My ‘a-ha’ moment about food allergies

Posted on March 15th, 2011 by Alison | Posted in Emotions, Food Allergies | Read 1 Comment - Add Your Own »

attunefoodsbrandam_buttonThe Attune Foods theme this month, “Your a-ha moment,” inspired me to write about when I realized my daughter’s food allergies were real and how I became an allergy mom.

I didn’t know how serious food allergies could be until my daughter’s lips swelled after contact with someone who had been eating cashews. She was two and a half at the time and I didn’t know anyone with food allergies. Looking back, I feel lucky that the worst didn’t happen since we were in Mexico without proper medication. It was after that incident that I began to take food allergies seriously. It was an ‘a-ha’ moment: food allergies are real. And scary.

To read the rest of this article, please visit me over at Attune Foods. Don’t forget to leave me a comment!

First allergic reaction at school

Posted on September 7th, 2010 by Alison | Posted in Babies & Kids, Emotions, Food Allergies | Read 30 Comments - Add Your Own »

schoolkids1Well, it happened. My daughter had an allergic reaction on her 6th day of 1st grade. She never had a reaction when she was in kindergarten at the same school, and at first I couldn’t even figure out what had happened. But the mystery has been solved and I am left wondering how far I should go to protect my daughter.

Here’s what happened:

The school called me to tell me that my daughter was coughing and couldn’t stop, that she had left class and was in the office. They gave her water, but that didn’t help. I wasn’t thinking food allergy at all. I was thinking that she had a tickle in her throat, or maybe allergies to pollen. I didn’t react like it was an emergency. I headed for the school.

When I reached the school, her coughing had gotten worse and she couldn’t stop. Her breathing was affected, but she told me that she hadn’t eaten any food yet that day (it was still early). I was still trying to figure out what could have happened and asked her a bunch of questions as I drove her home. She was still coughing uncontrollably. At home I gave her Benadryl and waited. Luckily, her coughing gradually subsided and her breathing was better.

Later that day I spoke to the teacher and told her that I couldn’t figure out what happened to my daughter but that it seemed like an allergic reaction. The teacher’s eyes got wide and she said, “Ask her if she was playing with Julia. She had a big glob of peanut butter on her shirt and I sent her to the bathroom to wash it off.”

Now, my daughter has never had peanuts in her life, nor has she had a reaction to peanuts. She tested positive for peanuts on the allergy test along with other nuts, so we are very careful, but it has never been tested in real life. Until now.

I asked her if she had played with Julia. No, she said. I asked her again if she played with Julia. No, she said again. Hmmm… I asked her if she touched her shirt by any chance? Yes! Why?? “Because her shirt was fuzzy and she said I could feel it if I wanted.” Bingo! Later I confirmed that the girl in her class had eaten some of her peanut butter sandwich at recess. My daughter touched the girls’s shirt right after recess and then her reaction started. Most likely my daughter put her fingers in her mouth as she sometimes does when she is doing her work.

According to the Food Allergy Action Plan given to me and to the school by our doctor, her coughing was a reaction that warranted the use of an epinephrine injection (Epi-Pen) because her throat and lungs were being affected, and the reaction can suddenly get more severe, leading to anaphylaxis. Because I didn’t think there was food involved, I was so slow to react. I’m not sure if I am in denial or just plain dumb, but this has been a real wake up call for me. I have a whole new perspective on the benefits of having a school be nut-free, but I am not sure I am ready to lead that fight, or even if I feel it is necessary, but it sure would be nice.

I know there are parents out there who feel that making a nut-free school puts a burden on them as parents of the non-nut-free kids. I know there are lots of children with issues surrounding food, but honestly, when you think about the fact that a child could die from touching a kid’s shirt, doesn’t it put things in perspective?

I don’t really know where I’m going with this post, but I hope to at least raise some awareness about the dangers that kids with food allergies face. If you know your child’s friend has a life-threatening food allergy, talk to your child about it and suggest that he/she doesn’t bring that food item to school. Just today, one of my daughter’s friends told her dad to pack her a salami sandwich instead of peanut butter so that she could sit near my daughter at lunch. Kids are amazingly receptive and thoughtful when it comes down to it.  The grown-ups sometimes are the ones who need the convincing!

