1. Validate your emotional experience. Don’t tell youself that you shouldn’t feel the way you do or that how you feel is stupid. Talking negatively to yourself will only increase your anxiety because negative self talk is not effective in changing emotions. Say to yourself, “It’s okay that I’m nervous. It makes sense. Despite that, I can do this!” Approaching, not avoiding is what helps us deal with intense negative emotions. It helps us learn that despite their presence, they are tolerable. The goal is not to make the anxious feeling go away necessarily, but rather to learn that we can still do what we want inspite of it.
2. Notice if you are having “what if” thoughts. I.E. What if people think I’m a pain? What if people don’t understand? etc. If you’re having these thoughts, gently validate that and then work on turning your mind from them. The truth is, we don’t know what will happen until we are in that moment. Worrying excessively before hand only interferes with being effective and increases our anxiety level to a point that we are more likely not to request that our needs are met.
3. Come up with the simplest explanation for your food restrictions. Use words that people are most likely to understand. If at a restaurant, you may consider ordering food allergy cards that you can give to the wait staff to give to the cook.
4. If going to a party or social event with people you know well, find someone you can speak to in advance to find out what food will be served. If it’s potluck style, make something you know will be safe for you to eat and clearly label it. Put it at the beginning of the food line as this will reduce the likelihood of contamination as people work their way down the food line.
5. Think to yourself how you would respond to a friend with a special need or concern. Likely, you would go out of your way to help and be understanding. Yet we assume that others will not treat us in the same way. Remember, we are our toughest critic. Allow yourself to open up about your needs, and I bet you will be pleasantly surprised.
6. Take a deep breath, be mindful and in the moment, and don’t forget that you are valuable and so is your health! We all have a right to protect ourself from things that are harmful.
7. If for some reason you feel that you will be attending an event that you cannot be sure you will be safe at, bring your own food or eat before hand. Remember that everyone has issues, yours just happens to be with food. But if you stepped back and looked at the whole picture you would see that most people have something in their life that is challenging. Normalize your situation as much as possible.
8. Lastly, kindness goes a long way. If you are at a restaurant and you realize that your food has come out “contaminated,” try not to get angry. Instead, gently inform your wait staff that your food is unsafe to eat and that you will get very ill even if you eat a little bit, and so it needs to be completely redone without the allergen, however try and stay gracious and kind. Everyone makes mistakes and they will likely take much better care of your food needs if you are kind to them.
Author Information: Jennifer Leeson, Denver, CO
Jennifer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an expert on changing negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. After being diagnosed with Celiac Disease last October, she learned there was more to transforming her life around food beyond knowing what to eat and what not to eat. There were unexpected social, emotional, and behavioral challenges that arose. Since learning how to cope with these obstacles herself, she has begun teaching others how to cope effectively with the barriers that interfere with successfully changing one’s entire lifestyle around food. You can reach Jennifer at her e-mail address.