Talking to People About Food Allergies

nut free paleo

Every so often I meet someone who has severe food allergies like I do. When it comes up in conversation, I have to refrain myself from throwing open my arms and clobbering them with a an uncomfortably premature hugfest. Regardless of how long I’ve known that person or how I’ve felt about him or her up until that point, once food allergies are on the table we are instantly kindred spirits surviving the allergen-laden universe together. Whether they know it or not, we are best friends.

There’s a reason for this instant bond and it goes beyond the potential perils of our allergy. Individually we have run the gauntlet of allergy-related questions from countless curious acquaintances. Eating is a social experience, so when you’re not following the norm (by asking a server to accommodate an allergy, or by passing on the birthday cake) you become a social anomaly. Sure, this is true for people eating Paleo too. Skipping the bread is unusual, but it isn’t life threatening like an allergy could be.

As soon as I say “I’m allergic” I’m prepared for the myriad questions that are sure to follow. I know people just want to understand, and they can’t wait to tell me all about the person they went to elementary school with who was so allergic to peanuts that they couldn’t even be in the same room as a PB&J sandwich. I keep saying I should carry around a laminated card with the entire conversation printed for their reading pleasure so that I can move on and skip the whole thing. To be honest I just don’t want to talk about it. But I stare straight ahead in a conscious effort to not roll my eyes, and I take as much exasperation out of my voice as possible because it’s not their fault that they’re the 4,821st person to ask me the same questions.

Which brings me back to my fellow allergic people. When I meet someone who also has a food allergy, I ask what it is they are allergic to and they do the same. And that’s it. End of questions. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s an unwritten rule about not interrogating your fellow allergic friends. I suspect it’s that we’ve all lived through it enough that we know not to do it to others. If they want to share their experience, great! Commiserating together can be fun. However it’s not mandatory or solicited.

Since I’m tired of answering these questions, especially when I’m trying to enjoy a nice meal, I figure others might feel the same way. For those of you with food allergies, I’m providing a list of top questions that people tend to ask me about my food allergy. Are they the same as, or different from, yours? For those of you without allergies, maybe cut your allergic friend a break and forgo the questions next time. They’ll probably appreciate it.

Most Common Questions for People with Food Allergies

  1. What are you allergic to?

  2. ALL nuts?!

  3. How did you find out you were allergic?

  4. How old were you?

  5. What happens to you if you eat some?

  6. Do you always have your Epi-pen?

  7. Have you ever had to use it?

  8. When’s the last time you ate something you were allergic to?

  9. Do you miss not eating nuts?

  10. Do you even know what they taste like?

Now that you know what questions are most common, here are the most frequent reactions I hear as a result. Maybe try to refrain from these too. In fact, I’d say these are even worse than the questions. At least when people ask me about my allergy they seem like they care about me at least a little. The comments are usually somewhat devoid of empathy.

Most Common Comments People Make After You Tell Them You Have a Food Allergy

  1. Wow, that really, really sucks. I feel sorry for you. I can’t even imagine not being able to eat macadamia nuts. They’re my favorite. You’re really missing out.

  2. Why don’t you just take a small bite and try it? Maybe it will be ok.

  3. I totally know what you mean. I’m vegetarian/vegan.

  4. I don’t think there are any nuts in this. I’m 90% sure.

  5. Does your boyfriend know you’re allergic to nuts? (insert adolescent boy laughter here)

To all you allergy sufferers – what did I miss? Any good/bad/ugly conversation experiences you’d share?

24 Responses to Talking to People About Food Allergies

  1. Emily September 13, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    This made me literally laugh out loud…I hear ya on all of these…or the awesome offer of…”next time you have a reaction, can I stab you with your epi-pen?”…

    • Amelia E September 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

      Haha! How could I forget that one?! In fact, that reminds me of a recent restaurant incident where they messed up and there was a hazelnut in my salad. As I was breaking out in some mild hives, our server said, “Don’t worry. We have the giant shot so we can stab you in the heart.” Apparently I was supposed to be amused by a Pulp Fiction reference…but I was not.

