Food Allergy Awareness | My Child’s Allergic Reaction

Beach Allergic Reaction

Each year, my family takes a trip down to 30A in Florida. For as long as I can remember, we’ve picked up donuts from The Donut Hole to enjoy one morning of our vacation. Knowing my 3-year-old son’s allergies to eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts, my thoughtful brother and sister-in-law made a special trip to a bakery that sells vegan muffins (so egg-free) and other baked goods. They did their homework, asking the owner of the bakery about specific items and whether or not they contained my son’s allergens. They were directed toward several different nut-free, vegan options (or so they were told).

Excited to have found a special treat for my little guy to enjoy as we ate our donuts, we sat down for breakfast together. My son dove into his vanilla muffin along with the rest of his breakfast. Later, he got up from the table not acting like himself. When I asked him what was wrong, he quietly replied, “I don’t know.” We had just discussed the fact that it was our last day at the beach, so I assumed he was sad about that and didn’t push him to talk much more.

We proceeded to change into our swimsuits, lather up with sunscreen, and walk down to the beach. I was carrying my sleeping 6 month old, but when mom finally arrived with my 3-year-old, she commented that he was “moving at a glacial pace.”

He played in the sand for a little while with my dad and brother. A little later, he asked for a snack but didn’t really eat much. I knew something was up when he asked to sit in my lap. This kid had been sprinting up and down the beach all week! Something wasn’t right. He continued to become more and more clingy. At one point, he was sitting under the umbrella covered in a beach towel telling me he had a “feber” (AKA fever). He began asking me for medicine.

At this point, I also thought he might have gotten a little cool in the shade or that maybe he needed to go potty, so I began walking with him back up to our house. He didn’t want to walk, so I ended up carrying him the rest of the way. As we were walking, he began to scratch. By the time we’d gotten to the house, he was itching all over and clawing his neck, legs…really, his entire body.

Finally out of the sun, I was able to see his skin more clearly. It looked like he had a terrible, blistery sunburn. He sat on the tile floor and scratched while I called the bakery to re-check the ingredients of his muffin. Again, I spoke to the owner and was told the muffin did not contain eggs or nuts; however, this time he offered to have someone else check and call me back. I continued to observe my son while I called my mom to come up from the beach because I suspected an allergic reaction. My husband wasn’t able to come on this trip, so I called to let him know as well.

When the bakery called me back, I answered and began asking more questions about the specific egg-free, nut-free flavors the bakery offered. The woman who returned my call listed several options, but vanilla wasn’t one of them. When I asked about the vanilla, I was finally told, “Oh no. The vanilla muffin isn’t vegan. It contains eggs.” My heart dropped as I quickly hung up and went to get the Epipen. As soon as my parents walked into the house, we administered the Epipen amidst lots of screams and tears from my little guy.

Those moments and the ones that followed were so scary and heartbreaking. My son, already not feeling well, knew he was going to have to get a shot and was basically hysterical. As a mother, I was scared to death not knowing how quickly his reaction was going to progress. Many people don’t realize that allergic reactions can worsen over the course of several hours and that antihistamines (which my son takes every morning) can mask certain aspects of allergic reactions.

I was devastated, knowing he trusts me to never give him foods that would hurt him or make him sick.

We rushed, flashers on, to the nearest hospital. Though his heart was racing, my little guy was having a hard time staying awake. We watched videos and encouraged him to keep talking to us on our 15-minute drive to the hospital.

Fortunately, the emergency room staff was wonderful, and we were in a room within 5 minutes of our arrival. They administered a hefty dose of strong steroids and Benadryl and set him up on a heart monitor for the next several hours to watch for any rebound reactions as the Epipen wore off. Fortunately, his breathing was not compromised and his airways stayed open. We had lots of people praying for us by that point, too. I’m not sure what would’ve happened without his Epipen or morning dose of hydroxyzine. I am so thankful that I was with him and that my family, doctors, PA, and nurses knew how to care for him as well.

