packet of spices you threw in the crock pot or to use that same cookie sheet you've been making pizzas on for years.  Cross contamination has happened in our kitchen and we're pretty sure you're not as scrupulous as we are.

We want to make friends and be social, but the challenges are sometimes overwhelming.  We've yet to go to a restaurant here where he hasn't gotten sick.  People keep sending us links to restaurants with GF options and we appreciate it, we really do, but the truth is that those places may have options, but they rarely have entirely GF kitchens.  It's the cross contamination that the problem, really.  Pots and pans and measuring cups have tiny cracks and crevices where the grains hide and they infiltrate his food.

There have been a couple of studies released recently citing a decrease in quality of life for folks with Celiac. It's certainly true here in our house. We've essentially taken travel outside of the US off any long term plans.  We eat the same thing here for breakfast and lunch and our variations for dinner are so minute that many of you would shake your heads in disapproval.  But one incident of "gluten poisoning" and he's unable to work/sleep/live life for two days.

Plus, and this is what really sucks the most, Celiac is an autoimmune disorder. He is chronically ill.  He is underweight. An illness that has me feeling pukey for a day or two knocks him on his feet for weeks.  He is constantly thinking about food and how he can force himself to consume 2400 calories a day to maintain his (under)weight.  I am constantly thinking about food and how I can sneak in another 400 calories a day because that's what the dietician said he needs to actually gain weight.  His body does not absorb nutrients and vitamins and I'm constantly worried about the long term effects of malabsorption on his body. And let's not even get started on all the other conditions that seem to be related to Celiac that also make his life miserable (food allergies, esophageal maladies, and other gastrointestinal issues) and contribute to a never-ending sense of doom in the pit of my stomach.

So, the reason I write this is not to have people feel pity for us. We are happy. We are active. We are the proud owners of a slightly naughty tabby cat.  We are fully capable of meeting with friends and discussing how we don’t know who Bruno Mars is.  We watch the State of the Union address and scream about how we got from “yes we can” to “eh, maybe this will pass Congress or maybe not.” 
I write this because I don't want you to feel badly when I constantly turn down your invitations to dinner.  It's not you, it's me.  I don't want you to be alarmed when the cooler is packed with food when we come to visit you and we eat out of the cooler. It's not you, it's me. I want the servers and cooks and chefs to understand that we when send the salad back because of the croutons, it is not acceptable to just pick them out and send it back to us. Those tiny grains are slowly killing my husband.  He's not "being picky." He's not trying to make a scene. When you come to our house and I recoil when you stick your hand into a bag of potato chips.  It’s not you, it’s me. 

I'm asking for tolerance for our quirky food behavior.  It's not you, it's me.

-Jane from Wisconsin

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