Food allergies, Anxiety & Dining Out

Food allergies, Anxiety and Dining Out

As we return to and attempt to adjust to the hustle and bustle, freedom and opportunity afforded by ‘normal life,’ the global population is collectively arriving at a startling and even initially, scary realisation – an extended lockdown, exercise levels, zoom calls, socially distanced grocery shopping and innumerable coping methods aside, has impacted each of us on a deeper level than expected. Despite living in a time with more, albeit desperately inadequate, mental health services and conversations around the same – the truth is that it’s easier than ever to feel overwhelmed, socially, and generally anxious. In particular, we struggle to talk about or even acknowledge this sense of mild terror that washes over us at the thought of doing things we used to love. After all, it would seem hypocritical to say, ‘I’m nervous to eat out again’ for example when all we have been collectively longing for over the past two years is exactly that.

Anxiousness is quite the shape-shifter, choosing an often rational, yet unlikely and manageable fear and transforming it into an unmanageable certainty. For many with food allergies and intolerances, newly diagnosed and seasoned allergy veterans alike, this anxiousness may manifest itself as a fear of dining out. Or, perhaps you don’t feel anxious around dining out at all, regardless, it never hurts to have some helpful, friendly advice in managing your food allergies and anxiousness while eating out.

 

Do Your Research:

C-19 has forced almost every local restaurant or food business online, catering to a new world of home deliveries and savvy, tech-centric shoppers. This is excellent news for allergy and intolerance sufferers – as it is now quite simple to obtain a menu for a given restaurant you would like to try. Under current EU laws for non-pre-packed food, restaurants and other eateries must inform customers if their dishes contain any of the 14 most common allergens. Many include allergen info on their menus. While they may not always tell the full story, they will be able to help you in summarising how many choices you will have and whether the restaurant consciously caters for food allergies and intolerances – reducing any anxiety you may have around making special requests or not being able to thoroughly enjoy your meal due to restrictive ingredients.

If it’s not clear from the menu call ahead and ask to speak to a manager to make sure they can cater for your food allergies.

In addition, you will find many reviews online by simply googling a restaurant’s name. Websites like TripAdvisor and even Google’s own built-in review platform to their search engine, allow you to search for keywords like ‘allergy’ – highlighting reviews where other customers mentioned the restaurant’s handling of food allergies and intolerances.

 

Have an Emergency Plan:

Just knowing you have your bases covered in the event of a ‘worst-case scenario’ can go a long way toward alleviating any stress, worry or associated anxiety arising from dining out. A common trend with anxiety is catastrophising – imagining the worst possible scenario and tying that outcome, as a near certainty to a given root cause. For example – “If I eat out tonight, the kitchen will make a mistake, put peanuts in my food, I’ll go into anaphylaxis in front of everyone, I’ll be embarrassed and seriously injured or worse.” It may seem an irrational thought to someone well versed in managing their food allergies but these are thought patterns that can and have formed throughout the pandemic – becoming the new norm for many.

You can combat these feelings by laying out a clear action plan, which will give you a sense of control and preparedness in the face of a potential reaction. Having an EpiPen to hand – stored in a temperature-regulating case, along with medical alert jewellery and chef cards and communicating your allergies to your table and restaurant staff are all excellent, straightforward methods of feeling comfortable in your situation and environment. This brings us nicely to our final piece of advice…

 

Speak Up:

We have covered some pretty rudimentary examples of anxious allergy thinking throughout this blog so far, because the fact is, each one of us is so complex with so many unique situations, thought patterns and external influences, that covering each potential worry would be nearly impossible. It’s a common trope in mental health-based conversation to speak up when you don’t feel ok, almost to the point that it has been spoken into obscurity – which cannot be allowed to happen. We all need to be aware of how acutely important it is to verbalise our worries, no matter how insignificant, silly, or embarrassing we may think they are.

When the waiting staff come to your table to take your order be ready to communicate your requirements and allergies confidently, ask them to make a note of your allergies and pass it to the chef or use a chef card. Ask about cross-contamination to make sure your food won’t come into contact with your food allergens in the kitchen and request that the chef uses clean utensils and fresh oil if there is a potential for cross-contamination.

Particularly in social settings, verbalising that we don’t feel ok gives us conscious and subconscious permission to behave the way we need to behave to feel better. If it’s bugging you, whatever your ‘it’ may be – by letting your friends, family, date, a waiter or even a stranger know, you have made ‘it’ actionable and a problem that can, and will be solved. It’s time we all began to thoroughly enjoy everything our wonderful world has to offer, if you don’t feel ok, speak up. You will be amazed at the level of compassion, empathy and understanding out there.

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