3 Tips for Dating Someone with Food Allergies

Imagine you’re finishing up a date with someone who has food allergies, and you two are just about to say goodnight after a perfect summer evening together. You lean in for your first kiss — but wait. If you’re not thinking about what you recently ate, you should be. The last thing you want is to end the night in the hospital or later find out that you left your date with puffy, itchy lips (or tongue, too, if you really got after it).

Maybe you’re reading this because you’re prepping for a date with someone with food allergies. Or maybe you’re just curious. There are 15 million Americans with food allergies, and the number is growing every year. Odds are you’ll date someone with food allergies at least once in your lifetime. So take it from someone with severe food allergies and years of dating experience: Here are the 3 main things you need to know.

1. Never Surprise Them with Dinner Plans

Don’t make reservations at a restaurant or invite your date to your place for dinner without asking them first. Even if they already told you about their food allergies, you don’t always know the severity. They might have even downplayed it at an attempt to not scare you off right away (I know I’m definitely guilty of that).

Food doesn’t even need to be involved right off the bat. Dazzle your date with some out-of-the-box date ideas. Take an art class, go the zoo or a museum, get tickets for a local concert. Or, ask what they’d like to do. You can say something like, “I know you have food allergies; is there anywhere you’d prefer to go for dinner? Or would you rather do something else that doesn’t involve food?”

After a few dates, a great option is to invite your date over to your place to make dinner together. This lets your date show you how they make their meals, plus gives you a hands-on chance to understand what it takes to keep them safe. What ingredients can you not use? Do you have to clean all utensils and pans, first? What’s a substitute for milk? Turn on some music, break out the wine and let your date be your guide.

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2. Listen to Learn, Not to Respond

Of course, on any date you should be off your phone and attentively listening. But when it comes to someone with food allergies, they’ll need your full focus. It could mean their life.

To get the ball rolling, ask an open-ended questions like, “Can you tell me about your food allergies and what I should know?” They’ll tell you what you need to know, without feeling like you’ve invaded their privacy or asked the wrong questions.

Also ask what to do in an emergency. This not only shows your date that you care and are interested in them, but also helps you prepare for the worst. How do you use their EpiPen and where do they keep it? What do you do in case they have a reaction when they’re with you? When you’re on a date, even if it doesn’t involve any food, you never know if some kid will come along and throw his ice cream everywhere, or if a woman on the train will spill her bag of mixed nuts on your date.

And, for the love of God, do not, I repeat, do NOT bring up your own, or anyone else’s, dietary preferences. Unless you also have food allergies, nothing about your diet can compare to what your date has to deal with on a daily basis. So fight the urge to add your two cents. While they may be polite about it, your date will most likely be turned off when you bring up a classmate you once knew who had food allergies. Or how one time you thought you were allergic to milk, but it just went bad and you got sick after drinking it. I mean what are we supposed to say to that? Are you trying to tell us that you can relate? Because you can’t. So don’t listen to respond. Listen to learn.

Bonus tip: Don’t make jokes. I’ll explain with a personal story.

I once went on a date with a guy to go out for drinks. When we got there, he ended up ordering food. He apologized and said he was starving, and I told him to go ahead. I didn’t want him to not eat just because I wasn’t eating, but I still couldn’t help but be turned off by it. Like he really couldn’t have eaten before? Anyway, he was looking at the menu, and, I shit you not, here’s what he said:

“So, do you have to be careful about not pissing off boyfriends or roommates? Like, it’d be so easy to poison and kill you, haha.”

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My point is, even if you think you’re being funny and harmless and breaking the ice, jokes about dying from food allergies are just poor taste. Your date has barely gotten to know you and right off the bat you’re downplaying the reality that their food allergies could in fact kill them? Think it through.

3. Have “The Talk”

For people with food allergies, “the talk” needs to be tweaked a bit. You both know about the birds and the bees, but what you may not know is how long to wait until you can kiss your date after eating something their allergic to. Research shows that, for peanut allergies, you should wait 4.5 hours to kiss. Every person’s allergies are different, so just ask.

You’re probably thinking, Lauren, there’s no way I’m doing that; it’s too awkward. I feel you, but it’s a hell of a lot less awkward to ask first instead of later trying to explain to his or her parents at the hospital why they’re being treated because you blindfolded their son or daughter and used whip cream in the bedroom and, well, yeah.

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It’s important to understand that someone with food allergies isn’t trying to make your life difficult. We put a lot of trust in you when you ask us out. And if we think you’re worth the effort of explaining our food allergies to you, that’s a huge step in the right direction.

People with food allergies have learned to be extremely independent, so as long as you let your date handle their allergies their way and offer your support, you crazy kids just might have a shot.

