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How to Enjoy the Holidays Despite Food Allergies

Posted on October 24, 2019

Living with food allergies may change your holidays, but you can still have enjoyable and meaningful celebrations. Although dietary restrictions and avoiding your or your child's food allergens may make some holiday traditions challenging, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy connecting with friends and family during the holiday season. By communicating your limitations due to food allergies, being flexible, and adjusting your expectations, you can help make sure the holidays are happy and memorable.

Communicate Your Needs
Let your loved ones know that connecting with them over the holidays is as important as ever to you, but the danger of a life-threatening food allergy means you need to make different plans. You need to put your or your child's health first to avoid anaphylaxis or other dangerous allergic reactions.

  • Don't be afraid to say no.
  • It can help to use direct "I" statements. For instance, "I am concerned about accidental allergen exposure" is better than "You're not careful about cross contamination." Communicating in this way makes your needs clear without making others feel accused or burdensome.
  • Even if you usually maintain healthy boundaries, the holidays are a time when they may be tested. If a friend or family member tries to make you feel guilty for setting your boundaries, gently remind them that you or your child's food allergies don't take the holidays off, as much as you wish they did.

Be Flexible
Instead of saying "no," say "yes" to something else. If a family tradition no longer works for you since you or your child developed food allergies, it may be time to suggest an update.

  • If you're concerned about avoiding allergens, consider offering to host and cook. Plan an easy-to-prepare meal that meets your family's dietary needs, such as a stew that simmers all day in the crock pot with little prep work or tending.
  • If you're worried that there won't be foods you or your child can eat at a family gathering, discuss bringing your own plate with the host. Your family member may be surprised or even hurt, but will hopefully come around when you explain your concerns.
  • If a family meal is too stressful, offer alternate ways to get the family together. Suggest an outing to a museum or board games at home.

If it's just not possible to get together in one place this year, consider using a video chat service such as Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime to have a special holiday call on a smartphone or laptop. During a video chat, you can:

  • Watch family open gifts
  • Have them show you the decorations around the house
  • Read a holiday story or poem to the children
  • Sing favorite holiday songs together

Adjust Your Expectations
Even without food allergies, holidays often come with high expectations that lead to disappointment and stress. Letting go of the illusion of a "perfect" holiday can help you keep expectations realistic and focus on what's most important about the holidays. For many people, that means connecting with loved ones, being thankful for what you have, and finding hope for the new year.

Here are some mindful tips from Johns Hopkins Medicine for adjusting holiday expectations:

  • Accept that your holidays won't be perfect and will be different from celebrations in years past.
  • Focus on what really counts. Find things to be grateful for and look for new ways to connect with loved ones.
  • If you get into a conflict with someone over the holidays, take a few breaths before you react. Try to stay compassionate and react with kindness.
  • As you reflect on last year, be kind to yourself and let go of any negativity. As you look forward to next year, make smaller, gradual resolutions rather than huge goals that will be difficult to achieve.

During the holidays and year-round, the members of MyFoodAllergyTeam are here for each other. Joining MyFoodAllergyTeam means gaining a support group of thousands of others living with or caring for a child with food allergies who understand exactly what you're going through.

Here are some conversations from MyFoodAllergyTeam members about navigating the holiday season with food allergies:

Have you found ways to celebrate the holidays despite food allergies? Share in the comments below or post on MyFoodAllergyTeam.

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