People are often picky eaters. We want ice cream or candy instead of a good, healthy dinner filled with fruits, vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates. But not all picky eating is simply about preferring unhealthy foods over healthy ones. Sometimes the picky eating, particularly if it follows a pattern, is our first clue to allergies, food sensitivities, and other health issues.
I suffer from both moderate and severe food allergies. Onions will literally kill me. When I am exposed, my gastro-intestinal system swells up and stops functioning properly. Onions are a poison to me. But unless you read food labels religiously, it is easy to miss just how many pre-processed foods and even restaurant foods include onions. Onions are extremely hard to avoid! This made it very hard for me to connect my post-meal illnesses with a food allergy. Another part of the problem: my mother dismissed my complaints and my food aversions to simply “picky eating.”
Coming off my very long process to discover why I am rarely not ill after eating, I have learned a few things about food, food allergies, and “picky” eating I hope can help everyone identify food allergies better:
- All of us instinctively crave whatever our bodies needs. If we are attentive to our body signals (over social messages like child-centric advertisements for specific foods), we naturally will all pursue whatever best feeds our bodies.
- Our bodies know poison from nutrition. Just as we naturally won’t eat something that smells or tastes rotten to us (smell and taste are critical senses for evaluating food safety, after all), we naturally do not want whatever foods contain something toxic to us.
- Food allergies show themselves within thirty minutes of exposure. If the symptoms show up later than thirty minutes, it is far more likely to be a sensitivity or intolerance. Never dismiss any signs of post-meal illness or abdominal pain. When I have a mild onion exposure, it shows up as a “simple” stomach ache-which was always dismissed until my 30s when I first tried eliminating onions from my diet!
- Never dismiss complaints of pain following a meal. Food allergies and sensitivities manifest in different ways, but nearly all involve pain in some way. This is critical with children who often don’t have the education or vocabulary to understand the pain.
- If a person displays broad food aversion, evaluate what the person is eating and what dishes the person is most aversive to. Often if you really look at the ingredients on the foods a person is trying to avoid, you will see one or more consistent ingredients across those food. LISTEN to this “pickiness:” it’s a clear indicator an allergy or intolerance!
- Some food allergies go away, but many intensify over time, particularly if efforts to avoid the allergen are not taken early.
Food allergies are a serious health hazard. But if we learn to listen to our bodies and those of the children around us, we can learn to navigate them. Whether the allergy is to common filler ingredients like onions or corn syrup, or to less common ingredients like strawberries or beans, food allergies can be lived with-if only we learn how to change our food habits and listen to the signals around us. Changing our habits is far from easy-the amount of processed foods around us often makes avoiding an allergy challenging at best. Vague labeling like “spices” and “natural flavors” prevents us from making informed choices. But perhaps if we all insist on accurate food information, we can all eat better, safer, and more secure that what we eat is truly healthy.