A case of nut allergy karma?

Posted on August 20th, 2010 by Alison | Posted in Emotions, Food Allergies, Peanuts/Nuts Allergy | Read 3 Comments - Add Your Own »

nutsThis is amazing karma, but not the good kind…

Last year Joel Stein wrote an incredibly offensive piece about food allergies for the LA Times, to which I retaliated with my own article here, called What some (ignorant) people think about food allergies. Now, his own one year old son has been diagnosed with nut allergies.

There were many parents of children with food allergies who wished this karma on him. I didn’t, because I would never wish food allergies on anyone. Bluntly speaking (since this is how Stein likes to write), FOOD ALLERGIES SUCK! It is a burden for us as parents, for the kids themselves, and for pretty much everyone around them. As a parent of a first-grader with food allergies, I’m not sure how much Stein understands how challenging it really is yet, but at least now he believes food allergies are real!

He won’t be the last one that needs to be convinced about the reality of food allergies. Right now there is some kid sneaking peanut butter to school in his lunch because his parent packed it for him and told him to be quiet about it. We have more educating to do!

Read these other articles about Stein eating his words:

Is the gluten-free diet a fad or here to stay?

Posted on May 13th, 2010 by Alison | Posted in Celiac Disease, Emotions, Gluten Intolerance | Read 14 Comments - Add Your Own »

I can’t believe it has been three years since I posted an article called Is gluten-free a fad? Since then, more and more people have started eating gluten-free and it seems that the gluten-free world has just exploded wide open (finally!) And, just like three years ago, the gluten-free diet has been termed a fad diet in news articles, on blogs and in comments like this one posted on my site just a few days ago:

Of course this is a fad! …  If wheat or barley were unhealthy to the general population, I’m fairly certain we would’ve come to that conclusion over the last 6,000 years of cultivation. I guess we should all “make the choice” to not eat other things, like fruit (MANY food allergies related to fruit proteins) or any type of nut (nut allergies are much more common than celiac) or breathe the air which contains pollen (by far most common allergy) Come on people, think about this before you write ridiculous things, or decide not to eat an important group of foods. There is no doubt in my mind of “fad” status. Just like anti-sugar, pro-agave, or anti-gelatin, pro-pectin, whatever it may be. Most people ARE NOT SMART ENOUGH to think about these things, and come to their own sound conclusions, so PLEASE stop spreading the inane “hype” which only inflames the ignorance. IF YOU ARE DETERMINED TO BE GLUTEN INTOLERANT, DON’T EAT GLUTEN. IF NOT, FEEL FREE. Simple as that. Apply this to other food-allergy-related questions as necessary.

My response:

The fact is that we are eating more gluten than ever before. And more dairy. And more soy, etc. Even sesame allergies are increasing… why? Because people are consuming more and more sesame. Same goes for sugar consumption. So there is the reality that our environment (what we eat) is changing and our bodies cannot cope with the change.

Unless your statistics are different than mine, there are about the same number of people with nut allergies as there are with celiac. This doesn’t include the many more who are non-celiac gluten intolerant. Food allergies are also much different than gluten intolerance or celiac disease — with food allergies, you generally know right away that you are reacting to it. With intolerance or even celiac disease, the symptoms can be more subtle and can develop over time. There is no reason to avoid a food if you are not allergic or intolerant to it. But if you are, then you should.

It doesn’t take determination to be gluten intolerant, but it does take determination to get diagnosed, to recognize that gluten and other foods really are responsible for people’s ill health and to stay on the diet. I personally write about being gluten-free and hope to educate others so they don’t have to be sick like I was. It’s frustrating and depressing to think about relatives whose lives could have been longer and healthier if only we had known about the problems that gluten can cause.

I wonder why you are so anti-gluten-free?

I believe the logic that is being used to call the gluten-free diet a fad is as follows:
1% of the population has celiac disease (every article and doctor quotes the celiac statistic as this). Of this 1%, only 3% are diagnosed (another statistic often quoted). So clearly, more than just diagnosed celiacs are buying and eating gluten-free food. Therefore, the people buying gluten-free foods who are not celiacs don’t really need to be eating it and are doing it because it is popular or to lose weight.

