Shopping Safely with Food Allergies

Minerals

To finish off my birthday week, my family and I visited North Carolina yesterday to get away from the heat and have some fun. We visited a beautiful waterfall and had a GREAT time at a gem mine. There was only one problem: While the actual gem mine was outdoors, the indoor store was running a machine that was pumping some kind of nice smelling aroma through the air.

When I arrived and spotted the machine, I immediately left the building and the clerk turned off the machine. Even though the clerk turned off the machine, I left because I knew there could still be allergenic particles in the air. After we finished gem mining, I briefly went inside to discuss a black star sapphire that I wanted for a necklace, but the machine had been turned back on again. I left as quickly as I could, but it was too late. A few minutes later, I was feeling itchy.

There are many types of stores that can pose issues for those with food allergies, because many foods are used in the making of air purifiers, cleaning products, and the actual merchandise. This can apply to any store, restaurant, your favorite fitness center, massage therapist, yoga class, or even your friends and family’s homes.

If you are entering a new area and you have someone with you, ask them to go scope it out for you first. Keep in mind the following things:

  • How does the air smell? While some allergens will not produce a smell, an aromatic shop or home could signal that it is time to ask more questions.
  • Be aware of any area that calls for a shop to spray cleaners on a surface. I have had employees spray cleaners right in front of me and accidentally on me. (And yes, I had a reaction.) This may be a jewelry store cleaning their counters, a restaurant cleaning their tables, or simply someone washing the windows.
  • Does the store sell candles, home fragrances, or potpourri? Remember that those products have likely been sitting there for quite some time in an enclosed space.
  • If the store sells food, do you see any bulk bin aisles that could have products like flour or other small items with your allergens that could easily get into the air?
  • Make sure you wash newly purchased clothing in your own safe laundry detergent before wearing.
  • For me, I have to carry toilet paper and soap with me wherever I go, so certain allergens may call for you to avoid using a store’s personal care products.

By being aware of our surroundings, we can better enjoy our shopping experiences. I have to admit the retail therapy is one of my favorite ways to relieve stress, so get out there and shop safely!

Calling All Soyvivors: Share your shopping advice in the comments below!

Travel Report: Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand

A little sand crab peeks out at me as I sit on the beach.
A little sand crab peeks out at me as I sit on the beach.

My husband and I recently vacationed at Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. Pawley’s Island is below Myrtle Beach and part of South Carolina’s Grand Strand. Even if you have never visited South Carolina’s beaches, you probably know that these beaches are some of the most highly rated in the world.

What I love about the Myrtle Beach area is that there is something for everyone to do at any time of the day or night. There’s great shopping, family activities, and lots to do even if it’s raining. This means that for those of us who are looking for fun that doesn’t revolve around food, there is plenty to do! Among my favorite things to do are Brookgreen Gardens, Huntington Beach State Park, Myrtle Beach State Park, the two Tanger Outlets, and Murrell’s Inlet. Other attractions include Broadway at the Beach and Barefoot Landing, two shopping, dining and entertainment centers.

The best thing about Myrtle Beach for a food allergy sufferer is that there are tons of restaurants and several different kinds of grocery stores. You will find Kroger, Fresh Market, Publix, Lowe’s Foods, Bi-Lo, and many other stores. All you need is room with a small kitchen, and you can easily make the meals that you need.

There are also many restaurants with allergen menus. Chains include Olive Garden, Red Robin,  Chipotle, McAlister’s Deli, Mellow Mushroom, Ruby Tuesday, and many, many others.

For those of you that do not have children in school, the lodging rates in the Myrtle Beach area are much lower in spring and fall when the weather is still lovely and not so crowded. That also means that grocery stores are more likely to have what you need in stock, and restaurants are less busy and able to give you more attention. Otherwise, there are many areas of the Grand Strand that are family friendly even in the summer. I highly recommended the Myrtle Beach area for a great time with the amenities you need for a fun and safe vacation!

Calling all Soyvivors: What is your favorite place to vacation?

