Conferences, events, and hotel food

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If you are living with life threatening food allergies, you have likely attended a conference or other catered event. Whether the event was a wedding, a holiday party or perhaps a conference, having a safe meal, or multiple safe meals can be challenging. Have you had an exceptional and memorable experience with hotel staff, or catering staff? Have you ever had an experience that may have resulted in a reaction?

I have attended numerous conferences and catered events, for all different occasions and each one has taught me a new tip and raised my awareness a notch.  A few action items I HIGHLY recommend are:

1. Provide a list of ALL your allergies prior to the event (either to event staff, or hotel management)

2. Before the first meal, ask to speak to the “Maitre D” or Kitchen Manager/Head Chef

3. If you genuinely don’t feel comfortable eating from the buffet, then do NOT hesitate to tell them. Tell them you would feel much safer having a separate plate for each meal. They should understand that.

Just because you have food allergies or food sensitivities, like I do, to gluten or dairy, it doesn’t mean you need to miss out on good food and dining! Live the conference, wedding or other event to the fullest while enjoying tasty food just like your friends or colleagues! Speak up! :)

I used to keep quiet and not eat very well. Now, I often eat better than others at the conferences. Some managers have even brought me meals personally! AND placed the napkin on my lap and pushed my chair in! While others were getting their own food from the buffet! Don’t get down because you have food allergies. Don’t let having food allergies be “unfair” they don’t have to be! Trust me on this one!

 

A new dessert…

This afternoon, I decided I would try a new recipes I found for a dairy free mint/chocolate chips ice cream and decided I would try it! I headed off to the grocery store with my list of ingredients and returned home, extremely excited to attempt this ice cream. Here’s a before picture with the ingredients the recipe called for… It’s my very first time making ice cream with avocados! I love avocados so am VERY excited. :)

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Once I’ve tried the recipe, I’ll be tweaking it a little before sharing, to make sure it’s the tastiest it can possibly be!

Are you trying any new recipes this weekend?

 

A small price to pay – Cost of living with food allergies

Shopping basket fruit and vegetables isolated on whiteI’ve recently started a part-time job at a grocery store nearby. Life with food allergies and dietary restrictions can be very costly. Because of my allergies to soy we buy all local/free range poultry and meat as I often have a reaction from poultry and meat bought at the big chain grocery stores. This makes cost of living go up quite a bit and getting an extra part-time job has been a good way to help with that higher cost of living.

When it comes to meals, my partner and I usually eat vegetables with poultry, fish and meat. I can’t buy the cheaper foods because well, they happen to have most of the things I am allergic to. The rice crackers I can eat that do not have any of my allergens in them are more expensive than others and regular crackers. When it comes to a cheaper protein option to have with lunches, I recently had a reaction to a brand and type of canned tuna that I had been eating for years. A few weeks ago, I had some on my salad and had a reaction. It had soy. Obviously, un-declared. There went my one easy protein source that I don’t have to cook and can take on the road with me when I travel. I don’t react to other more expensive tuna, however these cans can be $6 per can! Way more than I can afford with part-time work and school… I know the high cost of groceries for us is just a fact of life and don’t worry too much about it because I also know that we are eating as healthy as we possibly could be.

I look at it like this… When it comes to groceries, it is really expensive having food allergies however I’ve long realized that having food allergies and other dietary restrictions like gluten and dairy is in fact keeping me healthier. I am not eating any processed foods and eat far more vegetables than most. Most days, I find my food allergies have had a positive impact on my life, in more ways than just eating healthy.Most days, I don’t get frustrated when I can’t eat something others are eating. Instead I tell myself “so glad I’m not able to eat the cake or deserts” because I know it would go straight to my hips! Obviously I haven’t always thought this. As a kid I would feel left out when I missed out on things. My perspective has definitely changed over the years. I’m now happy to have food allergies as it has taught me how to speak up, be very attentive and has helped my self-confidence.