Here is the key point that is missing from this logic and continues to be my frustration… there exist more people with gluten sensitivity than people with celiac disease! It is a real condition, just like celiac disease. Just because there are no official statistics does not mean that it doesn’t exist. And this will change in the next few years, I’m sure. (For more of my opinions on this, read Think Outside the Celiac Box.) People buy gluten-free food because it makes them feel better. Couldn’t this mean that they are gluten intolerant? That is my simple logic. Also, the definition of a fad is something that is embraced very enthusiastically for a short time. This gluten-free thing is not going away!

What do you think? Fad or here to stay? How would you respond to the commenter who seems to think that gluten-free people are pushing their agenda on others?

Share the gluten-free love

Posted on May 27th, 2009 by Alison | Posted in Celiac Disease, Emotions, Gluten Intolerance, Symptoms | Read 10 Comments - Add Your Own »

Graffiti Love by Tara Himler
Original painting by Tara Himler

I want to share a correspondence I recently had with a woman named Chanel in Atlanta, Georgia. It really touched me and also brought to my attention a problem that doesn’t get talked about — in fact, it is practically ignored in the celiac community. Chanel has given me permission to use both her story and name because she hopes that others will relate to her story.

Here is the first email I received:

May 7, 2009
“I have read your story and the info on your site. I just want to say, thank you so much for sharing your story and all the helpful information you have made available to the public. My symptoms sound exactly like yours, right down to the vitiligo. I am 26 now and I began having horrible stomach pain when I turned 21. The pain literally started on my birthday. I had symptoms which my doctor diagnosed as IBS aggravated by stress (this was not good news considering I had a very high stress job at the time). He told me there was nothing he could do for me. He said all I could do is try to get my stress level under control, eat more fiber and hope for the best. It was like my concerns were just brushed aside and forgotten. Like my pain didn’t matter to anyone but me. It seemed so unfair.

That summer I took up meditation in an attempt to get my obsessive compulsive behavior and stress under control. So I sat in the sunshine practicing my deep breathing techniques. This helped a little with the stress… until I started getting spots! As my shoulders began to tan I realized there were spots of my skin that wouldn’t. This fact was not conducive to my stress levels. I lost a lot of weight because the pain was so bad I just couldn’t eat! People thought I had an eating disorder because I was already thin to begin with. Finally the pain and stress was so bad that I had to quit my job.

I tried diets, I tried cutting out dairy, I tried exercise programs (which wouldn’t work because the pain would prevent me from exercising), I tried going back to doctors, I tried food combining, dietitians and books and supplements and everything under the sun!! Nothing worked!! Finally I saw the book, G-Free diet and found your review. I then went to your site and read pretty much everything there. I will be scheduling an appointment to be tested for gluten allergy and Celiac Disease. I have already started the “G-free diet” and have been G-free for about 3 days. I hope this is the answer because I can already tell a difference. I don’t know how long it took for you, but my pain level has already decreased. After 5 years of pain, discomfort, stress and tears, I finally have some hope… Thank You, Thank You, Thank You….”

What a wonderful feeling to get an email like that! After I wiped tears from my eyes, I realized that I should let her know that if she is going to get tested for celiac disease she should NOT be on a gluten-free diet before getting tested because it can produce a false negative result. I asked her if she had insurance and suggested that she get the test for celiac disease right away before she continues with the gluten-free diet. Her reply:

May 8, 2009
“No I do not have insurance. Unfortunately when I left my job for one less stressful, I also left my benefits behind. I am also about to go back to school. I start May 19, so you can imagine how difficult the idea is for me to start eating gluten again. If that is what is causing my problems, I definitely do not want to cause pain that could pull me out of class. For the time being, I plan on staying gluten-free until I can afford to go back to the doctor. I wish I could go tomorrow just to have a definitive answer but for now, I am on the 4th day of being gluten free and so far the pain has decreased every day. I couldn’t believe how good I felt this morning! My boyfriend says it is just good to see me smile again. Thanks!”

When I emailed her a week later to see how she was feeling she replied:

May 17
“I am still G-free and I am still smiling!”

