I have opened up this blog to a number of guest bloggers for a few weeks for you to enjoy.
This week I bring to you Glenda Bishop. Glenda is a university-qualified Nutritionist who wants to help people to eat better, live stronger and have a healthier life. She has a special interest in food intolerances and how they impact a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. Glenda blogs at Healthy Stories, a place where you will find sensible advice on nutrition and healthy eating, tasty and healthy recipes, and other tips on living a healthier life.
I absolutely love this post as she captures my plight so well. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and get a greater understanding of living with the anxiety of food intolerances.
The Anxiety of Food Intolerances
Food intolerances (and allergies) are difficult to deal with at the best of times, and create considerable anxiety as you try to work out how safe your next meal will be. But when you also struggle with anxiety as a condition separate to your food intolerance, things can reach a whole new level.
First let’s look at food intolerances. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what your specific food intolerance is, the consequence can be quite severe. Now I know that these days it can seem like everyone is intolerant to something, and it’s almost fashionable to declare that you can’t eat gluten or wheat or some other such food. But for someone with a genuine intolerance or allergy, please believe me when I tell you that they would happily be ‘unfashionable’ and not have their condition.
So how does food intolerance create anxiety? Having a food intolerance can be very alarming when you know that you need to eat something, but also know that if you eat the wrong thing that you may suffer for days. This can make people with food intolerances very anxious when they are put into situations requiring them to eat food that they have no control over – a regular occurrence at social events and outings. It’s also problematic that many restaurants don’t get it right even when they assure you they can prepare meals to suit your needs.
Okay, now let’s step to the side for a minute and look at anxiety as a condition in its own right. Anxiety is an overwhelming and debilitating condition that can crop up when you least expect it, rendering you incapable of performing regular tasks. To an outsider, your anxiety is an unfathomable reaction to what should be a routine situation, and appears to be completely blown out of control. But to the person with anxiety, even if they know their reaction is not proportional to the situation, things are already so far out of control that it’s extremely difficult to rationalise the situation and suppress the extreme response.
There are two main problems with anxiety. Firstly, the trigger for an anxiety episode isn’t always predictable, and often people have panic attacks without understanding the underlying cause. The second problem is the fact that anxiety creates real physiological reactions. Many people think of anxiety as a problem of the mind, but anxiety also causes exceptionally strong biological responses driven by powerful hormones that act incredibly fast. Once these physiological processes have started, neutralising them with your rationale thought processes is extraordinarily difficult.
So what happens when someone suffers from both food intolerances and anxiety? Continually asking about the ingredients used in a meal can be a source of embarrassment to someone with anxiety since it puts you into the centre of attention and demands that other people consider your needs over their priorities. For someone who already suffers from anxiety, this predicament can escalate their stress levels and make it even more likely that they will have an anxiety episode. In fact, many people with food intolerances will make excuses to avoid social events to prevent this situation from happening.
It’s also important to consider the physiological consequences that occur when these two conditions are combined. The most common symptom of food intolerance is gastrointestinal distress, including bloating, abdominal pains, diarrhoea, and/or nausea. Anxiety episodes are often accompanied by similar gastrointestinal symptoms, particularly nausea and diarrhoea. So if someone is particularly anxious about a situation, then their body is already primed for gastrointestinal symptoms. As a result, if they eat something that they are intolerant to, their usual symptoms can be aggravated by the anxiety and become even more severe. It can also be difficult for the person suffering to work out whether their symptoms are due to what they ate, due to their anxiety, or both.
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to the anxiety of food intolerances, but there are some strategies you can use to minimise the impact:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the food. Learn to accept that this is essential for your wellbeing and not something you should be embarrassed about. So long as you maintain a calm and respectful manner when enquiring about food, it’s not your fault or problem if the person you are questioning reacts badly.
2. Do your research to find safe restaurants and safe meals. This way when someone suggests you go out to eat, you can be pro-active and choose a place that can cater for you.
3. Learn to accept there may be only one safe thing on the menu. It’s nice to have a choice of meals when you go out to eat, but the fact is that most of the time when we eat out it’s for social reasons. So instead try focussing on enjoying the company and just be happy that your one meal choice is safe to eat.
4. Take food with you that is safe for you to eat. When asked to a dinner/party/BBQ where you bring a plate of food, take something that can serve as a meal if necessary, such as a salad. Then you know you’ll have at least have one safe thing to eat.
Do you or anyone you know struggle with either anxiety or food intolerances (or both)?
Does the article help you to understand further the enormity of living with the anxiety of food intolerances?
By Glenda Bishop