Advocacy for Food Allergies and Intolerances Starts with You

You start by making sure that YOU understand.

I’d like to start this post with a very solid “I am not a doctor” admission. If you’ve read any of my previous pieces where I mistook my cordless phone for my son or I superglued my daughter’s eye shut, this will not come as a huge surprise, but it’s important before we get started that I speak here as a patient and a parent, not a health care practitioner.

Ignorance is bliss.

I have not treated my body well. In fact, I’ve not been nice to it, at all. I’ve previously described my self-care routine as the equivalent of purchasing a pair of headphones from the dollar store. Sure, you might use them, but you’ll also roll them up haphazardly and drop them in a Wendy’s bathroom by accident.

My wife and I took something called a food intolerance test. The basic idea is that it’s a blood test that determines what enzymes your body is missing and, as such, what your body can’t break down. In the case of my wife, my daughter and myself, it’s a simple dairy and sugar intolerance. We can eat things like maple syrup, honey, agave and fructose, we just have to lay off the high fructose corn syrup that you find in all the good stuff. And in the case of dairy, I’d like to personally thank all the companies that figured out dairy free ice cream. In the words of NBA superstar Kevin Durant, “You Da Real MVP.”

Our son is a whole other story. While our intolerances are easy to manage, his are a nightmare to navigate. They include sugar, soy, and potato. Here’s what I’ve learned about potato in the last 5 years: it’s in every damned thing on the planet. Every baked good on the planet. Every enriched product on the planet. And worst of all, potatoes are FULL of potatoes, so there goes French fries, potato chips, and mashed potatoes. And if you happen upon a product that DOESN’T have potato in it, there’s about a 98% chance it has soy.

For the first five years of my son’s life, managing his intolerances was pretty easy. Even when he went to preschool, we just sent his lunch along with him and everything was fine. And then school started. And that’s when shit got real.

One of the problems that we’ve encountered with our son is that in a school setting, many hands make confusing work. Despite our regular communications explaining what he can and can’t have, suddenly you’re with another teacher and she’s passing out Freezies like it’s the apocalypse and then your son comes home all hopped up on sugar. But we’ve got a secret weapon: our son.

One of the best things we’ve ever done is to make sure that our son understands what he can and can’t have. We’ve made him responsible for his own well-being and it has paid tremendous dividends. Our son fully understands that he cannot eat each of his intolerances and has no problem advocating for himself. The problem lies in the details. He doesn’t understand that not everything that contains a potato looks like an actual potato.

I once coached a basketball team and had a mother get very angry because he son had eaten a granola bar provided to him by one of his teammates after practice. The granola bar contained peanut butter, which her son was allergic to. While her son had no reaction to the PB in the granola bar and I wasn’t there when he was given it, there was another part that made me even more concerned. The boy was 14 years old. He was going into high school.

We’re not perfect parents, by any stretch, but if there is one quality that we’ve tried very hard to instill in our son, it’s personal responsibility. So how do you navigate intolerances or allergies? You start by making sure that YOU understand. I still make mistakes when I’m looking at ingredient lists. Then you make sure that THEY understand. You’re NOT going to be there all the time so assuming you’re not going to lock them in a tower, Rapunzel style, you need to make sure that when you can’t take care of them, they can still take care of themselves.

Man, I miss real ice cream.



RELATED: What it Feels Like to Travel with a Food Allergic Kid

Mike Tanner has been blogging for almost a decade, beginning with food and film reviews and for the last 5 years, has blogged from on all things small business. He is a full time stay at home father who also writes his musings on parenting at and is in the process of launching a charity in Halifax. He’s spent the last two years blogging for national and local companies in the fields of insurance, financial management, education, swimming pools and technological gadgetry. He’s currently spending the year working on 2 books, 9 eBooks and 145 personal blog posts.