The bakery owner was very apologetic, tearfully offering to pay for all of my son’s medical expenses; however, this was a life-threatening emergency that could’ve had a completely different outcome due to this oversight and not taking our inquiry related to my child’s food allergies seriously enough. And this from the owner of the bakery! I was baffled, and it honestly makes me exponentially more wary of taking my son out to eat.

I recognize the extra effort that goes into researching the items that are served at bakeries and restaurants when patrons report an allergy and ask about ingredients. It’s additional time and work in a fast-paced industry. At the same time, I believe people not only need more training and awareness of the seriousness of food allergies, but our society, especially those who work in foodservice establishments, also need a little more empathy.

Though he has such a sweet attitude about it, it brings tears to my eyes to think that my son can’t just eat a regular piece of cake at a birthday party or enjoy our tradition of donuts at The Donut Hole. I hate that he can’t order whatever sounds good from a restaurant menu. It’s nerve-wrecking to know he has to rely on other people to tell him which foods are safe and which ones are not at this point in his life. It requires quite a bit of trust on his part, and it requires a ton of our trust in food service establishments.

I share our story in hopes that those who work in food service will see my son and others who have food allergies as real people who want to be normal, who want to belong, who don’t want to have to live in a bubble and eat at home all the time. I share it for friends and family members of those with food allergies to have a greater awareness of what allergic reactions might look like and how to react, knowing that my son’s reaction could’ve been much worse and progressed much faster. I share it so that others will understand the reasons why parents worry so much about foods served at school, parties, and other events.

There is no shame in asking lots of questions and reminding and re-reminding others about a loved one’s food allergies, and I’ll continue to model these behaviors (carrying the Epipen, asking questions, etc.) and to teach my little one how to take his allergies seriously, too.

Our story has a happy ending that includes memories of Veggie Tales videos and Minions stickers at the hospital, and I’m pretty sure my son is no longer worried he has a hole in his leg from the Epipen (yes, he asked). My prayer is that our story somehow prevents more stories of allergic reactions and gives additional insight about how to react with respect.


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Wait…Why are we talking about my weight?

Raise your hand if you look forward to going to the doctor…

People, Weight Bias, Weight Stigma

Me neither.

Not long ago, I had a check-up that I had been dreading more than usual. I contemplated canceling several times. As I was considering whether or not I would go to the appointment, I thought about all that would be done at the check-up. One of the first things that came to mind was getting my weight checked. Lately, I’ve encouraged several of my clients to decline weighing at the doctor’s office if not medically necessary for their care as few of my clients look at the number on the scale as “interesting data.” I felt convicted to practice what I had been preaching to my clients, so I pondered what it would be like if I said “no” to the scale that day. When I started thinking about speaking up and not getting weighed, I -much to my surprise- started to feel nervous…my heart was beating fast!

I’ve had clients share that it’s easier to just get weighed to avoid getting questions or receiving funny looks from the nurse who is in charge of getting vital signs. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. I, too, was wrestling with the idea of refusing to be weighed! Many people fear making their doctor mad, seeming ungrateful for their help, or acting like they know more than their doctor. I’ve also had clients share that they were treated differently after refusing to be weighed at a doctor’s appointment, but it wasn’t until this particular day that I began to understand why my clients struggle so much with the scale in the doctor’s office.

I chickened out.

It truly felt easier to just step on the scale that day. The nurse took note of my weight. I saw my doctor, expressed my concerns, and attempted to get my questions answered. During my appointment, the doctor was not particularly forthcoming with lots of helpful information, but I was – for some reason- completely shocked at what she was forthcoming about. Right before walking out of the room, she decided to tell me, “And just so you know, you’ve gained [x] pounds over the last year.”

