Living with life threatening food allergies, celiac disease, or other significant food restrictions can be challenging in ways that go beyond knowing what to eat and what to avoid. The negative impact of having food allergies can greatly affect one’s emotional and social well being and their quality of life.
Research into the specific impacts of living with food allergies or celiac disease is being done, though still on a relatively small scale. Studies related to these issues have identified a number of areas of specific concern: aspects of general health; activities within the family; eating outside the home; eating within school environments; reactions of other people; food labeling; previous allergic reactions to food; co-existing allergies; impact of the food allergy on quality of life of caregivers; and burden of responsibility. (A small, yet notable impact has also been reported on one’s career/work environment.)
In particular the research has indicated a significant psychosocial impact on children, adolescents, and their families. Most notably is the considerable effect on daily family activities and socialization in regards to the continuous attention needed to avoid the exposure to allergens for one or more members of the family. The populations most adversely affected are: females, parents of young children, and adolescents. Of these, the most significantly affected is mothers of severely allergic children.
If you or someone you know is affected by food allergies and/or celiac disease, then you may have experienced, or are currently feeling the related adverse impact on quality of life first hand. These impacts can lead to intense fear and anxiety, as well as frustration and anger. Online chat rooms related to these topics are populated with individuals seeking support for these very real emotions.
If you are a parent with a severely allergic child, you know how scary and frightening it can be to take your child to a party, day care, the park, school, or church. As a counselor I have met parents who are so fearful for their child’s well-being that they end up isolating the child, themselves, and the entire family unit. While this may guarantee safety, we all know that living in a bubble is not really living.
Although great caution and care must always be taken, living with food allergies does not have to mean a life of constant fear.
If you are struggling with overwhelming fear and anxiety regarding your own or someone else’s food allergies, and find that it is significantly interfering with your life, this is an indication that seeking outside help would be beneficial. The right kind of emotional and behavioral support will help you to realize that you are not alone, and that what you are feeling is normal given the circumstances. With help you can learn to work around your food restrictions instead of being confined by them.
Having been diagnosed with Celiac Disease as an adult, I can personally relate to the emotions that can accompany living with a serious food allergy. With my own diagnosis came panic over attending social functions. I was overwhelmed by the weight of having to think about every single thing I was eating.
Ultimately I found myself not wanting to be around people, not wanting to go out, and feeling sorry for myself. Fortunately, I had great friends in the counseling field (including my significant other) who were able to give me the support and encouragement I needed to feel good about myself again. Also, I was able to do a lot of self work to get through those overwhelming emotions and learned to embrace my new lifestyle in a positive and life changing way.
The psychological effects of living with life changing food restrictions are deep and very real. In my own practice I focus on helping people regain their sense of self, security, and the ability to live a full life despite their dietary restrictions. You do not have to live in fear and be debilitated by anxiety just because you have celiac disease or other food allergies. A diagnosis of a food allergy becomes a part of your life but it does not have to define you. Learning effective ways to manage fears and anxieties will help you get back to living the life you really want — full of fun, excitement, security, love, and self assurance.
de Blok, M.J., et al. (2007). A framework for measuring the social impact of food allergy across Europe. A EuroPrevall state of the art paper. Allergy 62 (7), 733-737.
Cummings, A. J., et al. (2010), The psychosocial impact of food allergy and food hypersensitivity in children, adolescents and their families: a review. Allergy, 65: 933–945.
Lee, A., MSED, RD. & Newman, J.M., Phd, RD (2003). Celiac diet: Its impact on quality of life. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Volume 103, Issue 11, Pages 1533-1535.
This article is courtesy of Jennifer Leeson, LCSW. As a therapist Leeson specializes in working with individuals affected by food allergies. For more information about Jennifer and her services as a counselor please visit www.foodallergytherapist.com.
Dr. Stephen Wangen is the award winning author of two books on solving digestive disorders, and a nationally recognized speaker on IBS. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio. He was recently named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.