While most of my friends at college were excited about new classes, new friends, and new experiences, I was thinking about the food. As someone with severe food allergies to nut and fish, several questions loomed large: What am I going to eat? How am I going to keep myself safe away from home? And how am I going to navigate this unknown system?
What I discovered was the skills you will use to succeed on campus and in class are the same tools you will use to succeed in navigating this new environment safely and effectively with food allergies. Those tools are: be prepared, speak up and enjoy yourself—safely.
Remember, just because you have a restricted diet doesn’t mean you have to live a restricted life.
Here are three things to do before you move to campus:
* Create an action plan: Work out your emergency allergy action plan with your allergist. This is a personalized written-out instruction sheet indicating what medications to take when an allergen is ingested and symptoms arise. You can download reliable, clear forms at Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
* Get local: Get the name of a local allergist, your local hospital and a local 24-hour pharmacy. You’ll need a local medical provider to call in an emergency or get medication refills. Knowing the location of the emergency room and all-night pharmacy will also be vital to ensuring you get the help you need quickly in an emergency. College health services are also at your disposal: use them.
* Know your college’s policies: Your college may have policies for dealing with food allergies. Find out what they are before you get on campus and plan accordingly. Your college may also have an on-campus registered dietitian who interfaces with food services for students with dietary restrictions like food allergies. Contact them about your needs.
Once on campus, here’s what you need to do:
* Build a buddy system: In those first few days, it’s a mad dash of new people and parties, but finding a new, cool food allergy ally will help. Buddy up, look for someone who is supportive, nurturing, a good listener: someone who would be good in an emergency. However, you are your best first responder in any emergency situation, keep that in mind.
* Be confident: Remember, food allergies are just one aspect of you. When you feel confident about that part of yourself, it becomes infectious. And everyone finds confidence attractive.
* Never risk it: It may be tempting to try a little of your allergen or skip label reading in front of new friends. But a little of your allergen can hurt you, and reading a label takes less than 30 seconds to do. If you feel unsure about eating anything (or embarrassed about asking food allergy questions), don’t take the risk.
* Have fun!
Once you have these basics in place, you and your parents will breathe a bit easier knowing you have reliable tools at your fingertips .
A huge part of succeeding with food allergies is taking your food allergies seriously, making friends and connections, and developing the support you need. When reaching out to school administrators, remember that they are there to help support your journey through the college experience. Use their expertise to make the college years the most rewarding, safe and fun ones possible.