Food Allergy Friends: Cultivating Your Support Network

Food Allergy Friends: Cultivating Your Support Network

by Tami Pyles

It was the 101st day of kindergarten, my daughter came home in tears because no one sat with her at the peanut-free table that day. It has happened only once, but I remember it vividly. I felt so helpless and sad for her. We talked a lot that evening about it and when she went to bed she was OK. I tucked her into bed, walked into the hallway and cried. Later that night, I reached out to a friend whose son also has food allergies. She got it. She knew how hard it was for my daughter to feel isolated and alone and she knew how hard it was for me as a food allergy mom. My friend consoled me in a way that only a food allergy friend could.  

Friendship is critical for all of us. It allows us to grow, release, find strength, and studies even show stay healthy. I would argue that finding a food allergy friend magnifies these benefits. My food allergy friends understand the day-to-day stress, they get the planning and preparation it takes to attend parties and events, they get the anxiety I feel as we slowly expand our safe “bubble”, and they laugh with me at a world that sometimes seems so oblivious to how dangerous food can be. And, I have food allergy friends who are a few steps ahead of us in their food allergy journey. They help me prepare for navigating the unchartered food allergy waters that lie ahead. 

When my daughter was first diagnosed, I felt so isolated and alone. I didn’t know anyone else who was managing a food allergy, and my non-food allergy friends, while sympathetic, didn’t really get it. I struggled with finding my food allergy people, but eventually found there are many ways to connect with others managing food allergies.

Start local. Are there any food allergy support groups in your area? FAACT provides a searchable list of support groups throughout the US. Groups often host meetings and play dates where you can connect with others. If you are interested in starting a support group FAACT offers resources and support. Also, check with your allergist or pediatrician to see if they can point you to any local resources such as support groups, food allergy events, or food allergy focused bakeries or restaurants.

Attend a food allergy conference or program. FAACT offers a number of programs and conferences aimed at bringing the food allergy community together. These kinds of events provide the latest information on advances in research and strategies for managing food allergies, but also an opportunity to connect with other individuals and families. There is something so comforting about being in a room full of people who get it! 

Join Facebook groups or other online communities focused on food allergies. There are a number of groups out there, some with a focus on a specific allergen and others more generally focused on managing life with food allergies. Join a few and see which ones fit with your personality and needs. I have found these groups to be very helpful in getting current information and sharing strategies and tools for managing life with food allergies. It can be a good way to connect with others, especially if there are no local support groups in your area, but be sure to set your own boundaries. Know when to step away from information overload or pessimistic thinking that can sometimes happen in online groups.

My food allergy friends have helped me to build a tremendous support system.  One I rely on heavily, especially on days like the 101st of kindergarten. It took time, but it was worth the investment to develop my circle of food allergy friends.  What will you do today to build your circle of food allergy friends?

About the Author:
Tami Pyles owns Thrive On Consulting. She works with individuals and families with food allergies to learn practical day-to-day management strategies to Thrive On; and she provides food allergy training and education to groups and companies. She is a certified AllerCoach and a food allergy mom who manages her daughter’s life-threatening food allergies. She frequently speaks and writes on food allergy topics and also has her own blog, Thoughts for Thriving On, where she shares ideas for living safely with food allergies. She lives in Louisville, KY with her husband and two daughters, and is actively involved in the local food allergy community. You can follow Tami on Facebook and Twitter.