Living with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or a food allergy, such as a peanut or tree-nut allergy, is difficult, considering the sometimes dire—and even deadly—physical consequences exposure to the allergen can bring on. Those consequences can make even normal, everyday events potentially dangerous: a quick stop for fast food; a stay-over play date; a pot-luck dinner; or an office or holiday party. But there’s a darker side to living on a restricted diet: the psychological and sociological toll that planning, vetting, organizing and sometimes even avoiding meals for fear of illness—or worse—can take on your overall well-being. Some of the negative psychosocial problems that can occur because of a restricted diet:
• feeling alone or isolated
• low self-esteem
• anxiety over food
• guilt or humiliation
• avoiding others while eating
• not eating away from home
• eating alone
• avoiding social events
• insomnia or excessive sleeping
• unhealthy weight loss or gain
The key to overcoming these problems starts with education. Most adults understand why they need to avoid some foods—they’ve experienced the consequences and don’t wish to risk or repeat them. But there are a number of ways to reinforce the reasons and make it easier to cope.
First, read up on your condition and learn everything you can about it. The Internet is full of good, credible organizations and government agencies whose websites offer smart, detailed, up-to-date information. Look for non-commercial sites, such as those sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, or for websites sponsored by organizations whose whole purpose is to educate and help those with particular food allergies or intolerances—not sell special foods or supplements. Join support groups, both online and within your own community. These groups give you an opportunity to meet with and talk to others who share your condition.
Another way is to connect with others who share your condition through social media and blogs. You may even want to write a blog yourself. Some organizations offer conferences and get-togethers, recipe swaps and social events so that people who live with food restrictions can meet others in a relaxing—and food-safe—environment.
Choose to try new and different foods that taste just as good and are just as satisfying as those you must avoid, too. Collect recipes, find local restaurants that can accommodate your restrictions, and, if you’re adventurous, learn to cook them yourself.
Children who live with food allergies and intolerances face, in some ways, a bigger challenge than adults. For kids, “fitting in” with the group is everything. But it’s hard to do that when they have to say no to the lunch-buddy who wants to trade her peanut butter cookie for their sugar cookie. It’s hard to take a pass on the cupcakes a parent brings to the classroom for a holiday or birthday. Even play-dates and overnights at friends’ homes can be difficult unless their parents understand the child’s health needs. Children may face ostracism and bullying by other kids who don’t understand their health issues. Here again, education is key. Help the child understand what foods may threaten her health and how to avoid them. As she gets older, teach her more and involve her in choosing foods and learning to prepare them. Make sure she understands that there’s nothing “wrong” with her and that food sensitivity, intolerance, and allergies are common. Lots of kids have them.
Finally, inform your child’s teachers, school administrators and other adults who interact with or care for her on a daily or intermittent basis about her dietary restrictions. Make sure they understand the importance that she avoid certain foods. And make sure they know what to do should she inadvertently or accidentally ingest something that can make her ill.
Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.
Iscol, J. Psychological Health for Gluten-Free Kids. (2013, November) Celiac Community.org. Retrieved on July 2, 2014 from http://www.celiaccommunity.org/psychological-health/
FAQ for Patients-Children. (n.d.) Wm. K. Warren Medical Research Center for Celiac Disease. University of California at San Diego. Retrieved on July 2, 2014 from http://celiaccenter.ucsd.edu/aboutcdkids.shtml
Holiday and Social Eating. (n.d.) Celiac Disease Foundation. Retrieved on July 2, 2014 from http://celiac.org/live-gluten-free/gluten-free-lifestyle/tips-and-tricks/
A. J. Cummings, et al. The Psychological Impact of Food Allergy and Food Hypersensitivity in Children, Adolescents, and Their Families: A Review. (2010, February 22) European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Retrieved on July 2, 2014 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1398-9995.2010.02342.x/full
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