Lessons Learned From Vacation

AlannaClubhouse

Last month, my husband and I took our first week-long vacation as a couple. Sure, we have had family vacations and long weekends away, but this was the first time that he and I had embarked on a full week away from home just the two of us since my soy allergy diagnosis.

If you have read my previous vacation posts, you know that eating out has always been a huge part of our family tradition. Why cook, right? It’s vacation from everything including cooking! This year, I knew that had to change, but I also knew that I wasn’t about to spend any more precious vacation time in the kitchen than I had to.

Even though I have dealt with food allergies for years, soy was very different for me. It changed everything from what products I ate to what products I used in my house. At first, I honestly thought that I would never be able to travel again. I could not fathom how I would actually be able to relax with so much new responsibility and safety considerations.

As time passed, my confidence grew, and eventually I began to venture out. I wasn’t completely sure that I was ready for a long vacation, but it turned out that it was the most relaxing vacation that I have EVER had. Here’s what I learned:

  • Yes, there is a LOT more packing involved. Towels, sheets, detergent, soap, toilet paper, non-perishable food, and coolers were among the many things that I took with me. The upside is that I found myself surrounded by my own things, and that made me feel at home and relaxed. It was well worth the effort!
  • I really thought I would spend a good bit of time in the kitchen, but preparation in advance proved otherwise. I knew what grocery stores were in my area and I came prepared with a meal plan. I set out to cook dishes that would make great leftovers and dirty very few dishes. I never thought I could eat such great meals with such little effort.
  • Because I prepared my own meals, I did not send my mind and body into a frenzy wondering if this would be the meal where the restaurant would make a mistake and send me into an allergic reaction. The result was consistent peace throughout the week.
  • We found one restaurant that I was very comfortable with due to their relationship with local food sources, and we made it count. We ate an incredible meal, savored every bite, and made it a special event to celebrate rather than just another place to eat.
  • By eating at our condo, we eliminated the time driving to and from restaurants and waiting for elaborate dishes to be prepared. Instead, we spend more quiet time together, and we were able to eat our meals on a cozy screened-in porch. It was relaxing and romantic, and left us more time to spend gazing at the beauty of the ocean.

For the first time, I feel like I was able to truly rejuvenate during my vacation. The key for me was this: I had to let completely let go of my traditions and habits related to food. Giving up my previous relationship with food has allowed me to focus on what truly makes me happy, and I am quickly learning that my happiness has NOTHING to do with what I am eating!

Enjoying an Allergy Friendly Summer

Pawleys Island

Summertime will be here soon! For many of us, summer brings a lot of sun, fun, and travel. It also brings with it some allergy-related situations that we may not have to deal with as frequently at other times of the year. Below are some tips and tricks for a safe summer.

Packing Needs Preparation

Sometimes I long for the days when I could be packed and ready for a trip at a moment’s notice. However, when I arrive at my destination and relax on my own sheets and use my own towels and toiletries, I quickly realize that it’s really nice to have the comforts of home when you’re away from home. For those of you that are new to food allergies, be aware that foods are only the beginning of the products that may contain your allergen. Household products, personal care products, crafts, and many other items could contain your respective allergens and should be avoided. Below are some things to consider as you pack:

  • Toilet Paper (this is a big allergen for me!)
  • Dishwashing Liquid
  • Dishwasher Detergent
  • Hand Soap
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Sheets washed in your detergent
  • Towels washed in your detergent

If you are traveling for more than a day or two, it can be well worth the expense to upgrade to a room with a kitchen and washer/dryer. When I am using a vacation to de-stress, I am even more vigilant about avoiding allergens so that I can truly enjoy my time away. Having a kitchen and washer/dryer allows me to prepare the foods I need and keep my personal items free from allergens.

Enjoying the Outdoors

Sunscreen and insect repellent are also major concerns during the summer. Finding a sunscreen and insect repellent that actually works, is non-greasy, and does not contain your allergens can require a lot of research. For sunscreen, I find that California Baby has a soy-free suncreen option but is quite greasy. I am trying a soy-free, fragrance-free spray sunscreen called Kinesys this summer, and will post a review in a few weeks.