I know how she feels. I know EXACTLY how she feels. When I first read about celiac disease, I knew I had found the answer and went gluten-free that very minute. I called my doctor’s office and told them that I wanted to be tested. The doctor called me back to tell me not to stop eating gluten yet. At that point I had already been gluten-free for a few days, and like Chanel, already felt better, and knew that I never wanted to eat gluten again. I was lucky that a) I had medical insurance, and b) I was able to see my doctor right away and get the tests, because if those two things hadn’t happened, I’m not sure I would have ever tested positive for celiac disease. I was not about to eat gluten again — it simply hurt too much.

I always tell people they should get the celiac blood test, but clearly there are cases where this is difficult for the person financially. My cousin ended up paying $500 out of pocket for the celiac panel for her daughter (which turned out to be negative despite her many health problems). I have received many emails from people without insurance asking for help because they are sick and want to try the diet.

There aren’t many options that I know of for people who can’t afford the testing. The Celiac Disease Foundation didn’t have any suggestions for me on the phone when I inquired about testing options for people without insurance. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness suggested that there are sometimes free screenings like at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. This is a good option, if one can get to Chicago on that particular day of the year. They also suggested contacting the closest celiac support group to see if they know of any opportunities offered through local health care providers. This is a good idea if such programs exist, if they are convenient, if the person would have any way of knowing about them and if they are running at the time the person is seeking testing.

Unfortunately, without that celiac test, many people are not given credibility for choosing to be on a gluten-free diet, even if it is for health reasons. People like Chanel are not doing it to follow a fad, or to lose weight (many are actually trying to gain weight). They are doing it because they are sick, and they are sick of being sick.

And yet, although they are dedicated to the diet,  they feel left out of support groups, conferences, etc. because they were never diagnosed with celiac disease. (I have received many emails telling me this.)

So, please — doctors, relatives, friends, colleagues — don’t hold it against Chanel and others like her that they are not officially “celiac.” Understand that the world of celiac testing is not perfect and not available to everyone. Believe them when they say they feel better being gluten-free. Welcome them into your support groups, include them in your research and your causes, and most importantly, share with them your gluten-free love!

Thank you, Chanel, for your story. I hope you continue to feel better!

What some (ignorant) people think about food allergies

Posted on January 12th, 2009 by Alison | Posted in Emotions, Food Allergies, Peanuts/Nuts Allergy | Read 18 Comments - Add Your Own »

Nut Allergies – A Yuppie Invention. This is the title of an ignorant and offensive piece of writing by Joel Stein, an LA Times writer who in his biography calls himself “desperate for attention.” Clearly.

Citing parents’ mass hysteria as the cause of most food allergies, he writes, “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special.” Deep breath — I will not allow myself to get worked up over this one man’s idiotic opinion, but unfortunately, he is not the only one who feels this way. I understand the questioning — everyone is baffled by food allergies, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real and that parents should be made to feel that somehow it is their fault.

I do feel special being a parent of a food allergy kid, but this isn’t the kind of special I would choose or the kind of special I “need” as the writer accuses. WHY ON EARTH would anyone want their child to have food allergies? It sucks. It’s not fun dropping your daughter off at a new school and the first thing you do is make sure the staff knows where the epinephrine autoinjector is and how to use it. It’s really not fun to have to decide whether to take your child to a birthday party and bring all your own food and be worried and on patrol, or just not go and not let your child get to experience the fun because it is safer and less worrisome and easier to stay home that day. No part of dealing with food allergies is fun or desirable or special in a Look-At-Me-I’m-Special kind of way. In fact, most of us try not to have our kid stand out. We try to blend in and pretend we’re not special at all. We bring our own cupcakes to the party and hope that they look just like the cupcakes every other kid is eating. Food companies are trying hard to make the allergen-free food look just like the “regular” foods so that allergy kids don’t feel different.

Here’s something really special, Mr. Stein, who once taught a class in humor writing: worrying that your child could die in 2 minutes if she eats the wrong thing. Special. And definitely something to make fun of, as you continue to do throughout the article. Maybe next time you could poke at diabetes or cancer — those diseases are HILARIOUS!


