Living Freely and Mindfully With Food Allergies
A lifetime of managing the entire atopic triad fuels Kortney Kwong Hing's work to help people who manage food allergies and related conditions. A creator at heart, Kortney has innovated valuable resources for the food allergy community — like the non-profit Zestfull, The Itch Podcast, and The Allergy Travels on-line community — in close partnership with like-minded collaborators and friends. Read and find out 7 strategies Kortney suggests to help you live freely (& mindfully} with food allergies, because "they should be a consideration and not an obstacle to living the life you want to live.
I am a long-time food and travel blogger. In Fall 2020, I took a leap and retired my Allergy Girl Eats blog to start a non-profit — Zestfull — with friend and co-founder Shahla Rashid. With Zestfull we're on a mission to empower, support and improve the emotional, physical and social well-being of individuals who manage food allergies and related conditions.
This may sound daringly entrepreneurial (how often do you pull the plug on a thriving brand to morph it into something completely new?) but I’ve been laying the groundwork for this new venture my entire life, as I try to live freely (yet mindfully) and help others with food allergies do the same.
My Food Allergies
I manage a long list of allergies – many of the common ones, and some not so common ones like sunflower seeds and pink peppercorns. I can’t forget asthma and eczema, which round out my atopic package. I also have Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), that can muddy the waters when I’m trying to figure out if an allergic reaction is brewing or explain why I can eat cooked apples but not raw ones.
My reactions don’t follow a clear pattern and depend on the food — sometimes it’s hives, sometimes it’s stomach cramps, sometimes its itchy ears, sometimes it’s throwing up, sometimes the reaction is immediate, sometimes it builds over hours. It’s all confusing and more than a little anxiety-provoking. I avoid all the foods that give me OAS because OAS sets off a panic alarm that the reaction will escalate.
Growing up, the emergency protocol my family followed was Benadryl first, wait and see. Today, it’s epi first, epi fast. I will admit that it is still hard for me to override the ‘wait and see’ muscle memory I struggle with denial and second-guessing because my reactions don’t always follow the same pattern.
While I have never used my epinephrine auto-injector on myself, I have promised myself that if I have a reaction, I will not hesitate to use it. Epinephrine doesn’t hurt you if you call it wrong, and it could save you if you’re having a reaction.
“A reaction may not always be a deadly reaction. But the chance that it could fosters fear.”
I have definitely had to wrestle with my fair share of food allergy-related fears and anxieties along the way. After your first ER visit for anaphylaxis, you are never quite the same person you were before. The experience can take a toll on your confidence and, if you permit it to, can paralyze your spirit of adventure. Sometimes you need to pause and acknowledge the scariness before you can leave the ER experience behind and move on with living your life.
7 Tips to Live Freely & Mindfully with Food Allergies
Once you acknowledge and find ways to manage your anxiety, I believe you can live freely and fully, in spite of food allergies.
Here are some rules I live by that might help you live the life you want to live:
1. MINDSET MATTERS.
My allergies only block me from living my best life if I allow them to. I mindfully choose to live with optimism and positivity.
2. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED AND PREPARE ACCORDINGLY.
I carry my epinephrine everywhere I go. I make sure my epinephrine is always current and never leave home with fewer than two injectors. I also never assume I’ll find something safe to eat while I’m out and about, so I make sure I have food to eat with me. These are habits, a way of life, for me.
3. DON'T TAKE FOOD RISKS.
I’ll enjoy time out with friends and family and go to restaurants, but I don’t eat anything unless I am 100% comfortable with the restaurant. If I feel comfortable eating at a restaurant, I like to stick to simple foods. If it’s not a go, I happily order a drink. Time out with friends and family is high on my list; the food experience is secondary.
4. DRINK MINDFULLY — NEVER EXPERIMENTALLY.
If I’m out for drinks, I keep it super simple. No fancy cocktails for me. Even glassware at a bar can be suspect. A familiar beer from a bottle or a glass of wine works perfectly. I’m also careful about how much I consume because when you overdo it, you tend to let your guard down. You won’t see me doing rounds of shots (if I do it may go over my shoulder instead!)
5. SURROUND MYSELF WITH FRIENDS WHO TRULY CARE.
I surround myself with friends I trust and I’m not shy about communicating my allergies. I make sure when we go out that my friends know where to find my epinephrine in my bag and how to use it, in case I can’t.
6. ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B.
If I ever find myself in a situation that makes me feel unsafe from an allergy pov, I put my Plan B into play. My Plan B is, more often than not, an exit strategy that I’ve given thought to in advance. Friends will understand if you make a quick exit. If they don’t, you should re-evaluate the company you keep.
7. BE GRATEFUL.
Remember that you aren’t alone in managing your food allergies. It’s important to acknowledge those who help.
While it’s been a lifetime journey to figure out these personal food allergy rules, with some missteps along the way, I believe that…
“...food allergies should be a consideration, not an obstacle, to living the life you want to live.”
About the Author: Kortney Kwong Hing is a product manager and content creator by day and food allergy advocate by night. She launched the Allergy Girl Eats blog in 2015. In 2017 she co-founded the online community, Allergy Travels, with three other globally-minded food allergy advocates. In 2018 she launched the popular Itch Podcast with co-host Dr. Payel Gupta to unpack the complexities of living with allergies, asthma and immunology for listeners. She co-founded Zestfull in 2020 to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of living with food allergies. She believes you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!
Please consider donating to support Zestfull's mission to empower, support and improve the well-being of people who manage food allergies and related conditions.
Image: Courtesy of Kortney Kwong Hing