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The Emotional Toll of Food Allergies

It got to the point that my daughter was only eating 7 foods. On repeat. Any time she ate something else she had a reaction. We knew she had a life-threatening food allergy to milk and all dairy products, but now she was reacting to foods that were dairy free. Foods that had been on our safe list. It was a terrifying time. I frantically scheduled an allergist appointment to get her skin and blood tested so we could find out what these new allergies were.


“Anxiety can present physically with symptoms like those of a reaction” our allergist told us after all the testing came back negative.


This was a shocking and eye-opening experience. I had no idea this was possible. Anxiety can present physically?


Once I saw food allergy anxiety for what it was, I dove in headfirst to learn more. I searched podcasts and eventually came across an episode of The Itch Podcast where they interviewed Lisa Rosenberg M. Ed., MSW, LSW, CSSW. Lisa is a therapist who focuses part of her practice on food allergies. I was so impressed by her interview that I decided to reach out to her.


I contacted her via her website, and we set up a phone call. After speaking with her and learning more myself, I was compelled to help others learn more. I figured my family couldn't be the only family dealing with this, yet I wasn’t hearing much, if anything, about it.


As a food allergy support group leader, I have an annual opportunity to apply for a Community Outreach Award from FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education).


That particular year I applied for, and was awarded, the funds necessary to hire Lisa for a 3-part workshop on the impact of food allergies on mental health: 1. Food For Thought, 2. Get Schooled & 3. Family Ties. The workshops were very well received and helped increase awareness around this topic.


Not long after, I discovered the work of and connected with Tamara Hubbard, MA, LCPC, another therapist who has dedicated much of her practice to food allergies.


From her website, "In 2018 Tamara asked herself, 'Who is focusing on the mental health and emotional wellness needs of those managing allergies?' That curiosity quickly led her to recognize that even though the allergy community craved more psychosocial and quality-of-life-focused content to help them navigate the ups and downs of allergy life, there was a resource gap, especially for food allergy. That's when Tamara decided to launch The Food Allergy Counselor (The FAC) resource website, therapist directory, and professional therapist network."


You can find downloadable resources on her website that she has created, as well as access to the Food Allergy Counselor Directory. This is a directory of allergy-informed food allergy counselors, organized by state and province for the US and Canada.


Tamara is consistently working to help create a community of food allergy allies in the mental health space (so you can imagine how thrilled I was to have her provide the foreword for my book!).


Friend and fellow food allergy parent, Emilé Baker, is yet another therapist who has incorporated food allergy into part of her practice.


"As part of her specialty in treating food allergy anxiety and trauma, Baker facilitates a low-cost, cognitive-behavioral, virtual, psychotherapy group for parents of children with food allergies, helping them cope with the stress of managing their child's invisible life-threatening disability." This comes from Simmons University's website, where she is an Associate Professor.


Emilé's dedication to supporting parents and caregivers is unique and so important. I am fortunate to be able to share her psychotherapy group openings when she has them, with the families in my support group.


I am not a medical professional, but in my experience and through the many families I have connected with over the years, food allergy related anxiety tends to be higher in older children who have had more scares than younger children.


There is also often a spike in anxiety following an anaphylactic reaction. This can be in the food allergic child, but also their parents, caregivers, siblings and possibly those who were with them at the time. The reach of impact from anaphylaxis can be surprising.


Recognizing and respecting the connection between food allergies and psychosocial wellbeing, some food allergy centers have psychologists on staff. For example, here in MA, Boston Children's Hospital and Mass General Hospital both have psychologists on staff in their pediatric food allergy programs.


It's important to acknowledge that not everyone navigating food allergies is dealing with this, but for those who are it is very real. The impact of food allergies on mental health is undeniable. I touch on this quite a bit in my book based on what I watched in my own home. Working with therapists and using techniques helped my daughter move in a better direction, in time. One tool we found quite helpful was Tapping.


A challenge for us was finding an allergy informed therapist. We were not able to find one who worked with children.


Better is possible. Tamara has laid a foundation with the Directory, but there is a significant need for more psychosocial professionals in this niche space to connect with families, to help folks understand what's happening and to separate the truly "unsafe" from what "feels scary". Let's hope quality resources and access to qualified professionals continue to increase.


I am not a medical professional. I am an educator, a consultant, and a food allergy ally. Have thoughts on this topic and want to connect? Submit a message on foodallergyallies.com. or email me at foodallergyallies@gmail.com.

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