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How Good Boundaries Make Life With Food Allergies Easier

Posted on September 11, 2019

There is an old saying: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Having healthy boundaries in relationships is important for everyone, especially for people with a chronic condition like food allergies. Setting and defending boundaries allows you to protect your physical and mental health and focus on feeling your best while living with allergies to certain foods.

Setting boundaries can be hard. Your friends and family may not be used to you saying no or establishing limits for when and how you are available to them. They may expect you to socialize the same way you did before you developed life-threatening reactions to certain foods. No matter what, you are entitled to establish the boundaries you need to maintain your emotional and physical wellbeing. Setting boundaries to take care of yourself does not make you mean or selfish – it helps you focus on what you need to do to protect yourself.

Here are a few tips for setting boundaries clearly and compassionately:

  1. Use clear, direct language. For example, “I cannot attend the birthday party” is clearer and more direct than “I’m not sure I’ll be able to attend the birthday party.”
  2. Use “I” language and avoid accusations. For example, “I'll bring my own food” is less accusing than “Your food made me sick last time!”
  3. Don’t try to justify or over-explain your boundary. “No” is a complete sentence. For example, “I’m not able to help with the bake sale,” is better than “I can’t participate in the bake sale because if there are peanuts in anything I might have a serious reaction."

After setting boundaries, do not be surprised if you need to defend them. Some people will likely test your boundaries, especially when they are new. Expect some pushback and consider what a good response might be.

Here are some examples of boundary testing and possible responses:

  1. After saying you cannot attend a party, someone attempts to use guilt to pressure you to go. You could explain that food allergies don't take days off, so you will still be unavailable. You could point out that missing the party feels bad enough without the addition of guilt.
  2. After you bring your own food, the host pressures you to try a dish they made. You could say, "It looks wonderful, but it would be rude of me to disrupt your party by going into anaphylactic shock, stabbing myself with epinephrine, and leaving in an ambulance."
  3. After saying no to one high-risk obligation, you are asked to take on another. You can point out that your food allergies won't go away any time soon. Therefore your avoidance of obligations that may expose you to food allergens applies to any new obligations, and if they ask again, the answer will be the same.

After testing your boundaries a few times, most people will understand that they are well-defended and learn to respect them. If you have allies who understand the challenges of living with a food allergy, ask them to help you defend your limits with others. Remember, you don’t need to apologize for setting good boundaries that help you stay healthy, keep you safe, and feel your best while living with food allergies.

Here are some conversations from MyFoodAllergyTeam about setting and defending boundaries:

"I have had friends send me pictures of food from my favorite restaurant. I can’t eat there anymore. It makes me depressed. I feel like they are being mean to me for some reason."

"Other people just don’t understand the severity of allergies but also the isolation it causes. Social events are so food-orientated. It’s just so annoying!"

"There was a work-sponsored event coming up that involved a boat ride on a nearby river and, of course, a meal in the middle at someplace that had a limited menu that didn't sound safe. The river ride sounded fun, but I had to bow out."

Have you successfully set boundaries that help you manage food allergies?
What tips would you recommend to help set healthy limits with others?
Share in the comments below or directly on MyFoodAllergyTeam.

A MyFoodAllergyTeam Member said:

I was accused of “not being a team player” at a previous employer because I couldn’t join in on pot luck lunches and lunches out at certain restaurants.… read more

posted 6 months ago

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