As a food allergy sufferer, I could write for days about what it is like to fear food. I’m no stranger to the world of dietary restrictions, nor is anxiety a stranger to me. When I started my therapy practice six years ago, I sought to help a population that I knew wasn’t getting enough attention: the people who suffer from the emotional, cognitive, and social repercussions of medical conditions specifically involving food. Whether that be life-threatening food allergies such as my own, Diabetes, Celiac Disease, PKU, or any number of other conditions, there is almost always difficulty coping with the need to be different from everyone else in the most frequent of human activities: eating.
This fall marks the beginning of my seventh year helping people cope emotionally, cognitively, socially, and behaviorally with health-related struggles. In this half-decade, I’ve been honored to walk with people through other diagnoses too, like cancer, kidney disease, migraines, asthma, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis. We live in a world that is burdened by disease, and so much of what we experience in day-to-day life requires much deeper work than we give it credit for.
My specific interest in creating mental health treatment protocols for people with diet-related medical conditions is a result of struggling with an anaphylactic peanut allergy for the majority of my life. I have done a significant amount of soul-work to channel my anxiety into being proactive, and taking steps to protect myself. But this year, I took it a step further. What if I not only actively tried to avoid dying from a food-induced anaphylactic reaction, but tried to become a healthier, more vibrant version of myself overall? Essentially, I reframed my food mindset from solely an avoidance-based mentality to one of combining the avoidance of allergy-inducing foods and the incorporation of foods that make me feel healthy and energetic. For me, and for a lot of people, food is fear. But food can also be healing and nourishing.
As we enter a time of year that is especially food-centric, it is vital that we grow in sensitivity for people who are not able to feast mindlessly on holiday fare – from halloween candy to traditional Thanksgiving dinners. There will be friends and family members who will need to bring their own food for safety and peace of mind. Don’t berate them with questions. They really just want to feel included and not “other than.” There will be friends and family members who may leave before an event is over. That’s ok, too. We never know what is like to be in someone else’s shoes, especially when that person is dealing with an invisible illness. Reach out and let them know how glad you are that they were able to participate at all.
This fall, let’s rejoice in what we have been given. Even when we are struggling, when it is so easy to focus on feelings of deprivation and isolation, my hope is that we can shift our focus to ways we can actively nourish our bodies and souls through faith, food, family, and friendship.