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  • Writer's pictureLindiwe Lewis, @the.allergytable

Eating Out With Food Allergies: How Chill Can You Be?

We're excited to share this article from Lindiwe Lewis, founder of The Allergy Table with advice from lived experience on dining out with food allergies. Lindiwe candidly shares why pretending to be 'chill' about your allergies is not a good strategy when eating out, even though you think it makes you seem less 'fussy ' or 'complicated' to fit in. Read and learn....


Post author Lindiwe Lewis smiles while seated at a table in a restaurant. Image shared by Lindiwe Lewis.

“OMG you are allergic to everything!”


It was funny for the first few times, but after hearing this comment every time I tell someone what I am allergic to (for 30+ years)...


I am tired.


I find that this comment limits me, puts me in a box, when actually I am very fortunate because I’m not allergic to everything, and I probably eat similar foods to the person saying it. This comment drove me to become someone who is 'chill.' For most of my teens/20’s I was the ‘chill girl’ — someone who puts on an easygoing front, typically in order to appeal —but putting on that persona pushed me into some negative friendships and situations.

My allergic life isn’t just about avoiding my allergens, it’s about my relationships with others.


Some actual things I have said to people to be chill:


  • “I don’t care what restaurant we go to.”

  • “No, you don’t need to get me any safe snacks.”

  • “Yeah, you can eat nuts in front of me.”

  • “It’s fine you forgot I had anaphylaxis. I forget too.”


And on and on. Trying to fit in is the biggest crux of allergic reactors, and sometimes I still fall into the trap of trying not to be 'difficult,' 'fussy,' 'complicated.'


But, what is going on in my head is not chill. I say, “yeah, I’m easy, super chill,” but in my head it's:


  • Should I check the ingredients again?

  • What do I do if I have a reaction now?

  • What was that crunch?

  • Am I itchy?

  • Take deep breaths.

  • You’ve eaten this before.

  • You’re safe.


Definitely not chill…


Managing allergies can cause burnout/anxiety/PTSD. People who have never had to be around people with allergies might not understand the battle that goes on in our brains, and not just when we eat either. The mental load of allergies is constant.


I’ve found that trying to be the chill allergy girl never goes my way and I am usually disappointed when something doesn’t go according to plan.


I accept that eating out comes with a certain level of risk, especially when you have as many food allergies as I do, and I work to calm the mental noise that’s part of it. But I won’t let food allergies stop me from living my life, and that includes eating out.


And I do love to eat out.


It's easy to only focus on the bad experiences and live a life of quiet desperation, never wanting to eat out, but that’s not a life, and it only allows food allergies to win. Instead, what I try to remember is how many amazing dine out experiences I’ve had throughout my life. I refuse to let that noise in my head deter me from enjoying a meal.


But how do I push through that fear and eat out anyway? While it’s not easy or simple, here are the 10 things I do to help me eat out with my allergies:

  1. Pick a safe place to eat—preferably a place I’ve eaten at safely before.

  2. Eat with people I trust—who know about my food allergies and in a perfect world, who know how to use my epinephrine.

  3. Book at the right time—for me. I prefer going when a restaurant is less busy so the chef can give proper attention to preparing my food.

  4. Choose my meals—ahead of time; which is easy enough to do since menus are, more often than not, online.

  5. Call—the restaurant. Email the restaurant (I like to have things in writing.)

  6. Don’t go hungry—that way you can have better judgment rather than listening to your tummy rumble.

  7. Use my allergy card—I use one from @equaleats. Every time I use it, the staff are very impressed and they always say it helps them relay the information to the kitchen.

  8. Say thank you—to everyone at the restaurant who helped me. I ask for the server's name and then I email the restaurant to give my glowing review. That way they know how important allergy awareness is and what it does to the reactor.

  9. Review—the restaurant on @spokininc to help others, and to show the restaurant that the more they are up-to-date on allergies, the more people will visit.

  10. Rinse and repeat—I use these tips every time I go out, they are now habits and things to keep me grounded before I let anxiety seep into my brain.


#6 may surprise you, and in fact, it may sound silly. But I've put myself at risk countless times because I was so hungry at a restaurant that I let my guard down. Sometimes you get lucky. But sometimes not so much. Now I always go out, either having eaten a bit before heading out, or having a snack from my pocket on the way so I’m not ravenous when I get to the restaurant!


My hope is that this will help you look at how you’re trying to connect with people with fresh eyes — Are you the authentic you? Or the 'chill friend?' — and push through some of the fears you may have about eating out.



“Remember...you are never alone at The Allergy Table with food allergies.”

—Lindiwe Lewis, Founder of The Allergy Table




 
Headshot-Lindiwe Lewis-founder-of-the-allergy-table-uk

About the Author: Lindiwe Lewis is a food allergy advocate and a storyteller with a passion for community, fitness, writing, performing, pancakes, and friends. She founded The Allergy Table , to bring together others from the community so we all feel less alone. The Allergy Table offers reviews of restaurants, brands, cities, recipes, plus personal stories from reactors with food allergies. On her Instagram she shares relatable content, finding positivity in allergic conditions. She explores who we are behind the allergy in her new podcast ‘Behind the Allergy’ that will launch June 2024, bridging the gap between medical and lifestyle.


Images: Courtesy of The Allergy Table

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