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I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately as I live with a teenage girl with food intolerances. Teens tend to be extreme about many things in their lives anyway and add food allergies or intolerances into the mix and female hormones and it is a recipe for trouble. Although it is challenging I don’t think we have to throw up our hands in despair. I think there are principles we can hang on to in the midst of challenges and remind ourselves or our teenage children that will help us get through the tough times.
1. Food is a gift from God and is meant to be enjoyed. Obviously if some foods make us sick we would like to avoid them. But for most of us there are many foods we can enjoy without feeling bad. I know for my daughter she has to avoid all gluten and dairy but she can enjoy all fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and meat without being bothered. There are many creative ways to eat and enjoy those foods (and a plethora of blogs on the internet with great recipes) and as we learn to do so we often find we can and do develop new tastes.
2. Learn to know and listen to your own body. The more we understand how our bodies work the more we can understand what is going on with the foods that make us sick.
3. Make special treats for the allergic child or person especially when the rest of the family has a special event. For birthdays we either make sure the birthday food is something my daughter can have or I make an equivalent treat for her. For my husband’s birthday I made a chocolate sourdough cake and served it with vanilla ice cream. My daughter could not have either of those items. For her we made a special treat of strawberry coconut ice cream which she really enjoyed.
4. Find purpose in things besides food. For my family as devout Christians we find our purpose in God and His ways as applied to our lives. But beyond the philosophical it is good to have practical things to focus on apart from food. Get a hobby. Pursue a small business. Learn a new skill. Have you always wanted to learn to play the piano, knit a scarf, make your own jewelry? Figure out how to learn and think about something besides food and your own limitations.
5. Get out and help someone else. It always helps our perspective to find out others don’t have it altogether either. It is easy to sit in our houses and think that no one else has it as bad as we do. Find someone in worse shape and help them out. Volunteer and stop thinking about yourself.
6. Expect some bad days. In most situations things don’t go well all the time. There will be a bad day here or there; that is normal. Don’t dwell on it. Obviously we want to work to minimize the number of bad days that might be in our control but know that none of us can control every factor. My daughter had not been out to eat since we figured out she had to live gluten free. After 10 months of this she had 2 opportunities to go out to celebrate her 15th birthday. With much fear and trepidation and research on restaurants she went out to two different places and both experiences were positive. She did not get gluten contamination and did not get sick. Sometime she might but we will work to avoid that scenario.
7. Be aware of body image especially with teens. Teenage years are tough anyway in regard to how a teen sees her body and adding in food allergies just complicates things even further. If a teen has had GI complaints for a while and has avoided certain foods because she doesn’t feel good when she eats them she is probably losing weight or has lost weight and may be very thin. She may see this as normal and think that is where she should be. A friend with a teenage daughter with celiacs shared that her daughter had begun to equate the feeling of being full with being sick and so was avoiding this. After discussing the health effects of sickness with her things began to change for the positive.
So any tips to add or any experiences to share? Please enter the conversation in the comments below.