Coping With a Food Allergy

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Life with a food allergy often involves a lot of planning, diligence, awareness, and—as some see it—sacrifice. In addition to be challenged by the practical tasks of knowing the names of offending ingredients and reading food labels, you may experience more emotional impacts of adjusting to your condition as well, such as a sense of loss when your longtime favorite foods or restaurants become off-limits.


doctor talking to patient
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If you have unmistakable food allergy symptoms after eating certain foods, you may be tempted to simply abstain from the food and avoid the time, expense, and hassle of allergy testing. This can be a mistake, though. You really should confirm your food allergy diagnosis if you haven't done so already.

What you think is a fish allergy, for example, may be a reaction to a common parasite. You may react after eating french fries, but actually be allergic to soy ingredients or to wheat cooked in the same oil as those fries. Or symptoms you attribute to what you believe is a dairy allergy may be the more easily treatable lactose intolerance. In addition, food intolerance symptoms can be delayed by hours or even for longer. That's why it's so important to be tested.

If you need an allergist, ask your regular physician for a recommendation. You also can ask any friends you know that have allergies, or try searching online for certified allergists in your area.

Manage Your Stress

It's perfectly normal to feel stressed as you transition into this new lifestyle.

Studies of people living with food allergies consistently show that they have high levels of stress.

If you do find yourself overwhelmed, do whatever you can to simplify other aspects of your life for a while and find sympathetic friends to talk to. Beginning a stress management program can greatly enhance your overall mental health, too, and it need not be expensive.

Balance Allergies and Your Work Life

The circumstances of your job and your health dictate how much other people at your workplace need to know about your allergies. You may not feel you want to disclose much at work (and we don't blame you).

But if you've been prescribed epinephrine, strongly consider keeping an emergency kit at work and teaching at least one reliable coworker how and when to use your medication.

You may also want to keep a stash of safe food at work and a list of allergy-friendly restaurants near your office.


As soon as you can, remove every item you no longer can eat from your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Keeping unsafe items out of your home will remove temptation and reduce opportunities for cross-contamination.

It's also a good idea to thoroughly clean your cooking utensils, oven, stovetop, and cookware.

In some cases, you may need to replace scratched items, since those scratches can harbor tiny bits of allergenic food.

Be sure, also, to check cosmetics and toiletries for potentially allergenic items, especially if they could end up on your hands or mouth. Living with roommates or family members who eat things you can't? Do everything you can to arrange separate food storage and preparation areas, and to keep at least some pans and utensils separate for your food.

Get Specialized Help If You Need It

Some allergies don't restrict your diet too severely. If you eat almost no seafood and are diagnosed with a shellfish allergy, for example, you may be able to adjust to dietary and lifestyle changes relatively easily, and without much angst.

Other food allergies, though, require nearly complete overhauls of your daily eating habits, especially allergies to common grains, nuts, and (for non-vegans) dairy and eggs.

In addition to your allergist, a nutritionist or dietitian with expertise in food allergy issues can be invaluable in helping you adjust to your new diet.

This person can help ensure that your diet is nutritionally sound and suggest safe foods you may not have considered.

Purchase Safe Food Alternatives

If you're used to eating prepared foods as a major part of your diet, you may find it worth your while to find allergy-safe versions of some of your favorites. For dairy allergies, you may want to try some dairy-free milk alternatives. Those with celiac disease or wheat allergies will find wheat-free flours valuable in the kitchen.

Allergy-friendly food options vary widely by city, so check local supermarkets, health-food stores, and specialty markets to see what's available.

The Internet is also a valuable resource for buying allergy-safe food, especially for those with nut and peanut allergies or celiac disease.


Food allergies are a proven source of stress, and the early adjustment period can be difficult, especially if your diet has to change drastically.

Support groups, whether online or in-person, are one way to discuss the challenges of living with food allergies with others who are in the same situation.

Your allergist or a local hospital may know of local support groups or be able to recommend online food allergy communities.

Learn to Eat Out Safely

Eating at restaurants soon after an allergy diagnosis can feel daunting, so start slow. Stick to one or two restaurants whose chefs or owners are approachable and willing to work with you, and then expand your horizons.

Many chain restaurants include information for common food allergens along with MSG, sulfites, and gluten on their websites.

Most importantly, if you aren't entirely comfortable that your waiter or chef is taking your concerns seriously, leave (or just order a drink instead of food).

Be especially sure to bring any emergency medication prescribed by your doctor whenever you're away from home. Make a mental note to check if you change purses or jackets for a night out.


You won't necessarily have to give up your favorite recipes when you're diagnosed with an allergy as an adult, but you will need to learn to make substitutions to take advantage of cookbooks and recipes that aren't specifically written for those with food allergies.

First focus on learning substitutions for the most common ingredients you have to avoid in the kitchen.

If you feel more comfortable, however, you can take advantage of recipes written to avoid allergens entirely. While developing the ability to make substitutions is a good skill to learn early on, it can be useful to build a stockpile of reliable allergy-friendly recipes, especially if friends want to cook for you (and if you feel comfortable having them do so).

A Word from Verywell

Being diagnosed with food allergies as an adult can be life-changing, and not always in a good way. You may appreciate having an explanation for symptoms, but you may be unhappy at the limitations a restricted diet imposes. Don't be afraid to ask for help in managing your food allergy, either from your doctor, a dietitian, or from a support group.

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