More and more these days, people are going to the doctor for a persistent condition and going home with an allergy diagnosis. As we learn more about the gut’s connection to the rest of the body, science has gotten better at linking seemingly unconnected or trivia symptoms to an allergic reaction to foods. It’s why there’s been such a boom in gluten- and dairy-intolerant people over the last decade, as these two food groups tend to cause the most trouble for our digestion.
For people in their 20s, 30s and older who are getting an allergy diagnosis for the first time, the transition can be jarring. If the diagnosis is an intolerance to gluten, dairy, soy or eggs, you could find yourself needing to reinvent your diet. After decades of eating freely, being saddled with new restrictions can be depressing.
It’s important to take baby steps and get to know your allergy before you charge headlong into a new diet. Your doctor can definitely be a resource, and there’s a whole wide digital world out there of people who are in your exact position (or similar). Here’s how to ease into a new dietary lifestyle, one step at a time.
Get familiar with your allergy and what it means
Some food allergies are simple; others are more complex. If you have a nut allergy, you can simply avoid this food group and anything associated with it. If you have a gluten allergy, it’s important to know just how many foods gluten is part of.
Take stock of your allergy at a basic, fundamental level to understand how it affects you. Skin rash? Gastrointestinal distress? Lingering effects that last days? Getting familiar with your allergy is akin to “knowing thy enemy.” When you know exactly what you’re up against, you can learn how to beat it.
Get to know your safety foods and what’s off-limits
After getting your diagnosis, do a purge of your pantry and fridge. Most foods will be easy enough to eliminate, since there’s allergy information on the panel. This is also a great exercise in educating you on what foods might not be as safe as you think they are. Your favorite cookies might have soy in them. The frozen dinners you like may have gluten. As you purge your home of reaction-inducing foods, use it as an opportunity to identify what’s safe and what’s off-limits. This will prevent accidental slip-ups in the future and the consequences that come with them.
Research restaurants and quick food options
Once you’ve purged your house, start doing research. Specifically, look at your favorite restaurants and quick food options to see if they’re still applicable. Most restaurants (including chains) will post allergy info online, along with allergen menus for those with more severe food allergies.
Getting familiar with easy food options is important. When you get done with a long day of work and it’s Friday night, you want to let someone else do the cooking. Better to know what you can order in and make smart decisions than throw caution to the wind and ruin your weekend on a delicious gamble!
Find a few staple recipes and get good at making them
A food allergy can be a blessing in disguise for people who enjoy cooking. When many of the convenient foods you turn to are no long applicable because of your diet, you’ll be forced to make your own meals. Mastering a few simple recipes is a great way to nurture both your body and your soul.
Start with simple recipes that only require a few ingredients and get very comfortable with seasonings and spices. Then, once you’ve mastered a few favorites, step up to more complex recipes or more involved entrées. You’ll quicky get a newfound appreciate for food and learn which ingredients you like and how to use them. It won’t be long until you start making your own concoction—or, at the very least, improving upon a recipe you like.
Look on the bright side of the plate
Waking up after decades of eating the same foods only to be told you can’t anymore is rough. It’s even tough when your allergy is gluten or soy, and most convenient foods are automatically eliminated. The best you can do is adopt a positive outlook and use it as an opportunity to focus on your health.
Will you ever stop missing the foods you can’t eat? Only time will tell. What we can guarantee is that you’ll find a whole new love and appreciation for food, and a whole new level of wellness once your new diet balances itself out.