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What’s So Scary About Food Allergies?

If you ask Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a food allergy is a serious medical condition. A food allergy is also considered a disability under federal laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

It is not to be confused with a food sensitivity or intolerance (both refer to digestive problems after eating a certain food). Unlike food allergies, food intolerances do not involve the immune system.

Food allergies are IgE mediated, meaning that the immune system produces excessive amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE for short). These IgE antibodies fight the “enemy” food allergens by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which trigger the symptoms, including anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a type of reaction involving difficulty breathing, reduced blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, and, ultimately, throat closing, which could lead to death if not immediately treated with epinephrine.

Delays in getting this medicine can result in death in as little as 30 minuets. More so, up to 20% of patients have a second wave of symptoms hours or even days after their initial symptoms (this is called biphasic anaphylaxis).

Contrary to popular belief, the EpiPen is not meant for one-time use or to stop a reaction on its own. If an EpiPen is needed, you must call 911 to get further care. Sometimes, even two injections of an EpiPen are needed (which means people with food allergies should carry two EpiPens at all times).

There is no cure for food allergies, and the number of people with food allergies is seriously growing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased about 50% from 1997 to 2011. There is no clear answer why.

For now, the best that people with food allergies can do is to avoid their allergens at all costs.

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3 Comebacks to Food Allergy Bullies

First of all, if you haven’t seen this part of the Freaks & Geeks episode where Allan the bully sneaks peanuts onto Bill’s (who’s severely allergic to peanuts) sandwich during lunch, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch.

Now, I use the word “bullies” because “people who think they’re being funny or are just too curious or clueless” was too long for a title. I experienced this often in school, and even still today, for my allergies to milk and tree nuts.

I don’t believe they ever had malicious intent, like Allan. I think they were just under-educated on food allergies and over-curious. And who’s to blame them?

My younger cousin once asked, so what does your food allergy mean? I told him that if milk were to touch me, I’d get red itchy bumps all over, and if I drank it, I’d die. He seemed to ponder this for a moment, then next thing I knew he poured his glass of milk on top of my head. 

A few years later when I entered high school, I tried explaining my food allergies to a group of girls at lunch. One girl simply did not believe me. She looked at her bag of Cheetos then asked, “So if I were to touch you with a Cheeto, you’d just break out in hives?” Having a flashback to when I tried to logically explain my allergy to my cousin, I decided to go with humor this time. I replied, “Yes. I mean, you could find out for yourself, but then you’d have to explain to my biology teacher why I missed her class.” She rubbed the Cheeto on my leg. 

But in both cases, I ended up getting an apology with a side of a bouquet of flowers the very next day. My cousin said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that you’d get red itchy bumps.” My classmate said, “I’m sorry, I seriously thought you were joking!”

It comes down to making your allergies a very real risk to the “bullies.” And the bullying doesn’t always come in the form of physical torment. In fact, most of the time, people just absent-mindedly say things without thinking about how it would make you feel.

So here are three of the top things people say that’s condescending to people with food allergies, and confident responses.

The skeptic: Come on, just try it. How bad could your reaction be, really?

You say: I could die. My throat could close up, I could lose consciousness, and then you’d have to inject my EpiPen with a giant needle into my thigh, call 911, and explain to the paramedics and my family how you pressured me to “just try it.”

The downer: Oh my GOD! How can you live without milk? I’d kill myself if I couldn’t drink milk. Your life must suck.

You say (with a smile): I love my life. And because I eat so healthy I’ll probably even out-live you!

The vapid: I totally understand your food allergy. I’m vegetarian.

You say: Oh, congratulations on your decision. Also, if you eat meat, will your throat close so that you can’t breathe? Could you die from eating a hamburger?

Unfortunately, there will be just plain mean people out there – kids and adults alike – that simply won’t get it, no matter how you respond. They’ll be manipulative, pressuring, or condescending. They’ll chase you down the halls with a peanut butter cookie or try to get you to have a reaction.

When extreme measures need to be taken, there is no shame in getting help: your HR department, your teacher, your parent/guardian, the bully’s parent/guardian. Consider showing them a video (like the one above) to visually show them what could happen. Explain the consequences to them if they continue to bully. There should be a zero-tolerance for any kind of bullying, especially when your life is at risk.

Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) has great tips and a 30 second video for anti-bullying. Check out their page: Food Allergy Bullying: It’s Not a Joke.

Younger kids (or adults who really love Disney), build confidence with your food allergies. 

