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“Being different and carrying that burden is not easy. Therefore, let’s all learn together to respect our differences.”

The number of people living with food allergies is constantly increasing, with over 30 million affected individuals in the United States alone and more than four million in Australia. It is estimated that more than 50 million Europeans suffer from allergies. Additionally, allergies are the leading cause of absenteeism from work and reduced productivity in both the workplace and school.

Food allergies, although physically manifested, often have deep psychological consequences for individuals living with them. People dealing with food allergies not only have to carefully select their diet but also face emotional challenges, anxiety, and often stigma stemming from ignorance in their surroundings.

Emotional Challenges of Food Allergies

Food allergies can trigger various emotional reactions in individuals. The initial diagnosis can evoke fear, anxiety, and a sense of helplessness. A person may feel a loss of control over their own life, which can lead to depression. Furthermore, questions like “What can I eat?” or “Is this safe for me?” become part of daily life, creating constant worry. Parents who discover that their child has an allergy face many challenges as well. It is crucial for all family members to be informed. Afterward, it is essential to prepare the child, but what is even more important is adapting the conversation to the child’s age. Providing basic explanations without excessive fear is important. Parental fears can be addressed in psychotherapy, but never in front of the children because they are excellent readers of our emotions and non-verbal communication.

Anxiety Related to Diet

Anxiety is very common in individuals with food allergies. The fear of accidentally consuming an allergen can result in avoiding social situations. For children, common triggers include school, outings, and birthdays. In older age groups, an obsession with reading food labels can lead to increased restlessness and agitation. Often, individuals may go through a depressive episode. It’s important to note that depression in children and adults can differ significantly. Panic attacks are also common since the child is always afraid of eating something they shouldn’t.

Stigmatization and Lack of Understanding from Others

Stigmatization can be a serious challenge for people with food allergies. The lack of general understanding about the severity of allergic reactions can lead to others downplaying the issue, creating a sense of isolation. Uncontrolled reactions from others, such as inappropriate comments or neglect of a person’s special needs due to allergies, can result in a feeling of not being understood and rejected. As I mentioned before, it is enough to observe how a child who can’t eat a birthday cake with nuts feels, for example. Often, it’s challenging to explain this to them, so parents often decide not to bring their children or provide them with a special treat, further defining them as different. We all know how much children today want to be accepted and be part of a group.

Family therapy is of utmost importance as it helps family members adapt to developmental crises, develop a new perspective on the problem, and, most importantly, empowers their strengths and resources.

Psychologist and family therapist Jovana Stojkovic, Life Psychology