Cooking and Eating Out

It’s also helpful to do some research before your trip on things like grocery stores and restaurants. Using apps like Allergy Eats can give you some ideas on allergy-friendly restaurants, and many of your favorite chain restaurants will also have store locators and allergy menus online.

Packing some non-perishable products and easy meal plans will also help you keep your vacation hassle-free.

I will have more tips and tricks on vacation meal-planning in future posts. Here’s to safe and allergy-friendly travels!

Food Allergies Can Transform Your Life!

PF Balcony 12.15

For every aggravation I have experienced due to my food allergies, there are TWO to THREE things that have happened in my life and in my body that are true MIRACLES.

Food allergies can completely disrupt your life in ways that only someone with food allergies can understand. It can take months or even years (as is my case) to find some of the allergens and how to deal with them. This is one of the biggest reasons why I became an AllerCoach so that I could help others find a faster path to their own transformation.

It has been a year now since I discovered my soy allergy, and below are the amazing things that have taken place in my life and my body:

  • My acid reflux went from needing extensive esophageal surgery to being controlled with one medication rather than two. (One of the medications had SOY in it! No wonder I had reflux for so many years!)
  • For the first time in my life, I rarely ever have to take pain medication for menstrual cramps. There were many months when I would need time off from work just to get through my period. (Note: Watch out for pads, tampons and TOILET PAPER that has soy in it. The toilet paper was absolutely the key for me.)
  • I went from needing sinus infection antibiotics repeatedly for 1.5 years to now being completely off of antibiotics for over a year now without one single sinus infection.
  • My IBS is now controlled at least 85% of the time with diet, and I am working on finding the foods that will help me get to 100%.
  • The “chicken skin” on my upper arms is gone, and in its place is clear skin that I am not embarrassed to hide under sleeves.
  • I have gone from a size 14 to a size 8!
  • I feel INCREDIBLE. I had no idea how bad I really felt until my energy returned. (This did not happen overnight!)
  • I sleep like a baby.
  • I rarely have to get up during the night anymore to go to the bathroom, and I always did before.
  • I could never sit through a work meeting longer than an hour without having to go to the bathroom, and now I can sit for at least 2-3 hours.
  • I can now cook meals that are better than a restaurant, and most of them are quick and easy.
  • I now see cooking as an opportunity for creativity and a way to nourish my body.
  • I still have people walk up to me and say, “Wow! You look like a college student!” I am 37 years old, and as you can see from my pictures, I looked every bit of my age until I eliminated soy.
  • I am empowered by knowing that I am aware of and am familiar with every ingredient that goes into my body.
  • There’s a lot of toxins and harmful chemicals that my body will never have to process again, because I have eliminated a significant number of packaged foods from my diet.
  • My husband and I have saved a ton of money by eating at home.
  • My husband is also eating healthier and losing weight.
  • I am in tune with my body, and I know what I need to be healthy.
  • I have started this blog, which gives me a great sense of purpose for helping others thrive with their food allergy.
  • I became an AllerCoach, and that has truly been the discovery of my calling.

If you are struggling with eliminating your food allergens or are new to having food allergies, know that the frustration you are experiencing WILL get better as you navigate through your new life. The rewards for sticking it out will be totally worth it!

My One Year “Soyversary” Is Here!

To kick off the celebration of my “soyversary,” I am publishing before and after photos and more about my story throughout the coming weeks. I have had food allergies for years, but the discovery of my soy allergy on February 23, 2014 changed my life in ways that are nothing short of a miracle. I want to publish photos and information so that you can also be encouraged in your food allergic journey.

The photo comparison below is an important one for me, and both of these photos are from Cade’s Cove in Tennessee. The first photo is taken in March 2009, one year after my husband and I were married. The reason why this photo is so important is because it was taken before my six miscarriages and during a time when I thought of myself as reasonably healthy. This photo shows that even though I thought everything was OK, I look back now and see a very tired and low-energy gal.