I stared at her blankly, basically in shock, wondering why she felt the need to tell me this information. I certainly hadn’t asked about my weight. Before I could formulate a response (or close my mouth after my jaw had dropped), she continued, “You’re still fine. It’s just something I tell everyone just so they know.” I think I managed to utter an puny “OK?” before she left the room.

Immediately, I was so disappointed in myself. I began thinking of all the things I should’ve said in that moment. Even more, I began thinking about my clients and the weight bias and weight stigma they have experienced. My weight remains in a range that is deemed “healthy” or “normal” by the medical community’s [sometimes arbitrary] standards, so IWait...Why are we talking about my weight? Weight Stigma & Bias by Healthcare Providers cringed thinking about how this conversation may have gone for a person who was considered “overweight” or “obese.” I thought to myself, “No wonder people decide to delay or avoid medical care!

I also thought about those who have struggled to gain the weight they need to be healthy. Hearing this comment could’ve been a major trigger for them. What if a patient gains muscle, making them stronger and healthier? What if the patient was recovering from an eating disorder? What about all of the other factors that can lead to weight gain?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt terrible about this one-sided conversation. It’s estimated that 20-30% of people will be strongly impacted by weight stigma from professionals but will not speak up for themselves, even when they know the truth about weight and health and want to be treated accordingly. The percentage is probably higher for those who receive unsolicited comments about their weight.

When it comes to weighing and weight, what can healthcare providers say and do to respect their patients?

What will I do differently next time (and what could you do in a similar situation)?

  • Plan and rehearse some responses beforehand to prevent being caught off-guard and subsequently left speechless when comments about weight are made or when asked to step on the scale.
  • Ask my provider, “How is my weight connected to the medical problem I have?”
  • Do my best to remain calm and engaged throughout the conversation. Ask as many questions as are needed to fully understand my provider’s perspective and assess whether or not it lines up with the research.
  • Consider sharing research with the provider.

Unsolicited comments about weight are not appropriate. Period. Fortunately, I’m at a point in my life where I feel confident and content with my health, shape, and size. It certainly hasn’t always been that way for me, and I’d venture to say it isn’t that way for most people in this world. As I look back on this experience, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my perspective and hopefully prevent similar doctor’s office incidents. I’ve learned a lot from this recent check-up and couldn’t let it go before sharing it with you.

I’d love for you to send me your feedback and share your experiences. Have you ever been the recipient of an inappropriate comment about your weight? If so, how did you respond?


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Practicing Weight Neutrality in a Weight-Biased Healthcare System

PracticingWeightNeutrality

In recent years, our society has become more open and understanding regarding peoples’ differences, but it seems weight is one area in which our culture has miserably failed to become more accepting. When it comes to size and weight, people continue to be judged against unrealistic and arbitrary ideals. Where is weight neutrality in this picture?

Too often, larger people are criticized, shamed, and misunderstood because of their weight. Furthermore, the perception of many healthcare providers remains that “if people would just lose weight, they could be healthy.”

Where’s the weight neutrality?

How ridiculous it is to think we can begin our lives with entirely different sets of genetics and end up looking the same or staying healthy at unnatural weights for our bodies!

Non-diet dietitians are already like fish swimming upstream in a river of 61-billion dollars-worth of diets, and the current becomes even stronger when practicing weight neutrality, especially when serving as the only weight neutral provider on an interdisciplinary team.

For several months, I worked with a woman (we’ll call her Beth) whose goal was to manage her diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol. She wanted to be healthy and to live longer, and she initially assumed the way to do so was through dieting. Our first sessions were spent reviewing and discussing research about diets versus intuitive eating, and Beth emphatically vowed, “I’m definitely not going back to dieting EVER!!!” stating she loved the newfound freedom she had with eating.

Eating intuitively, moving mindfully

In the meantime, through learning to eat intuitively and incorporate movement mindfully, Beth managed to cut her triglycerides in half and bring her cholesterol down to a normal range. She gained incredible insight into her relationship with food and recognized how satisfied she felt when she ate healthy AND tasty foods.

