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An insight into my life with food intolerances and allergies

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

This is an article by Fabienne from Freiknuspern about living with food intolerances and allergies.

The uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, the challenges in everyday life, not being able to eat certain foods, and a radical change in my daily nutrition have been a part of my life for a little over 3 years. I have allergic asthma with some food intolerances and allergies.

I was diagnosed with allergic asthma just over 3 years ago. After experiencing a range of symptoms including asthma attacks, swollen tongue and watery eyes, I wasn't very surprised by the diagnosis. The “surprise” for me came a little later—after I gradually figured out which foods were bothering me.

It took a lot of patience, medical assistance, a number of tests and examinations, support from loved ones, and some sensitivity.

When I looked at the extremely long list, my mood dropped. Food has always played a very special role for me. It was never just a means to an end. It relaxes me, brings me joy, makes me creative, takes me to wonderful places, introduces me to new people, shows me to other cultures, and just generally makes me happy. I could go on raving forever, but I think it's already pretty clear how much I appreciate food. If, from one day to the next, you start fearing possible allergic reactions with every bite, you can quickly lose the pleasure and joy in eating. That’s exactly what I didn't want to happen to me. As someone who celebrates every meal, I didn't want to feel bad about every bite.

It took a lot of patience, medical assistance, a number of tests, and examinations (often self-tests, where I always had to expect a reaction to occur), and support from loved ones until I had drawn up my current list of intolerances and allergies. Of course, I could develop new intolerances at any time, but I don't think it's productive to approach life with that attitude.

The first challenge and burden was over when I had my finished list in front of me. “I can work with this,” I thought to myself. At least I know now. But then everyday life really starts. My family has always cooked fresh food, and every family member helps with joy and creativity. That was actually the ideal situation for me. But I wasn't initially aware of how much I ultimately needed to change my diet, my way of shopping, and my eating behavior.

Every week it was the same circus and bad mood, and I had no desire to shop for the handful of recipes that I've eaten again and again.

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The first big hurdle was shopping at the supermarket. Everything suddenly took a lot longer. Why? Well, I don't know about you, but before figuring out my allergies, I just threw the products in my cart that I was familiar with and ate regularly, that appealed to me or that were new. But suddenly I had to scrutinize all the familiar products, reading the list of ingredients carefully. You can imagine how much time that alone takes when doing your weekly shopping. And few of the products I was already familiar with actually found their way into my cart now. This quickly led to frustration, panic and an extremely bad mood. Previously I had really liked shopping because I really enjoy food and nutrition. But I was at the point where I no longer enjoyed it. I just didn’t feel like looking for possible alternatives, changing recipes and dealing with the whole topic.

I couldn't give up on food, though. I love food.

The whole thing went on like this for about four months. Every week it was the same circus and bad mood, and I had no desire to shop for the handful of recipes that I've eaten again and again. No variety, no motivation and no creativity. But then (luckily) I arrived at a moment when I realized that I was no longer myself. I couldn't give up on food though. I love food. So I thought hard about my new life with allergies and resolved to bring variety and creativity into my diet again.

I’ve tried my favorite recipes in an allergy-friendly form and have consistently and extensively considered alternative ingredients and dishes. If breakfast porridge with oatmeal tasted good, why shouldn’t it taste good with millet or buckwheat flakes? Little by little, I got to know a lot of new products and foods, which ultimately all contributed to making my diet allergy-friendly, balanced and still similar to my diet “before the allergies”. Sure, it was a long journey and a radical change, but I enjoy eating again, most of my symptoms have disappeared, I feel good in my body again, and I have regained my everyday life.

It’s really important that you know your environment, especially with allergies, where possible traces of the allergen can already cause a reaction.

After I had cleared the shopping hurdle and I became aware of how much I can still cook, bake and eat despite everything, I moved on to another important topic: Getting my family and friends to understand the issues. It’s really important that you know your environment, especially with allergies, where possible traces of the allergen can already cause a reaction. Nevertheless, it’s not just about protection and security, but much more about understanding and feeling good.

Will they have food I can eat? How will the waiter react? What will others think of me?

That brings me to my next point: Eating out and on the go. I’m not just talking about a cozy meal where everyone contributes something to the potluck—I mean simply going to a restaurant. First, it was important to find out which foods I can't tolerate, what possible alternatives there are, how I can eat differently and still eat similarly to what I was used to. You know, everyday nutrition and everyday life. But at some point the first birthday invitation flutters into the house, or an old friend from Berlin comes to visit and invites you out for dinner. Of course, you're happy at first, but then your second thought is, “Will there be anything for me to eat? How will the waiter react? What will others think of me?” and so on.

I focus on recipes for allergy sufferers and usually avoid several known or less known allergies and intolerances in my recipes.

Ultimately, these thoughts accompanied me through my studies. I basically took more food with me to university than learning and writing materials. When my fellow students went to the cafeteria, I took one of my numerous breakfast boxes. My interest in the topic, the challenges and the opportunities even led me to write my bachelor's thesis about it. During the process I became aware of the relevance of the topic again. I wanted to do something to make the topic more anchored in people's minds. I wanted to be of help to other people who were experiencing problems and exchange ideas with them. I just wanted to show that you can cook and bake creative, balanced, delicious, and easy food even with allergies and intolerances.

With a bit of creativity, courage and a certain persistence, you can also feast with food intolerances.

That's where I got the idea for my own blog - and the first recipe went online in October 2015. I focus on recipes for allergy sufferers and usually avoid several known or less known allergies and intolerances in my recipes. In addition to recipes, I would also like to give my readers useful tips on how to deal with food intolerances and let people take part in my personal allergy routine. The blog not only offers me a place where I can give free rein to my culinary desires and bring other people joy with my recipes, but is also an opportunity to exchange ideas with like-minded people. I always notice how good it is to be able to talk to someone who faces similar challenges. The tips and recommendations they offer are often a great help for me. Just last week, a very nice woman contacted me: She had stumbled across my blog and wanted to communicate with me personally. That's exactly what motivates me to do something to support the topic.

With a bit of creativity, courage and a certain persistence, you can also feast with food intolerances :) ! There are so many options and alternatives. The “free-from market” is getting bigger and bigger and the product variety is astounding compared to a few years ago.

I hope this little insight will help some people affected to rediscover their (perhaps lost) pleasure in delicious food and have the courage to deal with the topic. I can definitely understand the fears, symptoms and challenges allergy sufferers face every day. Today, I still have days when I’m standing in the supermarket and am sad because some tasty little things just don’t fit with my allergies. Most of the time, a day ends with me standing in the kitchen trying to make that tasty little thing myself by converting it into an allergy-friendly variant :) .

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

I’m André, a medical doctor from Berlin. Together with a team of medical doctors, nutritionists and data scientists we empower people to understand digestive issues with our app Cara.

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