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The Food Allergy Bitch Manifesto

This week is the 1-year anniversary of this column. That's why I'm always surprised when I get comments from readers who challenge themes that have appeared in the column over and over. (I realize people do not read every column...but still!)

So today's post is the Food Allergy Bitch Manifesto. These are things I believe, that I write about constantly, where my opinions are not likely to change. If you disagree strongly with most of these then you're probably not going to like me or what I write very much!

1. Don't call your or your child's condition an allergy if it doesn't conform to the clinical definition of allergy. A food allergy means something specific to doctors. A food allergy involves the immune system. Part of the reason the term has become so meaningless over the last 20 years is that people who have food intolerances, or who even just don't like a particular food, have appropriated the term.

I am never going to be o.k. with that. This kind of truthiness affects our children. People discount the life-threatening nature of their condition because others are using the term inappropriately. If you come to my web page or Facebook page and comment in this way, I am going to call you out on it, every time. Which brings us to...

2. Follow the money and consider the source accordingly. There are a lot of people in this industry who are making money off of frightened food allergy parents. A LOT.

I'm not saying you should discount everyone in the food allergy world who makes money. There are many people who have started businesses in this area specifically to help others. But a funny thing happens when money comes into the picture. Rather than alienate potential customers, many advocates who run businesses simply loosen up their standards. You suddenly see topics creep into their support materials like "clearing allergies" through NAET, or IgG testing, or magical wooden bands (still my favorite!). If challenged, they say "it's just posted for discussion." They want to have their allergy-free cake and eat it too.

I have seen several examples over the last year of situations where I think money played too great an influence. An advocate with a busy support group who set up a PayPal account for donations to defray the costs of her personal health situation. A new food allergy foundation whose only purpose seems to be to collect cash, without any promise as to how it will be used. Advocates who also just happen to sell bracelets, or advice, or books. Advocates who have so intermingled their personal and professional lives that their child outgrowing an allergy is something that can't be publicly admitted.

No they're not all corrupt, but monetary motivators should definitely be factored in when evaluating a source of food allergy advice.

3. Be respectful of allergies, not reverent about them. Allergies are something to be managed, not worshiped. There is no "true believer" way of dealing with them, no right words, no absolute truths. The truth is that researchers know little and moms often know even less.

It's so easy for habit to become dogma before we even know it. The next thing we know, we're eviscerating some poor fellow mother on a chat board because — gasp! — she doesn't follow the (sometimes crazy) rules we've created for ourselves.

It's no secret that I think people should push past their comfort zone. Ask doctors about treatment options. Ask about challenges. Ask about necessary vs. unnecessary precautions. If needed, get a psychologist involved to address anxiety issues. Learn to live in the boat with the tiger with every tool of mastery you can find. No one has all the answers, even the consultants who tell you they do (for the right price).

4. Don't surround yourself solely with what makes you comfortable. It is completely possible with the advent of the internet to build oneself a fantasy sand castle of thought. If you don't like what someone says to you, only visit sites that tell you what you do like to hear. Or, better yet, find or even create a community of people who only reinforce what you already believe.

There's a huge danger with the internet. Anyone can be a publisher or a community organizer. Anyone can say whatever they want to say. That's why we've seen such a rise in conspiracy theorists: it is now literally possible to find someone else who believes what you believe, no matter how crazy it is.

I guarantee you  — what you think about food allergies is not what your family, or friends, or teachers, think. Yes, they may be wrong in many aspects of their thinking, but you are not likely to completely change their thinking through education. They, too, have built sand castles. There's value in hearing and understanding  other competing viewpoints.

There's a concept in psychology called projection: ascribing blame to someone or something in the outside world that are really all about our own inner battles. When we read something about food allergies that bothers us, that makes us think, that we discuss over and over on chat boards or with friends, it's a good signal that we're internally conflicted about our choice. (People who don't experience that conflict simply walk away without another thought.)

Conflict is good. We should always be questioning. Too much time with "Mirror, mirror, on the wall" never ends well.


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