Giving up the scale

But there was one major challenge she continued to face: giving up the scale. After much discussion, Beth recognized how the scale was blinding her to the progress she was making toward health. She reluctantly agreed to put the scale in the attic for a while and contact me if she felt the urge to weigh herself.

Changing the view of progress

Beth acknowledged her need to change her view of progress. She began to accept the possibility (which was becoming a reality) of being healthy in a larger body and to recognize that her size did not change her worth and value in life.

She moved away from… She moved toward…
·  Focusing on a number on the scale that she could not directly control ·  Focusing on behaviors that lead to health
·  Focusing on weight first and foremost ·  Concentrating on actions she could control
·  Asking: “How many pounds did I lose?” ·  Noticing her increased trust in herself with food
·  Questioning: “How do I look?” ·  Questioning: “How do I feel?”
·  Priding herself on having good willpower or self-control ·  Priding herself on recognizing inner body cues

(Adapted from Intuitive EatingEvelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch, 2003/2012)

At her next check-up with her primary care physician, the first topic addressed related to weight loss. The physician praised Beth, exclaiming, ”You’ve lost 9 pounds!” Immediately, her mind wandered back to the number she originally had in mind that might make her “healthy” again.

Already feeling ashamed and discouraged, Beth hesitantly told her doctor, “I’ve been feeling exhausted lately.” Her physician responded by stating, “You’re still carrying around lots of extra weight. Imagine carrying around your 10-year-old son all day. You’d feel exhausted, wouldn’t you? That extra weight is keeping you tired!”

Validate the patient’s concerns

In one conversation, Beth’s physician not only fueled her recent fantasy of weight loss as a magic bullet to solve her health problems, she also failed to validate her patient’s concerns. Rather than taking inventory of the lifestyle, psychological, or medical conditions that could be causing her fatigue and offering a plan of care to reach the root of the problem, she gave the simplistic answer: “Lose weight.”

Make evidence-based recommendations

According to the research, 97 percent of diets fail, and most people regain their lost weight in 1-5 years (Puhl, 2008). Combine dieting and weight cycling, and you have a recipe for a physical and emotional health disaster.

Leslie Schilling, MA, RDN, CSSD, LDN puts it this way: “If you were prescribed a drug with such a high failure rate, would you fill the prescription?”

People trust their providers to administer quality, evidence-based care; however, when they receive different messages from different providers, how do they know whom to trust?

It’s time all health professionals learn that the number on the scale does not define a person’s health, worth, or value. Our patients are human beings, not human bodies, and they deserve evidence-based guidance, rather than judgment, shame, or “easy answers.”

Equip people to advocate for themselves

Perhaps as you read about Beth’s experience, you felt anger, sadness, and frustration bubbling up. It is my hope that the feelings you experience throughout Weight Stigma Awareness Week will be used as fuel to begin to educate other providers and equip those with whom you come in contact to advocate for themselves.

Ignoring weight bias does not increase awareness or lead to change, but here are some practices that can:

  • Derail “fat talk” or weight-biased conversations and deflect them using research to support your case.
  • Engage in body activism and encourage body acceptance.
  • Focus on functionality versus appearance in your practice.
  • Listen to your patients and seek to validate their concerns.

And remember to start with yourself. Examine yourself, looking for weight bias in your own life. Though the previous case study only addressed weight bias from a physician, I think we’ve all been taught or heard ideas that perpetuate weight stigma in our training. I know I have.

Practice weight neutrality

As providers, let’s stop believing that differences in weight and size define a patient’s health or worthiness of quality care. Let’s practice weight neutrality. Continue to remove weight stigma and bias in the provider community by changing the view of progress, validating the patient’s concerns, making evidence-based recommendations, and equipping professionals with knowledge and people to advocate for themselves.


It was an honor to contribute this post to Binge Eating Disorder Association’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week 2015. See the original blog post here.

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