Gluten-free Christmas funny video

Posted on December 18th, 2008 by Alison | Posted in Emotions, Holidays/Special Events | Read 5 Comments - Add Your Own »

I just found this video called Gluten-Free Christmas and thought it was pretty funny. I love all the photos of the old-time holiday foods — so much gluten! Thank goodness we’ve got great gluten-free recipes these days… but I still wouldn’t want a fruitcake!

If you didn’t find this funny… if it made you depressed, perhaps you should read my article from last year:
Holiday Food Allergy Blues

Yes, I do cry sometimes

Posted on July 13th, 2008 by Alison | Posted in Babies & Kids, Emotions, Peanuts/Nuts Allergy, Symptoms | Read 7 Comments - Add Your Own »

People say to me “Wow, that must hard” when I tell them about my daughter ‘s food allergies. “Eh,” I say with a shrug, “you just do what you have to do.” And I almost never cry about it. (You can read about the last time I cried).

But last night, I read an article about a 30 year old guy who collapsed in anaphylactic shock and died after taking a bite out of a cookie that contained peanuts. He had 2 previous reactions in his life, according to the article: when he was 3 months old, he had a rash and blistering after peanut oil got on his skin, and when he was a little older, he had blistering in his mouth after eating a chocolate. Then, 29 years later, a fatal reaction.

After reading the article I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and my whole body tensed up. I went to talk to my father, a retired pediatrician, about the article (I was visiting my parents) and as I spoke, I began to cry. I’m not sure why this particular story affected me so much, but I think it was because of what Gina at Allergy Moms said about this story: “This is a tragic reminder that past reactions cannot predict the severity of future reactions…”

When my daughter was tested for cashews, her scratch test indicated she was allergic, but according to the allergist, the test is not a reliable indicator of the severity of the allergy. Then, her lips swelled one time after kissing someone who ate cashews. I asked the allergist about the need for an epi-pen, and he thought that I was being overly cautious. He didn’t think it was necessary because since she hadn’t had a systemic reaction, meaning that her blood pressure didn’t drop the first time, then she most likely is not at risk for anaphylactic shock. Most likely. Well, unless that doctor could tell me that there was a 100% certainty that my daughter is not at risk, I was getting that epi-pen prescription. My father and my daughter’s pediatrician agreed with me. Why not carry one? Plus, I don’t know what would happen if she actually ate a cashew. So I am erring (in the allergist’s mind I guess) on the side of caution.

One of the things that I uttered to my father through my my tears was “I feel like I’ve done everything that I can do for her, but then it’s out of my control.” There is a feeling of powerlessness that parents of food-allergic children have. We can control our immediate environment, but beyond that we have to hope that our children really understand the seriousness of their allergies, we have to rely on other people to remember the dangers, we have to trust that schools are prepared for an emergency, we have to have faith in grandparents and friends that they will not take it lightly, and then, after all that, we just have to pray that everything is going to be all right. (Breathe.)

I think we are allowed a little cry now and then, don’t you?

Celebrate freedom with an allergy-free BBQ!

Posted on July 1st, 2008 by Alison | Posted in Emotions, Food Ideas, Gluten Intolerance, Holidays/Special Events, Recipes & Cooking Tips, Symptoms | Read 8 Comments - Add Your Own »

The 4th of July is near. This makes me think of freedom… which makes me think of being allergy-free! Believe it or not, thinking of freedom from food allergies makes me joyous. Even though at times I feel a loss of freedom when I have to avoid gluten, or when my daughter can’t partake in the dessert being offered at a party, I prefer to think of the freedom from all the health problems we experienced before being allergy-free:

redstarsmall.jpgfor me, it means freedom from stomach pain, fatigue, leg cramps, asthma (and lots more)

starwhitesmall.jpgfor my husband, it means freedom from migraines (dating back to junior high), burning stomach, and acid reflux

starbluesmall.jpgfor my daughter, it means freedom from hives, rashes, a bad tummy and sudden tantrums

Now go celebrate your freedom with a good ol’ allergy-free barbecue! Here are some tips to make your summer BBQ a hit:


Barbecue sauces
If you like your meat saucy, just be sure to read labels for allergens — manufacturers are required to list the top 8 allergens in plain English on their labels (and Kraft brand will also list if there is barley, rye or oats for gluten-free people). My personal favorite barbecue sauces are

  • Daddy Sam’s (gluten-free and free of all top allergens) — spicy and delicious
  • Bone Suckin’ Sauce (gluten-free and free of all top allergens) — it’s got a sweetness along with a spiciness that is so good. Go ahead and buy some!

Gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns
I can’t say I have found any pre-made buns that I think are very good (please enlighten me if you have). My favorite buns I have made out of Pamela’s Amazing Wheat-Free Bread Mix. If you have English Muffin rings, you can use those for hamburger buns. If you don’t, just use tin foil to make a ring to fill with the bread dough.

I made hot dog bun molds out of aluminum foil and they turned out great. My advice is to make them skinny — mine turned out a little too big. I followed the bread directions, filled my molds and let them rise. I sprinkled sesame seeds on before baking and baked until they were done (normally this bread takes 60 minutes, so I think I baked them for 30 or 40, but it depends on the size of the buns). The result was a soft, not crumbly, bread-y bun.

Side dishes
For a refreshing and unique side dish try making a quinoa salad – it’s easy, delicious, and nutritious! Check out a quinoa salad recipe.

Roasted potatoes are a satisfying gluten-free side dish that everyone loves.

Gluten-free cornbread or biscuits also make a great accompaniment to the meal. Here are some I recommend:

glutenfreeapplepiesmall.jpgDon’t forget the gluten-free apple pie!

Have a happy 4th!

I don’t believe in colic!

Posted on June 1st, 2008 by Alison | Posted in Babies & Kids, Emotions, Food Allergies, Symptoms | Read 10 Comments - Add Your Own »

Knowing that I helped someone keeps me motivated to keep raising awareness about the effects of food on people’s health and happiness. Yesterday I received an email from a friend of mine thanking me. Here is what she said:

Now you’re probably wondering what I’m thanking you for. Well, in the last 2 weeks, my son has been an absolute angel. He is like a different child. Last night, he slept 8 hours and he’s not even 8 weeks old yet. After cutting dairy out of my diet, he was still a little bit fussy, so I experimented a little more and cut out soy & nuts (I was eating a lot of both) too and it’s been a miracle AND I would have never done any of that if it weren’t for you. He’s not congested anymore either. It makes me so happy that my little guy isn’t uncomfortable anymore. So that is why I’m thanking you.”

That makes me so happy! And confirms why I don’t believe in colic or that some babies are just really “fussy” (I never liked that word!)

Colic is a term that describes a set of symptoms in an infant with no apparent cause.

colicbaby.jpgCharacteristics of colic:

  • episodes of uncontrollable, extended, shrieking crying often after a feeding
  • episodes occur at a predictable time of day, usually late afternoon or evening (“the witching hour”)
  • physical changes during the episodes such as a distended belly, clenched fists, curled up legs or arched back
  • passing of gas after an episode
  • difficulty falling and/or staying asleep

Hmmm… what could it be? Nothing, nothing, nothing comes to mind… oh, wait, could it be something the baby is eating?? No, that’s silly. It’s probably just NOTHING. You just need to jiggle the baby for a few more hours and he’ll be fine.

Why doesn’t every new mother get some forewarning: if your baby has excessive or uncomfortable gas, or reflux, or excessive spitting up, has congestion, or is cranky or crying all the time or not sleeping well, you may think about the possibility that something in your diet is affecting your baby.

I don’t expect the pediatrician to have the time or the ability to work with the mother on identifying the problem foods and changing her diet, but rather than automatically switching from breastmilk to formula (which often doesn’t solve the problem), or telling the mother that it’ll all get better eventually, how about at least giving a heads-up, and then handing out a list of resources, either for local dietitians, breastfeeding experts, or even websites that offer help in this area.

Being a mother for the first time is hard enough as it is, and then you are left to think that you and your baby being completely miserable is normal, expected and incurable! Don’t believe it!

Thanks, Beth, for the inspiration for this post!

Related reading:
Gluten Free Babies & Kids
Four Hidden Medical Causes of Colic by Dr. Sears

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