  2. Lindsey M October 12, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    This is GREAT! My favorite is this conversation at a restaurant:

    “Does it have any nuts?”
    “Um, I don’t think so…I mean I’m pretty sure it doesn’t”
    “Um, can you check cause I don’t feel like stopping breathing this evening”
    “no, I’m sure…there aren’t any nuts”
    “um, well 5 seconds ago you weren’t entirely sure…so what changed since then”
    “oh, no, like I said, I don’t think there are any nuts in it, you should be fine”
    “um, yeah, I’ll just not eat cause I’m pretty sure that I don’t think I want to die tonight. Thanks!”

    • Amelia E October 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Priceless. I am always amazed when people don’t understand the concept of life threatening allergies. I’ve bowed out of a number of meals for this exact reason. At least this is more tolerable since I’m not starving all the time now that I eat Paleo. Still frustrating, but I’m less tempted to eat my own arm. Thanks for sharing!

  3. christine February 1, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    could you recommend a coconut flour that is nut allergen free (not processed in a facility which also processes nuts). my daughter is severely allergic, but we are now mostly grain free, and I am looking for a good coconut flour. I have been using lets do organic, but can’t find info on it. she has done okay with it, but recently had a severe reaction at school, so i am trying to clean up our kitchen just in case her sensitivity is getting worse. thanks in advance.

    • Amelia E February 1, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

      Hi Christine. I also use Let’s Do Organic and haven’t had any issues. I avoid Bob’s Red Mill and others with the nut warning, for sure. Sorry to hear about your daughter’s reaction. That’s always scary and frustrating, especially when you’re not 100% sure what caused it. I hope you’re able to pinpoint it or at least avoid a repeat. Hope this is helpful!

      • christine February 3, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

        thanks so much for the info, and although it was frustrating it was a good reminder for me how serious this can be. i also stay away from bobs red mill. thanks for your blog. i will def be coming here more often to get recipes and ideas for our nut fee mostly paleo home.

    • Lindsay May 24, 2014 at 1:32 am #

      I am allergic to peanuts & tree nuts and use Nutiva brand coconut flour. The label says it’s made in a peanut-free facility, and contains “tree nuts (coconut)”. The only ingredient is coconut.

      • Amelia E August 5, 2014 at 10:18 pm #

        I found this brand at Costco and just started using it. Really like it so far – great find!

  4. Lori April 25, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    Thank you for your website, your humor. I am a foodie, my son is allergic to tree nuts/peanuts. Our house in peanut/tree nut free, as it should be. His fears about food are paramount, I try to understand, and do the best I can to be supportive. It is truly a personal battle for him. He is only 11 and I know he has much more anxiety about eating than any 11 year old should have. I know you understand. I hope to show him your website someday so he can feel that he is not alone and has more kindred spirits that know EXACTLY what his day to day is like. As for the foodie part, thank you for researching good quality foods that will be safe to prepare for my son.

    • Amelia E April 25, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

      Hi Lori. I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s struggle with food anxiety. I completely understand, and only wish that I had understood how it was affecting me much earlier in life. He is absolutely not alone! I’m glad you found me and hope he gets some anxiety relief in the near future. I hope my blog helps even a little bit. Thanks for the note and take care.

  5. Andrea May 13, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    I have had a challenging time with Paleo cookie recipes as I am allergic to coconut and tree nuts. I have tried to replace coconut flour and almond flour with arrowroot and other time flax meal with no success. The arrowroot cookies came out white and flour tasting after being fully baked. The flaxmeal didn’t flatten and tasted way to bland. I was thinking of trying Tapioca flour. I am able to easily substitute coconut oil for palm oil.

    • Amelia E May 14, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

      Hi Andrea. I hear you on the cookie issue. I’ve been experimenting with tapioca flour myself, though almost always in conjunction with coconut flour. Tapioca flour by itself is a little bit dense, since I believe it’s really intended as more of a thickener (like arrowroot). I’m in the process of moving and am without all my kitchen stuff for a while longer, but once I get settled this is something I’ll think about and see if we can come up with a solution. If you beat me to it, definitely share! Until then, take care.

  6. Lindsay May 24, 2014 at 1:28 am #

    There are 2 comments that really bother me:

    -You can’t eat peanuts?!? I’d die if I couldn’t have peanut butter!!! That’s so sad!

    -My friend’s mom’s co-worker’s dad knew someone who died in a restaurant in like 5 minutes from accidentally eating a peanut.

