Alexa’s Advocating Story

This week’s blog post is written by a guest blogger! It is written by Alexa from Food Allergies in the Food Industry.

Hi, I’m Alexa! I’m allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, legumes, mango, kiwi and ripe banana. I’m also the creator of the blog, Food Allergies in the Food Industry.

I have been advocating for food allergies my entire life. As I only have 1-2 years before I age out of the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) Teen Advisory Group (TAG), I thought it would be really fun to review my TAG applications from the past eight years and share and reflect on some of the things I wrote through the years from when I was a teen.

My first FARE Teen Summit in 2014 changed my life forever, and the connections formed through FARE events and TAG have been incredible. I still love the FARE Teen Facebook groups, even though I know Instagram and Discord are much more of the things now.

Through the years I have been fortunate enough to advocate and educate so many people about food allergies. I have given presentations about food allergies at school and the 2018 and 2019 FARE Conferences, written school newspaper articles, been published on the website of the local community’s stigma free initiative, and created a website about living life with food allergies. As much as advocating about food allergy awareness and education is important, I also really believe that advocating for yourself and your food allergies is essential. Learning how to be my own advocate, stand up for myself, communicate my needs and accept myself as I am took years. This self advocacy journey is shown in my eight years worth of TAG applications.

2014: “My biggest challenge as a teen with food allergies is when I’m at school or a friend’s house…I never eat anything teachers and students bring in because I don’t know where the desserts are from or anything…some of my friends’ parents feed everyone whatever and I sit there eating nothing. I’m used to eating nothing, while everyone else is eating.”

Wow, the things that bothered me when I was a freshman in high school are things that don’t even bother me anymore. Probably because I learned to always pack extra food, eat before events that won’t have safe food, and spend my time chatting and being helpful instead of just thinking about what everyone is eating and what I’m not eating. I also am pretty sure many times the reason I was “sitting there eating nothing” was because I didn’t say anything or ask if there was something else I could have. Learning to speak up, ask questions, and be comfortable with bringing my own food definitely helped this challenge.

2015: “I’ve not been invited to people’s houses and parties because of my food allergies. When my friends hang out without me it’s because they are baking cupcakes together or something and I probably could bake, just not eat, because of cross-contact…I just sometimes feel left out when I can’t eat anything or I’m not invited because of my food allergies.”

If these friends weren’t inviting and including me in social activities, I think there are a couple variations to why this was happening. It could be what I often thought, which would be the worst, that these friends don’t like me, don’t care about me, and don’t understand me. It could also be that these friends were just trying to protect me, and didn’t understand that I would actually want to be involved in something with food. By not saying anything, assumptions may have formed and then misunderstandings developed, sometimes tearing apart friendships I thought I had. Through experience I learned that I need to address my needs very clearly, and if I want to attend or do something involving food or cooking, I just need to explain that I am capable of doing so and would like to.

2016: “[My biggest challenge is] being left out in social situations. It still happens. But I have learned to deal with it. When I go to college I would like to study psychology and maybe even sociology. The other challenge is that there is not that much mental health help out there for teens with food allergies…Even though I have food allergies I can still do anything.”

I thought reading this was so funny, as my principles of sociology class and social psychology class were some of my favorite classes in college, but I am not a psychology or sociology major. Being that I am actually a communication major I think it’s close enough! I also agree with that part about lack of mental health resources for teens with food allergies, as I still don’t think there is enough out there.

2017: “[My most successful strategy is] always carrying my Epi-Pens, and bringing snacks and money.”

I am always sure to bring my purse with me everywhere. My purse holds my Epi-Pens, snacks and money, that way I am prepared for any situation.

2018: “[My most successful strategy is] being open and honest about my food allergies, and understanding that life is not about the food, it is about the experiences.”

That’s right! Life is about the experiences, not the food! Focus on the moment, the space, the people you are with, and the feelings created. If the food is the center of the activity, try to figure out how to change the focus.

2019: “Non-allergic people should know that people with food allergies can do anything and are more than just their food allergies. That food allergies are not a reason to exclude us. Non-allergic people should also know that food allergies are on the rise and be educated in the symptoms of an allergic reaction.”

I still agree with all of this.

2020: “When managing my food allergies I have found that good communication is really important…Being clear about what I can and can’t eat also helps others understand…I would also like non-allergic people to know that food doesn’t have to be everything and things can be fun, even if there is no food involved.”

Communication is so important, and I know I keep saying that, and it’s not just because I’m a communication major! Others aren’t going to understand you unless you explain your needs, boundaries, expectations, feelings and experiences. People can’t read minds, or know what you need to be safe, and by providing the information about your food allergies this can allow others to help you. More often than not, people want to help you, and you just have to make the first step in communicating.

2021: “My biggest challenge, I think overall theme of my life since 2014 is that I gave myself self-fulfilling prophecies that weren’t true. I thought for the longest time because of my food allergies, asthma, anxiety, etc I wasn’t deserving of healthy friendships and relationships. I thought for the longest time that I was annoying, wasn’t good enough, that my food allergies were the reason I wasn’t having better social experiences. But then the magic of growing up (haha) I learned that I am plenty capable and that I should just be able to be me without fear of others judging me, being mean, outcasting me, etc. If someone really cares about you, your food allergies and other “labels” don’t really get in the way. They are respected, but not the end all be all. Learning this was such an essential part of my life, and I really hope that I will be able to share this to help other teens and young adults feeling the same way.”

Thank you Emily from nallergy for having me as a guest blogger! To read more about my experiences visit Food Allergies in the Food Industry.

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