Do you find you spend more on groceries than perhaps your friends or family members do? What tricks have you found to help you save money when shopping? What are some things that you simply can’t save on?

Allergies, Asthma, Chronic Pain and BC Summer Games!

BC Games

I am finally writing again. I’ve had a very busy spring and am headed into an even busier summer. I have been busy with work volunteering with Anaphylaxis Canada’s new “Allergy Pals” peer mentoring program and was recently chosen to be Canoe/Kayak Head Coach for Vancouver Island Zone for BC Summer Games which will be held in Nanaimo this year. It’s made me go from “busy” to “insanely busy” as this volunteer position with BC Summer Games has me organizing/running training camps and getting the team prepared all the while keeping parents informed.

When I applied to be a coach for the Summer Games, I didn’t worry about my food/environmental allergies, asthma or chronic pain one bit. I was just really excited about the possibility of being a part of the BC Games as I attended Quebec Winter Games as an athlete and loved it!

Now that I am officially the Zone coach and the games are only 32 days away I feel like I have so many mixed emotions around it. I am excited, happy for the new adventure, confident about my abilities, though I am also extremely anxious… I am anxious about how I will manage my food/environmental allergies, asthma and chronic pain. If you have allergies, asthma and/or chronic pain, you know that a few days away is not always that simple. It depends where you are going. Here’s what I am headed into… See if you can imagine what this will look like.

Food: Uncertain of how it will be served. They mention people with food allergies will receive their own plate at each meal…
Transportation: By bus with the local athletes from various sports
Accommodations: Sleeping on the floor in a school for 3 nights

We will be leaving home on a Thursday morning and returning on a Sunday. Ultimately, this means 4 days of food that I need to somehow prepare because with all my life-threatening food allergies and other dietary restrictions, there is no way I am going to risk having a reaction or getting sick while I am in charge of 15-17 athletes! Now, while riding on games transportation we can only bring one suitcase and a sleeping bag… As the bus will be full! That’s when I consider myself VERY lucky that some of the athlete’s parents will be attending the games and be driving there. My plan will be to find a spot for a cooler and a place to keep my food… Still working on that. One thing is for certain! I will have at least 2 EpiPens on me at all times.

Food allergies aside, my next hurdle becomes my environmental allergies. I have had serious asthma attacks on buses before which lead me to the emergency room due to pet dander, smoke and/or perfume on people. Imagine a full bus. I will have to be extremely careful and prepare for the 2 hr bus ride by taking extra anti-histamines and preparing my lungs ahead of the departure day. For me, this will mean upping my medication as prescribed by my doctor, to ensure my lungs are in the best condition possible. I will also need to make sure I have a new rescue inhaler and it is not expired as that would be the worst thing that could happen. Now, environmental allergies and the bus is one thing, however my even bigger concern is sleeping on a floor in the school.

My most serious environmental allergies which trigger asthma attacks fairly frequently nowadays are dust mites and cat/dog dander. I think it is fair to assume there will be significantly more dust on the floor in a school than there is in my extremely safe allergy-friendly home which we vacuum with a high quality vacuum that has Hepa filters built into it. I will definitely be carrying a lot of antihistamines for this trip! Thinking through all of these scenarios ahead of time becomes the first of my planning steps. The last thing I would want is to be having a reaction and not have enough antihistamines or not have the right ones.

Now, last but not least is the chronic pain. I know it is not allergies or asthma, however it is a fairly big part of my life. If I have a hard time sleeping on my comfy bed at home… I’m a little concerned about how my pain will be affected with the sleeping accommodations at the Games. That being said, I have already found an inflatable mattress I can borrow, to ensure I can get some sleep while I am there. In my “before the games” plan which I have written down that I need to have all my pain medications from the pharmacy as well as all my allergy asthma medications.

All in all, the Games are going to be a wonderful experience! I am so excited that I get to be a part of it! I will have to work on that flash mob dance though… :) Being busy seems to be my thing. The most important thing I have learned about being busy is to make sure I have a plan, because with allergies and asthma and chronic pain, I always need to be prepared and on my game!

