Living with food allergies is an every day challenge for me. My hope in sharing my story is that I can connect with other individuals going through a similar struggle.
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Living With Food Allergies – Beginning Signs
Salima’s Kitchen hasn’t always been the Gluten Free & Allergy Friendly Blog.
And I haven’t always had allergies. As a kid I used to take jobs dog and cat sitting around the neighborhood, spent summers biking, swimming and playing soccer in tall grass, eating whatever I wanted.
My allergies come in waves.
For a few years between middle school and high school I remember I would break out in hives on my arms and legs regularly, especially during PE classes. I remember being embarrassed wearing shorts and even more frustrating, being so uncomfortable and itchy all of the time.
Eventually, my mom took me to a few different specialists including a dermatologist, an allergist, and a naturopath.
After a series of different allergy tests, I was determined to have allergies to multiple kinds of animals (including cats and rodents), a few different kinds of fruits (strawberries, pineapple and mulberries), and some completely random ones like beef and grass.
Most of the specialists I saw had very few answers and very limited solutions to my hives. The naturopath ended up being the only one with options other than lathering prescription strength steroid cream all over my hives indefinitely, so I continued working with her.
She used a procedure called Acupressure to successfully subdue my symptoms. It felt like a miracle. Who knew using pressure point therapy could relieve something most doctors call a lifelong condition?
And I thought that was the last experience I would have with my allergies.
Fast forward 6 years and I found out just how wrong I was after drinking one too many (wheat) beers at a music festival. Towards the end of the show, I started to notice my throat closing and little hives popping up all over my body.
My boyfriend called an uber, raced me home and eventually had to call an ambulance. After a night in the hospital I was left with a swollen face and a $17,000 hospital bill. This was the third time in one year that I went into anaphylactic shock due to my food allergies.
From left to right – me on a normal day, me the morning after an anaphylactic attack (I think this picture speaks for itself), me three days after an anaphylactic attack (lips and eyes still swollen).
More Allergy Testing
An allergy specialist had my blood tested (again) and determined all 14 of my NEW allergies and their levels of severity for me. Although I had the same tests done as a teenager, these results were different.
My new allergies are: wheat, soy, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, sesame, cats, dogs and a bunch of different types of grasses and trees that are native here in Oregon where I live.
My swollen hand, 3 days after an attack.
Ever Changing Food Allergies
It has been a journey of ups and downs since then. I quickly realized that all of my favorite foods are definitely not gluten, soy, or peanut free. Fried things, breaded things, chocolate and gravy. Basically, most of the best processed foods or restaurant menu items have something I’m allergic to in them.
So it hasn’t always been easy. It’s taken months to gain confidence in the kitchen again. Not to mention this all happened right as I was starting my private chef business and food blog.
I’m still working towards figuring out exactly why my body reacts the way it does. I still break out in hives on a daily basis. When leaving the house, I always carry my EpiPen and Benadryl with me. I avoid all of the things I am allergic to as best as I can.
Moving forward I can honestly say that my allergies are a blessing in disguise. They have taught me so much about the world of food and how to be a more versatile, flexible chef. These allergies have shaped my mission to educate people who love food about how delicious allergy friendly cooking can be.
It has been over a year now and a few key things have made the transition into a gluten-free lifestyle much easier:
The Company You Keep
It’s really important to have people on your team who understand your allergies and will support you. My husband Steve was that person for me every step of the way. While you can absolutely live gluten free as an individual, it was so much help having someone who cared enough to read food labels and call restaurants with a laundry list of questions about how they fry their french fries.
Someone to remind you to bring your Epi-pen and Benedryl to every outing. Someone who asks questions for you. Talks you through your frustration over not being able to eat a pizza.
That said, it doesn’t need to be a significant other. It can be a parent, sibling or even a good friend. Find someone who cares about your well being and share your struggle with them! They will be a life saver on the tougher days.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be your own best advocate. Read every label. Even if you’ve read it before, companies change their recipes. Bring your inhaler/Epipen/Benadryl/whatever you need to be safe and prepared.
Don’t rely on others (even if you have an amazing support team) because at the end of the day you are responsible for yourself!
Living near a city like Portland where there are a lot of options for people with food sensitivities (specifically vegan and gluten free eaters) made a big difference. Servers at bars and restaurants don’t give me an annoyed look when I ask what the chicken strips are breaded in.
If you don’t live in a gluten free friendly city, make yourself familiar with a community of like minded food bloggers. Accept the challenge and teach yourself how to make all your favorite recipes, gluten free and from scratch!
Deserted Island Products
Finally, there are a few high quality products that I would struggle with choosing between if stranded on a deserted island. These items have made my life so much less stressful, so much more flavorful, and much more successful as an allergy friendly chef.
Many of these products will, when necessary, make a seamless substitute for gluten (shout out to Bob’s Red Mill), or soy, or peanuts. I now have a list of go-to gluten-free pastas, flours and bakeries for those moments when I just need carbs.
You may already have your list of favorite substitutes for things in your life that you cannot have. Dairy intolerance? Maybe you use almond or hemp milk. Allergic to peanuts? You might use sunflower seed butter as a replacement. This list that allows you to live and eat without fearing for your life is something to cherish.
I know, it sounds materialistic to LOVE products like this. But when your life depends on it, there is no shame. Check out the Shop My Kitchen page to see some of the items from my list.
It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned to enjoy living gluten free. I’m actually really looking forward to my hive and bloat free future. Not to mention the ever-growing list of gluten free baked goods I want to experiment with!
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