Developing a food intolerance or allergy during adulthood is a life-changer. Your carefree diet goes down the drain and now you must be careful to check everything you eat. This is a life-changer not just for the individual but also for those people who live with them.
With this new-found diagnosis, the individual’s initial shock of finding out is full of anxiety, fear and even concern about their social life; will their friends understand? It’s when you’re able to overcome these mixed emotions that you can learn to safely navigate your day-to-day life to achieve normality again. After some time, it will become a natural habit to remember to read the grocery labels, ask restaurants to accommodate for your intolerance, and so on. Thus, having to relearn what to eat is a huge undertaking.
Besides being exposed to certain types of food, you become required to explain over and over again what your condition is exactly and how serious it is. In fact, a licensed clinical counsellor, Tamara Hubbard, has expressed that it can be very exhausting for the person. The exhaustion can also be due to the lack of social support that is often present for children with intolerances but not for adults. Thus, adults need to learn to speak up about their conditions and its’ needs because they need to fend for themselves in social environments. Remember that many people won’t understand and so you can’t assume that they do. You will hear comments like “I don’t know how you follow that diet” or “just eat it this one time, nothing will happen.” Be assertive in explaining that it’s not a choice but a lifestyle.
To overcome your fear and anxiety, remember that your condition isn’t unmanageable. Be proud of how well you’re managing it because it does take a lot of effort. Focus on taking it one day at a time; find one food substitute, which is appealing to you, at a time. If you do it all at once it can become overwhelming. Thus, to help with these overwhelming feelings, I want to stress that even if it may feel like you’re alone at times, you’re not. There are a number of people out there facing the exact same situation as you. Don’t be discouraged to reach out for support. Support can be found by talking to other people who have the same intolerance as you, reaching out to a family member or friend whenever you feel it’s needed, or even seeking help from therapists.
For those of you reading this, who don’t actually have an intolerance but would like to learn how to make life easier for people with an intolerance, I encourage you to educate yourself. Understand exactly what the intolerance is about, and then be an available ear for them to feel supported. Never point out the obvious; for example, if you have a piece of bread, don’t tell a celiac that they can’t eat it. They already know this so don’t rub salt into their wound. Just being there for someone to talk to can go a long way to decrease their anxiety and to feel better about their condition.
Mandy is a Gestalt psychotherapist who enjoys working therapeutically with adults on various issues. These include general mental health and wellbeing. She also has experience working with anxiety, victims of domestic violence and eating disorders.
Bray, B. (2018). Supporting clients through the anxiety and exhaustion of food allergies. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2018/11/supporting-clients-through-the-anxiety-and-exhaustion-of-food-allergies/