 

Do you have Food-dependent exercise induced Anaphylaxis?

One of my readers is wondering if any of you have FDEIA and would like to chat with others that do have this. Please read her message below and add comments below or contact me if you would like to be connected.

“Hello, like you, have been living with asthma and anaphylaxis related to peanuts and nuts since birth. I have no issue with any of these; I am so used to them they don’t bother me anymore. Since grade 8 I have also had sensitivities to something which was first assumed to be soy or legumes, but which I now believe to be some chemical or additive in processed foods, in particular meats. This doesn’t bother me too much, as it only causes uncomfortable but not life-threatening reactions. For the last few years however, I have a new one to add to the list (new ones aaalll the time – such a blast!). I have diagnosed myself with food-dependant exercise induced anaphylaxis. This is based on (so far) 6 different episodes. I know my body and I listen to it by now. All my symptoms match, but when I tried to explain this to emergency personnel or to two different allergists, they dismiss me by saying I must have come into contact with nuts. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that after a lifetime of avoiding our allergens and living in my own apartment which is completely allergen-free, this is not a possibility. I always have an Epipen and also a very attentive husband who always exercises with me. I’m just wondering if you have contact with anyone else who has this condition, diagnosed or not? I’d even consider some doctors who would be interested in studying my case, not necessarily for my own benefit but maybe they could learn something about it. Thanks!”

Which restaurants would you recommend on Vancouver Island?

Hi Erika

We will be vacationing on Vancouver Island this summer. I have a 5 year old son with anaphylactic food allergies to peanuts/some tree nuts/fish/shellfish. I found your site while looking for restaurants that might be food allergy-friendly in the area. Love your site! If you have a minute sometime and are aware of any restaurants in Victoria, Nanaimo or Vancouver that may be allergy conscientious, we would very much appreciate your insight.

Take care,

Spring is here!

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For many of us, spring can be a time we do not look forward to… Everything is in bloom… There is pollen everywhere!! Here in Victoria, British Columbia everything is flowering. I have been pretty lucky… knock on wood. Since moving out here in 2008, I haven’t had terrible seasonal allergies. I’ll get a runny nose and some sneezing here and there, however it is nowhere near the symptoms I dealt with in the spring and fall when I lived in Montreal, Quebec! My oh my! I do not miss those days… Not one bit.

In my teenage years, I worked with my father in the family company, doing weekly maintenance of swimming pools. Each morning, we’d leave with our “allergy kit” for a day of work outside. This kit included tons of tissues, various antihistamines and eye drops and nose drops. During prime time allergy season, my dad and I were a mess. Driving together in the pick up truck, we’d be sneezing like there was no tomorrow! You could here us from a mile away! The worst thing for me was that it would flare up my asthma pretty bad. And that was the hardest part for me. We had a hard time as there wasn’t one antihistamines that worked for us all the time. We were constantly trying new ones, trying to find one that would work for us, to no avail.

When I moved out here, it was like a mini vacation. I’ve had scratch tests done and I do not react to any of the pollen out here. Hurray! With all my other allergies, it’s nice to not have to deal with seasonal allergies too.

For all those out there with serious seasonal allergies, an allergist can help you come up with the proper plan and one option is immunotherapy. I have been taking immunotherapy for 3.5 years now for cats, dogs and dust mites and it has made a world of difference! Black and white really! Back then when I started I couldn’t even take public transit due to pet dander on people’s clothing… nor could I go to a coffee shop or even attend classes at UVic, let alone actually go into a house with a dog (even on antihistamines)! Now, I can go to certain people’s houses, mainly ones with poodles, but also my family home, where there are two dogs!

I say that if immunotherapy can make such a HUGE difference for me with cats and dogs, I am fairly certain it has the potential for great relief to all you seasonal allergy sufferers out there! So schedule a visit with your allergist and ask them about immunotherapy :) It works :)