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Students with Food Allergies Face Bullying – ABC7 Eyewitness News

Monday, May 23

Key Takeaways

“It made me scared when kids would chase me around and say they had peanut butter and all of that,” said Thomas Majka, who was bullied at school when he was in the second grade when he was so allergic to peanut butter that a tiny amount could cause a life-threatening reaction.

Majka’s mother, Eleanor Garrow-Holding, said her already vulnerable son faced daily dangerous harassment.”One boy at lunch smeared peanut butter on the back of Thomas’s neck,” said Garrow-Holding, president/CEO of Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT). “They also took his medicine at lunch a few times because they thought it was funny.”

She runs an allergy outreach website with an important message: “There needs to be zero tolerance across the board for bullying, period.”

“It can look like chasing in the playground with their allergen. It can look like repetitive asking over and over. ‘Why can’t you eat it? Come on and try it. Just try it. I don’t believe it will really hurt you. It probably won’t. Give it a try,'” said Dr. Sarah Boudreau-Romano, an allergist at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

One explanation for the harassment is that the bullies don’t like being told they can’t bring certain foods to school

“She was scared to be in her classroom,” Cindy said. “She was scared and felt awkward.”

FAACT and Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has a national campaign underway aimed at curbing food allergy bullying.


 

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4 Disney Quotes to Build Confidence in Kids with Food Allergies

Ah, the magic of Disney. Where dreams come true right before your eyes as you cuddle under a Lion King blanket with a bowl of popcorn (maybe non-buttered) in your lap. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s learned countless life lessons from these classics from an early age… and into adulthood. So to better help kids embrace their food allergies and build confidence, here are four Disney quotes to live by.

1. Born with the powers, or cursed?

“Born with the powers, or cursed?” asked the troll to Princess Elsa’s parents in Frozen.

As with most Disney quotes I find remarkably applicable to my life, this one takes the non-dairy cake when it comes to my food allergies. Yes, I was born with life-threatening food allergies to milk and tree nuts, but that’s not the point of this metaphor. My point comes down to perspective: Are food allergies a power, or a curse? Quite frankly, it’s a matter of choice.

Kids, I want to make this very clear: When you live with severe food allergies, one thing you can’t always choose is what you eat, or you risk your life. But you can choose to not let your allergies dictate your days. You can choose power over curse.

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2. Hakuna Matata

“Hakuna matata. It’s our motto!” Pumba said in The Lion King.

“What’s a motto?” Simba inquired.

“Nothin’! What’s a motto with you?” Timone howled.

We all know it means no worries. (Is the song stuck in your head yet?) But this could mean a little more for kids facing daily roadblocks constructed by food allergies. Keeping a positive attitude and beaming a big smile are the two ingredients to making a sour situation sweet.

Take this story, for instance. One day when I was a kid, I got really discouraged when a classmate brought birthday cupcakes to share that I couldn’t eat. But before I shed any tear or grew any green horns, I remembered, “Hakuna matata.” Was I going to sit and pout alone at my desk? Or shake it off, slap on a smile, and join in the birthday celebration? Just because my face wouldn’t be covered in frosting didn’t mean I couldn’t have fun.

Parent tip: When I went home and told my parents about that day, they asked the teacher for a copy of my class birthday schedule. Whenever someone had a birthday, my parents sent me to the bus with my own treat in my backpack!

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3. You must not let anyone define your limits.

Gusteau said this in Ratatouille, a movie all about overcoming obstacles to follow your dream, which in Gusteau’s case was becoming a chef. When you have food allergies, yes, you are physically limited in what you can and cannot eat. But you should not let others, or yourself, set limits to what you want to do in life because they or you think things will be “too hard” with your food allergy.

Got invited to a birthday party? RSVP yes. Have to sit away from your friends at the peanut-free table during lunch? No big deal, you’ll see them at recess. Want to play a sport? No problem, and those concessions sell really unhealthy food anyway. Traveling? Easier than you may think.

Follow your dreams and do what you please, but not based on your allergies.

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4. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Doesn’t your heart just tingle from this one? Christopher Robin said this to Winnie the Pooh. You’re braver than you believe, even when you’re afraid of eating the wrong thing and having a reaction, or regularly having to go to the doctor to get tested and re-tested for allergies. You’re stronger than you seem, even when you do have a reaction, you will be strong enough to survive it. You’re smarter than you think, even when kids are pressuring you to just try a bite of their lunch, or you have to explain your allergies to someone (even a grown-up).

Parent tip: My mom hung a cut-out picture of this quote on our refrigerator. Every time I went to search for a snack and my eyes met a gallon of milk, I was reminded of this quote.

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Being a kid with food allergies is hard. Very hard. Take it from me, it takes a lot of practice to keep a positive attitude every day. But confidence is the key to showing the world that your food allergies are your power, not your curse.

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