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Just Call Me Sacajawea…

When you’re diagnosed with a food allergy/intolerance, you usually walk out of the office with photocopied list of Dos and DON’Ts for your new diet, an appointment with a nutritionist, and approximately 317,489 unanswered questions floating around in your brain.  You get home, walk into your kitchen and take a glance at the back of your favorite comfort food: potatoes (check!), salt (check), cottonseed oil…problem. It’s not on the DO list or the DON’T list! Now what?? Ah yes, if only it were as simple as a DO list and a DON’T list.
As far as food goes, here is my advice:
1)   Head to the library. I know, I know…it’s a place many people don’t frequent as often anymore. Trust me, even if you haven’t been there in ages, it’s still as fantastic as it was when you were a kid. Find as many books as you can related to your particular allergy. Do yourself a favor and don’t read them cover to cover…it will only exhaust and overwhelm you. Skim through for important information, jot down a few notes, but don’t expect to get all your answers in one day. Take it from me, this is a marathon…not a sprint. (I could give you some great recommendations but it all depends on your specific allergy so if you’re looking for specific title ideas, just send me an email…or become friends with Cupofcoffee WithKatie on facebook and you can see some of my favorites on the profile there!)
2)   Download your books. If you are one of those tech-savvy people who have made the switch to a Kindle or Nook, follow Step 1 using whatever 21stcentury gadget you’ve acquired. I envy you…one of these days I’ll finally have my own Kindle. A girl can dream 🙂
3)   Surf the Web: As a teacher, I could recite the speech about using common sense when discerning which websites are reputable…but I think by now you know that one by heart too. Be safe, be smart, and make Miss Burke proud.
4)   Practice a lost art: I know actually speaking on the phone is becoming a lost art for many people but you’re in luck! You know how they say “Use it or lose it” when it comes to talents? Well, you are about to start using the art of conversation quite a bit. Start calling those manufacturers of your favorite products. It gives you a definitive answer once and for all…and there’s nothing better than peace of mind. Just don’t forget to ask their policy on changing ingredients and recipes. That’s right, something that’s safe one day can suddenly become unsafe the next. It’s a dangerous game. And a cruel one if you ask me.
5)   Find a friend (preferably one who understands your allergy).  I know you have lots of friends…and trust me, they will prove to be an invaluable source of support, strength, and humor in the weeks to come…but what you could really use right now is someone who shares your allergy…or at least knows enough about it that he or she can be a resource. There’s nothing like having a guide to walk beside you and warn you about the potential pitfalls you never saw coming….and that none of those books thought to warn you about either. I was beyond blessed in this department. Through a crazy series of events which I believe can only be explained as God’s providential hand at work in my life, a new teacher moved into the classroom next to mine mid-year just three months prior to the day my journey into the food allergy world began. She was a light for me in an otherwise very dark time. Her positive energy was an inspiration…and there’s nothing better than knowing you can just run next door (literally) to ask yet another “What about this…is it safe?” question. God bless her, that’s all I can say. She had the patience of a saint with me that spring. (HC, thank you for being my allergy angel. I can only pray that everyone could be so lucky 🙂)
Now since not all of you will be fortunate enough to have your own allergy angel, I’m here to  share some of my own pitfalls and then walk alongside you until you feel confident enough to venture out on your own. Or until I drive you crazy. There’s a good chance the latter might come first…consider yourself warned. I won’t be offended 🙂
a.     Step away from the envelopes. That’s right, the adhesive on envelopes is not gluten-free. At least most of them. Fortunately self-adhesive has become all the rage. But do yourself a favor…don’t seal any envelopes. Invest in one of those sponges…or beg a friend for assistance.
b.    Pucker up…not so fast.: Yep, unfortunately many of those delicious chapstick flavors are often derived from allergenic substances. Do your homework and read the label. Burt’s Bees is free from many allergens, as is plain original Chapstick (yes the bland one…but it’s worth it to stay healthy), Arbonne has some great ones, and most health food stores/specialty stores (WholeFoods, Trader Joe’s, etc.) have their own line now. Just make sure to read the label or call the company yourself. Red Apple (http://www.redapplelipstick.com/) has a great gluten-free makeup line. I highly recommend them for my fellow gluten-free friends.
c.     Shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc.: Now if you have a contact allergy, this one is a given. But for many of us, the foods only cause problems if ingested, thus having contact with our digestive tract. So why worry about things you don’t plan to eat? Well, 2 reasons. 1) How many times has your shampoo inadvertently ended up in your mouth? You know, you’re mid-shower, belting out the latest One Direction ballad (I know it’s painful to admit…they are kind of catchy) and next thing you know your face looks like the little cartoon man on the WarHeads package. Shampoo on your tongue…gross. Well, now it’s not only gross but dangerous. Allergen on your tongue means soon enough it will make it’s way to your stomach. 2) (Honestly the more pressing concern): You enjoy a leisurely shower: lather, rinse, repeat your way through the shampoo, conditioner, etc. You get out of the shower and head downstairs, grab a handful of cashews for a quick snack, and you’re on your way. Well, those same hands that just lathered up that allergen-containing shampoo are now cradling your precious cashews. Enjoy that snack because you’ll be feeling it pretty soon. Granted, you can solve this problem by scrubbing your hands with non-allergy-containing soap after your shower…but seriously, who is going to think to wash hands when you just took a shower?? Take it from me: buy products without your allergen. It’s worth it.
d.    SUNSCREEN!: Same as letter C. I just had a traumatic poolside experience last summer (snacking after applying sunscreen = a very sick Katie) which has scarred me enough that it warrants a separate category.
e.     As if you needed another reason to fear the dentist: Not all toothpaste is safe but that’s a pretty easy fix. (Colgate and Crest are safe for many allergies…but Tom’s of Maine makes a corn-free one!) The hard part is the actual dental visit. Make sure to tell your dentist about your specific allergy. You’d be surprised what ends up in those fillings and sealants…and then can end up in your gut 😦
f.      Because kids like to taste everything: toys. Play-doh contains gluten. So do many kinds of glue/adhesive so all those glittery, self-adhesive “bedazzle everything you own” kits are a nightmare for kids with allergies. Or parents for that matter. You can make your own safe play-doh (http://www.parents.com/fun/activities/indoor/gluten-free-play-dough-recipe/) Granted that one has corn, so adjust for your specific needs. Again, pinterest…it’s a lifesaver. And as for the bedazzling, just skip it. Nothing needs to be bedazzled. You’re dazzling enough 🙂
I know there are countless other pitfalls I’m forgetting at the moment. I promise they’ll find their way later. For now, I’m sure this is more than enough to convince you that you should just become a bubble-person and never leave the house again. It’s not true. I promise it won’t be that bad. I hit some pitfalls and I’m still here and smiling.  Remember, I’m your guide and we’ll get through it together. Just call me Sacajawea…

(Note: I believe in credit where credit is due: I can’t claim credit for the Sacajawea analogy. Although it was originally applied to a different speech, another co-worker was the brains behind that literary/historical stroke of genius. We’ll call him the Savvy Speechwriter. An Allergy Angel and a Savvy Speechwriter…don’t you wish your kids went to this school??)

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