    Ugh. Make them stop!!!

    • Amelia E May 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Oh man, that second one is classic, and people always seem to want to tell you about it at a restaurant. There’s nothing quite like a reminder of your mortality to kick-start your appetite.

  7. Andrea June 3, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    Ironically, I can eat peanuts, but I cannot eat tree nuts including coconut. My allergy is a bit specific as I can eat palm oil, but not coconut oil as this is a different species of Palm tree.
    I did use sunflower seed flour instead of almond floor and the cookie was good at first; however turned green apparently because baking soda and sunflower combination causes the cookie to turn very green. Eventually looked too gross to eat. The only advise that I see is to use half of the baking soda and add some lemon to neutralize that green oxidation process. I looked at maybe using pumpkin seed flour, but that appears to be green. I think there is one more seed that could potentially replace almond flour and maybe that wouldn’t result in the green look.

  8. AV June 22, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    “You’re allergic to soy!?! But you’re Asian!”

  9. Meghan August 5, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    Hi Amelia, I just discovered your website while looking for nut free paleo recipes. I am deathly allergic to tree nuts, but not peanuts and I can totally relate to these questions. One question I get all the time is, “but, wait, peanuts aren’t nuts?”. Then I have to go into an explanation of the difference between tree nuts and legumes. “Peanuts aren’t nuts, they’re legumes, the same family as beans…blah, blah, blah”

    I also love when people offer me something, like a cookie, that is right next to another cookie that clearly has nuts in it. “Here, have this one. It doesn’t have nuts.” Um, no thanks. I don’t think you understand what deathly allergic means. I want no part in your dessert plate of death. This is a constant issue with my grandma-in-law, who is a fantastic baker and doesn’t remotely understand food allergies. Anyways, thanks for your blog. I had a good laugh!

    • Amelia E August 5, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

      Hi Meghan – so glad you found me. I totally forgot the “this one doesn’t have nuts” in the same tray as the ones that do. Another favorite is when people assume I can pick the M&Ms out of trail mix that’s laden with walnuts and almonds, etc. etc. Riiiiight. Thanks for dropping a note and good luck out there!

  10. Daniela August 21, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

    Just found your blog. My 3 yr old has a terrible treenut allergy. I look forward to trying out your recipes, and even though I’m not allergic I feel your pain. How difficult is it to explain to someone that peanuts and treenuts are different. Also, do ppl ever tell you to introduce small amounts to desensitize your allergy since avoiding nuts is impossible? That’s the thing that I hate hearing.

    • Amelia E August 21, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

      Hi Daniela! Indeed I’ve had people suggest that I somehow beat my allergy by having “just a little bit,” which is the worst advice ever of all time. Ugh. Good luck out there!

  11. KarenE November 17, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    Hahaha, made me laugh out loud! So right on! I’ve been suffering from food allergy symptoms for 15 years now, but was only diagnosed 5 years ago. Yep – 10 years of unexplained agony, crazy rashes, respiratory distress, migraines, chronic sinus issues, fear, countless ER visits, etc…. Many of the questions are the same for me. Another biggie response I get is….”WOW! So….what’s left for you to eat?!” or…”What DO you eat?!” Hahaha. Coupling food allergies with eating Whole30/Paleo (began my Whole30 journey 6 months ago) makes it a bit trickier, but not impossible. I love the way I feel now and wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. My daughter, husband, brother, nephew, mother-in-law, and sister-in-laws also suffer from food allergies as well. It’s a riot trying to gather the family for big meals. HEE HAW!! Thanks for sharing! I just discovered your site today and look forward to spending countless hours reading your entries.

    • Amelia E November 19, 2014 at 12:11 am #

      Thanks so much for this note, Karen. So glad to hear you figured your allergies out. Sounds like I’d fit right in with your family, too. 😉 Cheers.

  12. Sheryl Mireles December 30, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

    Enjoyed reading this. My doc has urged me to go Paleo and when I objected sent ne to look at I Quit Sugar. I don’t like nuts and my husband is allergic to nuts, peanuts, and coconut so most recipes in these two “diets” are not an option. The list of questions was priceless -I’ve heard them all as we negotiate eating out. Your blog gives me a good starting point for some new recipes to try in the spirit of what my doc wants me to do. Thanks.

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