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Adult-onset food allergies are a real thing. It's estimated that about 15 percent of adult allergy sufferers aren't diagnosed until after the age of 18. As someone with food allergies that didn't crop up until my 20s, I can tell you firsthand that it stinks. It can be nerve-wracking to go to a party or an unfamiliar restaurant and be unsure whether I'll be able to find something on the table or menu. As a dietitian with an "all foods fit" (in your diet) mentality, I find it especially frustrating that I need to restrict what I eat.
I've also been on this kind of date many times:
"This cod sounds delicious. But oh, you're allergic to nuts," he says, scanning the menu. "Does that mean almonds?"
"Yep—no romesco sauce for me," I say.
"What about walnuts? Can you eat walnuts?"
"I'm allergic to all nuts." [Me, trying to be patient.]
"But you can eat pistachios?"
"Okay, so no walnuts, no almonds, and no pine nuts, or pistachios. What about hazelnuts?"
[Regret for not ordering a drink.]
"Wow, you can't eat hazelnuts, either?"
Suffice to say that dinner dates with a food allergy are rough, but that's a story for another day. Let's talk about how to handle parties when you have a food allergy. Here are some of my tried-and-true tips for navigating social scenes with a food allergy.
Nothing makes me feel more like a jerk than when I see a look of panic on a someone's face when they hear, "Oh, by the way, I have a food allergy." So, I've saved myself a lot of in-the-moment stress by calling ahead to restaurants and being upfront with party hosts when I RSVP. It took me a while to feel comfortable doing this, but I eventually learned that it helps everyone feel more calm and prepared. Think about it: If you were hosting a party, you'd put so much care into organizing the menu. The last thing you'd want to do is make anyone feel uncomfortable or go hungry.
When it comes to dinners with friends, I give them a heads-up and offer to bring allergy-friendly options. If I'm hosting, I always ask guests if there are any sensitivities I need to be aware of when planning the meal. (Related: 5 Signs You Might Be Allergic to Alcohol)
When traveling for the holidays or on a vacation, I always bring a little card with me that lists my allergies (in English or in another language if I'm traveling internationally). Even if you're just visiting a friend who's recently moved out of town, being able to hand a waitress a slip of paper versus needing to give a long speech on the topic, will make everyone more at ease.
Carry backup snacks.
It doesn't need to be anything elaborate, but for those times you just aren't sure what to expect at an event or dinner party, having a snack handy can significantly lower the stress factor and limit those hangry mood swings. Large events like conferences, company holiday parties, or weddings can be especially tricky, so I always have an emergency snack bag with me along with an EpiPen. It might sound extreme, but being prepared for anything, even if you never need to dig into that ziplock of pretzels and dried fruit, will give you peace of mind so you can focus on just having fun.
My snack bag usually has some jerky in it, as well as maybe some dry-roasted edamame, or packets of sunflower seed butter. Individual packs of protein powder can also be convenient for adding to plain oatmeal or shaking up with water while traveling. Of course, your snacks will look different depending on your allergy, but finding a few easy-to-transport items that won't make you feel like a burden can make your life so much easier—promise. (Related: The Ultimate Travel Snack You Can Literally Take Anywhere)
Don't feel guilty.
Since I didn't grow up with food allergies, I've had to learn to work through the guilt that sometimes comes along with social situations. I have a tendency to be overly apologetic for my food allergies and go down an anxiety spiral about whether I annoyed the person I'm with. The thing is, this is something I really have no control over, so I'm not doing anything wrong by making sure I'm safe. This is something you should always remind yourself about when a bratty waitress asks if you're "really allergic" to a certain food or just "on a diet." Sure, there are going to be people who just don't get it (no, I really can't pick out the shrimp or eat around the cashews). But most of the time, I've found that a calm, concise explanation works wonders to squash the issue, so everyone can move on to talking about something else.