Eating is a huge part of how we socialize and connect with others. Food is a core part of our cultures, relationships, and friendships. Whether it's going out to eat with friends, or a friend surprising you with a cake for your birthday, food is sure to come up in a friendship. With food allergies, it can be anxiety-inducing to have to educate new friends about your allergies and hope that they are understanding. As a child, my parents played a huge role in educating my friends and their families about my allergies. As an adult, I have experienced my fair share of struggles with educating friends about my allergies and at times feeling like a burden or an inconvenience for having to do so. Below, I share some tips that I have picked up along the way that have helped me immensely with cultivating and maintaining healthy friendships with people who value my safety as an adult with food allergies.
Tip 1: Tell people about your allergies as early into the friendship as possible.
Although it can seem awkward to bring up when getting to know someone, I have learned from experience that it is crucial to bring up your allergies as soon as possible with someone new. I have had several incidents where I met a new friend at school or work and they either brought me a treat or offered to share something with me that I was allergic to. To avoid an awkward or potentially unsafe situation with my allergen, I often will start the conversation about my allergies by eating one of my allergy-friendly snacks nearby them. I then might offer to share it with them, explain what it is, and explain that I have to pack my own food because of my severe food allergies. From there, I am usually met with lots of questions about what I am allergic to, how long I have had these allergies, and if I have ever had an allergic reaction. Another option is if you are hanging out with someone new and the topic of getting food together comes up, you can easily segue into a conversation about your allergies and how you will need to pick a place that is safe for you. Even if you are unsure of whether this person will stick around, it is always best to be cautious and let people know about your allergies as soon as you get the sense that you may have some sort of relationship with them, whether it is as acquaintances, classmates, coworkers, or friends.
Tip 2: Discuss your allergy boundaries with friends to avoid feeling unsafe.
You might be familiar with the idea of setting boundaries, but have you heard of allergy boundaries? Allergy boundaries are the rules or limits we set with others to ensure that we feel both physically and emotionally safe when it comes to managing food allergies. For people with food allergies or their caregivers, establishing and communicating allergy boundaries with friends is important to protect ourselves. It is important to share what your allergy boundaries are when establishing a new friendship or relationship to avoid any miscommunications or unsafe situations. I have outlined a few examples of some allergy boundaries that I have, but I encourage you to establish and verbalize some of your own if you have not already and share them with others.
When I have people over at my apartment, I don't feel comfortable with them bringing dairy over because of airborne anaphylactic allergy. I will kindly ask all of my guests to refrain from bringing food with dairy in it to my place.
If I am invited to a group dinner, I will remind the organizers of my allergies and suggest safe restaurants that do not serve my allergens. If none of those suit the preferences of the group, I will eat my own food ahead of time and stick to ordering drinks at the restaurants.
When eating with others at school or work for example, I will kindly ask those around me who are eating dairy to eat more than two feet away from me in order for me to feel safe.
Tip 3: REMIND, REMIND, REMIND! People will forget sometimes.
Learning what it is like to live with food allergies and how to manage them is a process! As someone who has had severe allergies their whole life, it is easy for me to forget all of the things I have had to learn over the years. From knowing which ingredients to look out for, to knowing which products are safe, to understanding how to prevent cross-contamination and properly disinfect surfaces, there is a steep learning curve when it comes to managing food allergies. It is important for us to continuously have conversations about our allergies and educate our friends because chances are, they will forget sometimes and that is okay! It is a learning process for everyone and as long as they are open to learning and understanding how to keep you safe, we must be patient. Remind, remind, remind! You are not being annoying by doing so, you are potentially saving your life.
Tip 4: Find ways to compromise.
Although food is a huge part of our relationships, we can also find activities that are not centered around food to enjoy with our friends. Sometimes, I don't want to go through the headache of finding an allergy-safe restaurant for me. That is why it is important to identify activities you can engage in that do not include food. Some examples include:
Engaging in a physical activity (biking, hiking, yoga, pilates, tennis, etc.)
Trying out a pottery or painting class
Having a game night (board games, card games, etc.)
Going to a concert, play, or movie
Going to an escape room
Going to a museum, zoo, or planetarium
Additionally, there are ways to compromise if let's say, you and your friends are in the mood for different cuisines. If your friends are craving something that you are allergic to, having a fun cooking night at home with allergy-safe swaps is a great way to connect and strengthen your culinary skills. Depending on your comfort level, another option might be to get takeout separately from your friends or to bring your own food to the gathering so that you can still eat together. Compromise is key in every relationship and can often make a friendship stronger, as long as we are not compromising our physical safety in any way. The bottom line is that your safety is the top priority and any friend that cares about your safety will understand that. There are plenty of ways that we can have meaningful experiences with friends and still maintain a sense of safety, whether food is involved or not!
I hope these tips were helpful for navigating adult friendships with food allergies and as always, feel free to leave me a comment or message if you have any thoughts or questions! Xo!