It's scary trying new food

Coming up to the ten year mark, I've been low FODMAPS for probably way longer than I should have

I recently had an appointment with my dietitian to discuss challenging some of the FODMAP groups.

You'd think I'd be excited about the possibility of being able to eat new foods ... nope.

Like most people I have an aversion to pain. In my mind, trying new food is scary because there's a reasonable chance of pain. And although I'm a little bit excited that I might be able to try new foods, I'm also scared because I don't want to suffer the consequences of eating food that disagrees with me. 

The impending FODMAP challenge has got me reflecting on the mental health side of food intolerances and allergies. 

For someone living with food allergies and intolerances, every snack, meal or drink is a considered choice. To stay safe, it's in your best interest to read the back of packet food, to ask lots of questions about food you're eating, and avoid contamination risk as much as possible. (Don't stop doing this - you need to do this to stay safe).

As such, it's not a huge surprise to find that research suggests that people with food allergies or coeliac disease are at a higher risk of anxiety or other mental health issues, and disordered eating than the general population. (A few references listed below).

So how do you eat safely while still looking after your mental wellbeing? 

Self-awareness

Maybe it's time to pause for a minute and think about your relationship with food.

Of course you're always going to have to avoid certain foods that you're allergic to*, or gluten if you're a coeliac; but are you also cutting out other foods that you don't need to avoid?

Are you spending more time worrying about food than enjoying it?

Are your food allergies stopping you from enjoying life?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it's time to talk to someone (refer to the 'seek help' section below.

*(unless you're working alongside a qualified specialist to challenge a food)

Knowledge

Do you know what foods you're intolerant or allergic to? If it's based on 'it makes me feel sick' rather than working with a qualified dietitian or gastroenterologist, then maybe not. Sometimes we cut foods out of our diet thinking they're a problem e.g. gluten, when really the problem isn't gluten it's wheat, or it's something else in the gluteny food that you're consuming. Unless you've gone through a proper elimination diet, you could be basing your food decisions on guess work, and therefore be missing out on some delicious nutritious food unnecessarily.

Knowledge is power, so when you know what you have to avoid, you can make better choices about what to eat.

Have a plan

When you know what your problem foods are, the easiest way to reduce anxiety is to have a plan. You could cook meals in advance so you always have something in the freezer, carry snacks in your handbag/put them in your glovebox for emergencies,  do preemptive checks before you eat-out e.g. calling ahead to ask questions about the menu, or offer to bring a plate if you're going round to someone's house for dinner. There are lots of ways you can keep yourself safe as long as you think ahead.

Seek help

Sometimes having food allergies or coeliac disease can feel socially isolating. So it's a good idea to touch base with your local allergy community. They'll have ideas of what to eat, where to eat safely, and give you a boost when you're having a poop day.

On Facebook I recommend the following groups  (spoiler! I'm an admin of two of these groups):

Gluten and dairy free New Zealand

Gluten and dairy free Hamilton

Coeliac Disease New Zealand

and some good Facebook pages:

Coeliac New Zealand (official Facebook page of Coeliac New Zealand)

Gluten Dude

Everyday Nutrition

A Little Bit Yummy

It's also worth joining Coeliac New Zealand and/or Allergy New Zealand for extra support

Find a trained dietitian to help you figure out what foods are problematic for you, and how to eat a healthy diet taking into account any food allergies/intolerances.

If you need help with your mental health, don't be afraid to seek assistance. Speak out, and tell someone you need help. Here are a few New Zealand contacts:

Helplines - Mental Health New Zealand

Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand

 

References:

Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Adults with Celiac Disease (2013). V. Passananti,1 M. Siniscalchi,2 F. Zingone,2 C. Bucci,2 R. Tortora,1 P. Iovino,2 and C. Ciacci2

The prevalence and predictors of disordered eating in women with coeliac disease (2017). Rose-Marie Satherley*, Ruth Howard, Suzanne Higgs

 Disordered eating practices in gastrointestinal disorders (2014). Satherley, Rose-Marie; Howard, Ruth; Higgs, Suzanne

 

Disclaimer: I am not a trained medical professional, this post is not to be read as medical advice. Always refer to a qualified medical professional before changing your diet. Seek professional help when required.