This article, while directed at people with food allergies, is for everyone who has specific food requirements (not just those with life-threatening allergies), and for their friends, family, and co-workers. Whether your food choices reflect morals, religion, health concerns, or just taste, they are your choices and you should feel empowered to eat what is best for you.
How many times have I heard the words: “I don’t want to be one of those people”? A friend of mine just said that to me today. She has food allergies.
She really likes how she feels when she doesn’t eat her food allergens and she feels like crap when she does eat them. She is fairly committed to not eating them.
She confided to me that when she was at someone else’s house recently she ate something that she knew she shouldn’t eat. And then what happened? She felt awful for the next few days. And the next words out of her mouth were, “Of course I had to eat it. I don’t want to be one of those people.” I said, “You mean one of those people who cares about their health enough not to sacrifice it?”
Hmmmm… That gave her cause to pause a bit.
Isn’t that exactly what you are doing when you decide to eat whatever is put in front of you? You are punishing yourself. And why do people punish themselves in this way?
First, we have to state the obvious: if you do this, it is a clear demonstration that you are afraid to tell people what you feel and what your needs are.
That seems strange, but it’s true. Many people are afraid to express to others even simple things like, “I can’t eat that.” And why can’t people tell their friends that something is hurting them? Are we really willing to make ourselves sick just to fit in? Unfortunately, the answer is often “Yes.”
Ironically, your real friends actually want to know if something is hurting you or is not what you want. And if they aren’t your real friends, then you should want to know that information. But maybe that is what people are afraid of, learning that someone doesn’t really care about them as much as they had hoped.
When you stop to think about it, do you really want those people around you anyway? And if you can’t tell your friends, then you probably aren’t going to inform the wait staff at the restaurant, or ask the questions that you should be asking when you eat, or check the ingredients every time you look at an unknown food item. It’s a slippery slope, and all it leads to is you feeling worse and worse.
Just because you avoid certain foods doesn’t mean that you have to be a jerk about it. It’s simply a statement of fact, “I can’t eat this.” Or, “It makes me sick.” “Even a little tiny bit of it will make me sick.” That is all you have to say. Or you don’t have to say anything and just not eat it. How they take it is a separate issue.
You might think that it’s easy for me, because everyone knows that I don’t eat the things to which I’m allergic. Yes, it is much easier. Now.
But there was a time when people didn’t know. And guess what? I too looked and acted like one of those people.
But over time I told everyone that gluten and dairy made me sick. And I never compromised on that stance.
And I asked lots of questions when I ate out, or ate at someone else’s house. And lots of people questioned my sincerity, even family members. And lots of people suggested that I could eat just a little bit, or that it wouldn’t really hurt me.
But I kept telling them week after week, month after month, and year after year. And more than that, they saw me not eating those things. They noticed that I wasn’t going to sacrifice my health. And you know what? The longer that I did it, the more people began to understand, and the more people made the effort to help me.
This will happen to you too. You are not alone. I estimate that at least half the population has a food allergy.
Unfortunately, most of them don’t know it yet. You get to be a leader. You get to set the example. And I’ll bet you that just by doing what you need to do to optimize your health, that you’ll help other people become healthier too. Because they’ll see your example and they’ll wonder, “Do I have a food allergy?”
Don’t sacrifice your health. There is nothing more important than your health. Because if you don’t have it, then you can’t help others either. Be one of those people.
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.