05/11/2016 12:52 EDT | Updated 05/12/2017 05:12 EDT

Allergies? It's Time To Un-Restrict Your Diet

healthy dinner

Food allergies often go by another name: dietary restrictions. As people with allergies we're so used to talking and thinking about what we can't have. In restaurants we list off all our allergies to the server before even placing an order. When reading packages we scan for offensive ingredients, sometimes barely considering if the food even appears appetizing. It's easy to fall into a mental habit of thinking of your diet as restricted, and with good reason. It's so tempting to walk past aisles of cheese or pastries or bread, all things that others buy with ease and consume without extensive analysis.

If you don't have allergies, think of it this way. Imagine you've just started a new diet, like a juice cleanse. You crave certain foods, your mouth waters at the sight of someone else's lunch, but you know you can't eat anything that's off limits as per your meal plan. You scour the grocery store for healthy alternatives and find your purchases fall short. Then a week later the cleanse is done and you can indulge once again.

Now, obviously this would be a terrible diet, but I use it only to illustrate my point. People with food allergies don't get to bounce back or assume a "usual routine" after having a period of restricted consumption. Even though I've never tasted cheese, I still crave it. Knowing that others love it makes me feel like I'd like it, too, but I can't and never will be able to try it.

I've devised some strategies to combat any feelings of negativity or pessimism towards food. If there's one thing I've realized over the years, it's that the only reason I should feel restricted is if I make myself feel that way. There are endless combinations of food that can be put together to create a delicious meal, and by seeing it that way I keep my eyes open to new possibilities.

1. List the foods you can have

You know what you can't eat, so spend some time focusing on what you can have. Make lists of your favourite ingredients or just anything you know is safe for you. Putting pen to paper will help clear your mind and get your creative juices flowing. Seeing an extensive list of all the things you can have is also a positive affirmation. As you walk through the grocery store make note of all the things that you aren't restricted from. You may be surprised to see that you have so many options.

2. Stockpile your favorite brands

Growing up my mom used to stockpile packaged foods that were safe for me. Since allergy-friendly options were in short supply there was always a sense of urgency to find convenience foods that didn't contain allergens. We felt a funny kind of responsibility to make sure the brand didn't go out of business, leaving us to search for a new alternative. We were that desperate for options. Having safe convenience foods at the ready takes the grunt work out of navigating the dry goods aisles. If you only have to read every label once a month instead of once a week, you'll spend less time dwelling on restrictions.

3. Look at allergy un-friendly foods as inspiration instead of as off limits

As a person with allergies it's quite rare to find a cookbook or cooking show featuring recipes that don't in some way have to be altered. Try taking these dishes as inspiration for your next meal instead of writing them off altogether. Recipes don't have to be followed to a T. Experiment using ingredients that are safe for you and who knows what you'll come up with.

4. Binge eating one food happens, but spice it up

A common thread among other people with allergies I've met is that we tend to binge on one safe food, a lot. It's not uncommon for me to chow down on a whole bowl of corn, or broccoli, or even plain steamed potatoes. There's something comforting about having a meal of just one food that you know is safe and plentiful; it seems less risky. But if you're going to do this at least try to spice it up a little. Even something simple like adding herbs, oils (nut-free, of course), and spices to your bountiful plate of asparagus can make it feel a little more exciting and a little more like an actual meal.

amanda orlando

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