Just when you think you have something figured out, life throws you a curve ball. Am I right? For several years now I have been sharing with the world my strategies for getting well-balanced family friendly meals on the table even with a modest food budget. It was something that had become so routine in my own home that I really did not have to think much about it anymore. It was like second nature, and I'm afraid I even became a bit arrogant in this ability. Then over the summer, I got thrown a huge curve ball. We found out my daughter has allergies, and lots of them.
Our Allergy Story
Allergies are not a completely new thing in our home. My daughter had her first reaction to tree nuts at 18 months old. We have toted around an Epi-pen for many years now after confirming that she does in fact have a life threatening allergy to pecans, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamias, cashews and more. For us, the tree nut allergy diagnosis did not affect our day to day lives in a major way though. We accepted it, and just became very diligent at reading package labels, asking people at potlucks what was in food dishes, and making sure caregivers were careful about the same. The worst times have always been around the holidays when nuts abound in homemade goodies and treats, but we managed without much trouble.
My oldest has always been my "sensitive" child, displaying sensitive eczema ridden skin, sensitive stomach, and sensitive emotions since birth. We have tried conventional and "natural" methods: gut-healing strategies, natural creams, prescription creams, alternative practices, and more to help her skin, but she would still have bad flairs every fall and winter. Last year, she took a turn for the worse, when she developed a skin rash on her face. I thought it might be ringworm because of its circular pattern, so I took her to urgent care before we headed out of town for the weekend. They prescribed an anti-fungal, which did absolutely nothing. The next week I took her to her regular doctor who gave us a stronger prescription anti-fungal, which again did nothing. By the summer, it finally cleared up along with her eczema. I started to suspect auto-immune issues, because when she would get a stuffy nose, I could faintly see the rash appear again.
Fast forward to this year, she started experiencing nightly stomach aches. Our former pleasant bedtime became like a dark cloud that we would all dread. My sweet daughter would want me to rub her belly while we read our nightly chapter and prayed. She would moan, while I died inside feeling completely helpless.
At her yearly allergy visit to renew the Epi-pen, I mentioned the stomach aches to the allergist, and questioned whether it could be food allergy related. She said no, not likely, but suggested we do another skin prick panel since it had been a few years. To my shock, the skin panel that was administered, did not even have food allergies on it! I was livid. Still no answers.
By the grace of God, I found a recommendation for an office that practices chiropractic care and functional medicine, and specializes in children. To make a long story short, after x-rays showing a horrible amount of bloating and gas, and an extensive blood test, we found out that she is displaying low immune function, along with a large amount of food allergies. To name a few: tree nuts (not new), wheat, dairy, peanuts, soy, and sesame. At home, she has been reactive to tapioca, which is in almost everything labeled "gluten-free", as well as coconut, apples, and avocado. None of those were on the blood test, so I'm not sure if they are true allergies or just sensitivities. It doesn't really matter, because they are still causing digestive distress.
Living with Food Allergies in the Home
For several weeks, I felt so defeated. Will my child ever be able to eat out and enjoy regular fun food like cupcakes at a birthday party, a hot dog at a ballgame, Friday night pizza night, or celebratory ice cream after a recital? Why does everyone want to feed my child snacks and candy at every single event? Church, educational functions, parties, playdates, sport functions. There's always junk food. There's always judgmental looks, like I am making this diagnosis up and wanting to deprive my child to be "trendy".
Trust me, I do not want to be a mother that tells my child they can't have something. I don't want to read every single label. I don't want to not be able to run through a drive through or pick up a pizza. I don't want to have to think so hard about food. I don't want food to consume my thoughts and time. I don't want to try to reinvent our family's favorite meals. I don't want to buy special ingredients. I don't want to spend double of my normal grocery budget.
Thankfully, we are coming out of our initial shock, finding our new normal, and my spending on food is starting to reduce as I figure out what she likes, what causes her reaction, what alternative foods are worth the cost, and what just sits in our pantry and doesn't get used. I can't tell you how many flours I have tried. So. much. wasted. money. We have found the best road for us is to keep our food very simple. It has been best for our tastebuds, time, sanity, and wallet. I am starting to get used to the idea that I will have to take approved food with me at every event we attend, probably even when we accept hospitality from others in their homes. We will try to not make a big deal about it, live with thankful hearts that we have a diagnosis now, and can hopefully move forward with more gut healing. Stress is so harmful to the body, even stressing over food allergies and healing, so we must be careful not to let our circumstances overtake our lives and thoughts. Instead,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. -Philippians 4:8
What this means for Eat Well, Spend Smart
While I will not be turning this site into an allergy site, I do hope to offer encouragement, hope, and recipes to other families that are dealing with extensive food allergies. It's not an easy world and can feel overwhelming as well as isolating. We are not meant to walk hard things alone. I need that community of supportive folks, and I'm pretty sure you do too. God's grace is sufficient for all of us. He will see us through these tough times. Hopefully, my daughter will experience healing of her reactive gut and allergies soon, but even if not, we have hope of new glorified bodies one day for those in Christ, and for that we can say Hallelujah!