Now, take a look at the photo I took last month. I not only see an energetic, vibrant person, but I see pure joy, and that is something that I cherish more than anything. I see hope for a healthy future and the energy to enjoy life.

If you are just beginning your food allergic journey, you should know that it took me years to get to this place, but that does not mean it has to take years for you. Your miracle could be right around the corner with a team of qualified and educated friends, family, and professionals that can help you get there. An AllerCoach should be one of those people.

Cades Cove Collage

Travel Report: Pigeon Forge, TN

My husband and I recently had the opportunity through my husband’s work to take a little winter vacation to Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN and also spend some time in Pigeon Forge. A year ago when I found out about my soy allergy, I honestly thought I would never be able to travel again, and especially not to somewhere like Pigeon Forge where there are very few grocery stores. Now, almost a year later, I am happy to report that we had a great time and a reaction-free vacation.

There are a few things that made our trip a success. First, my packing included my sheets and towels washed in my own detergent, my preferred toilet paper, snacks and non-perishable food. My food included dried apples, dried mangoes, chips, nuts, and Rudi’s soy free bread/almond butter/bananas to make sandwiches in a pinch. We stayed at Sunrise Ridge Resort, and they offer full kitchens and incredible views of the mountains.

SunriseRidge

Before we left, I did some research on the local Kroger grocery stores in the Pigeon Forge area. There is one in Sevierville, TN and one in Pigeon Forge, TN. The thing about Kroger is that they have a separate section of freezer and also non-perishable “natural” foods. They include a few of the brands that you would see at places like Whole Foods as well as some local foods. I picked up some Amy’s meals and some local, grass-fed yogurt. Another idea that I had was to defrost some cooked shrimp from the freezer section and add some celery and carrot sticks.

Pigeon Forge has also changed a lot over the years. If you haven’t been in the past 3-5 years, you will be surprised to see many more chain restaurants that you will recognize from your hometown, and of course the Sevierville Tanger Outlets are some of the best outlets in the Southeast.

If you do eat out, remember to always call ahead, talk to the manager, and eat at times when the restaurant is less likely to be busy. There were many restaurants that I spotted that have allergen friendly options such as Olive Garden, Mellow Mushroom, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse and Longhorn Steakhouse. TGI Friday’s also has an allergen menu, but there isn’t much on their published menu that doesn’t have soy in it.

We chose to eat at Olive Garden, a place where I have had good experiences at home and also in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I called ahead and spoke with the manager immediately before arriving, but unfortunately this experience was not as good as I had hoped. I ordered a plain salad with no dressing and no croutons, and the server brought my salad with dressing in the salad. Fortunately I realized it before it was too late. I also ordered the baked parmesan shrimp, which was listed on their menu as soy free. I asked for them to leave off the bread crumbs just to be sure. This is my go-to dish at Olive Garden, but unfortunately the regular pasta they use also had fettucini pasta mixed in. This made me a bit nervous since I did not know why and where the fettucini had been. I did not have an allergic reaction, but I would not necessarily recommend this restaurant as an option.

On the next part of our trip, we had the wonderful opportunity of staying for two nights at Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN.

BBFRoom

This is something that we would not have otherwise have been able to do, and it was truly an incredible experience. If you are not familiar, Blackberry Farm is a beautiful hideaway resort with gorgeous rooms and cottages that boasts farm-to-table meals from some of the country’s top chefs. To top it all off, it snowed just enough to make everything beautiful and keep the roads safe for travel.

BBFarmDining

 

Not only was this a breathtakingly beautiful resort, but the chefs and servers were incredibly meticulous in providing me with safe meals. Usually when you visit a restaurant, you are given a couple of options to choose from on the menu. At Blackberry Farm, I was able to look at the same menu that my husband was using and pick what I wanted. The food was at a level at which I had never experienced before and may never experience again unless I have the opportunity to return. We all know as food allergy sufferers that we must cook almost everything we eat, and to be able to go somewhere and have someone cook for me that I could trust and make to-die-for food was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I am glad that I took the chance and traveled to Tennessee, because it will become one of our best vacations ever, and I can’t wait to return again soon.