Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, Food Allergy Counselor (Picture © Noel Malcolm 2013)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Food Allergy Counseling: Kissing & Food Allergies: Valentine’s Day Edition

Picture it. A cold, January Friday night. Date Two with D.. Metropolitan Museum.

D. and I have strolled into the Temple of Dendur, a separate building that houses an ancient Egyptian stone temple. The museum is practically empty. The lighting near the Temple is low and there are ripples of light on the wall opposite us: reflections of a pool below. The conversation slows to a halt as D. looks at me, his eyes softening and intensifying.

In that moment I had two thoughts: he’s going to kiss me (yay) and he probably ate chocolate with nuts recently (uh oh). He had told me a few days prior that he loved high quality chocolate, often with nuts and ate it every day.

He leaned in, and kissed me softly on the mouth.  I pulled back and placed my hand on his.

“I totally want to kiss you back. But did you have chocolate today?”

“Yes.”

“What kind?”

Toblerone.” 

And in two blinks, his expression changed.

“Nuts,” he said. “I didn’t think it could transfer. And it was a while ago. Would that matter?”

Thus, began a conversation about my food allergies and kissing.

It’s a conversation I’ve had often over the last few years: a combination of being single and dating, and, I suspect, dating healthy eaters who enjoy diets rich in seafood and tree nuts e.g. every man I’ve dated in the last three years loves almond milk. Seriously. 

The conversation I have about food allergies and kissing ranges from highly nuanced to short and sweet, depending upon a variety of factors. In the beginning of a dating relationship, certainly on date one or two, I usually stick to the facts: I can't kiss you if you've eaten my allergen recently. This is what we need to do. 

On this date, even though it was date two, D. expressed some interest to know everything I could tell him in order to keep me safe (and to satisfy his curiosity about what I was telling him). I offered to email him my food allergy list as well as the only major salvia study that talks about how to rid one’s salvia of peanut protein (a study often extrapolated for other allergens). D. read the information and said that it helped him to understand better my medical needs and how to keep me safe. The next time we met, I brought him some safe chocolate (both Divvies & Enjoy Life Foods) and we had big kisses, which were totally lovely.

Yay.

Seems easy, right? Straight forward? An easy exchange of information?

Not exactly. Stories, press releases and interviews on the Internet from large news organizations and national non-profits (many in which I am quoted) state that you have to tell your partner about your allergies and not kiss them if they have eaten your allergens. Totally true.

But how does that play out in the real, offline world?

If you are the one explaining your needs, it can feel awkward. Or weird. It can feel confrontational or feel unromantic and informational. For your potential kissee (and I just asked D. what he thought), it can be frustrating in the moment because this person wants to kiss you and can’t. He added that he felt curious about the information I was telling him but also wondered how kissing me would work down the line?

So, then, not so straightforward. Not such a clean, exchange of simple information.

I’m not saying don’t have the conversation. You have to. I have to. And there are a thousand ways to get it done, in your own way and time. And with every person you kiss, the conversation will change, be differently great or differently awkward or a combination of both (which, I find, is usually the case).

My point is: if you are anticipating feeling all of these uncomfortable feelings (and/or more/different ones) and thinking maybe I’ll skip the conversation this kissing holiday or any kissing opportunity, don’t. You and your partner will probably feel all of these feelings and ones I haven’t even described here. It’s normal. It’s natural. Feel the feelings and have the conversation anyway. You may get kissed, you may get someone who isn’t interested in knowing more; that’s the risk.

But that is a way easier risk to handle than the risk of a severe food allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.

Go out there this holiday and get your kiss on, safely!


**

Generally speaking my food allergy and kissing conversation contains a version of these basics:

I have food allergies and this is what food allergies are
This is what I’m allergic to
This is what can happen during a severe allergic reaction
For me to kiss you safely, these factors are vital

Want more? My book Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies (Wiley, 2011) has a whole chapter on dating and food allergies and you can get it here.

2 comments:

Molly Cavanaugh said...

Great post! It sounds like you've got a great handle on how to approach the situation. I'm still in the early days of dealing with this because I've only had celiac for a little over a year, and I was not dating for much of that. As you mentioned, only peanuts have been studied in this way, so I've made my few kissing situations even more awkward with hedging about how the studies haven't been on gluten, but there are anecdotal reports, blah blah, and apologizing, and then apologizing for apologizing, etc. . . . I definitely need to work on my "elevator pitch." (Hmm, elevator kisses...tres romantique!) I'll get it sometime, I'm sure. And then eventually you get into a relationship and never have to worry about explaining ever again!

P.S. Your captcha word for this comment is "flowers," which is very appropriate for the occasion. Happy Valentine's Day. :)

Heidi aka Brooklyn Allergy Mom said...

My blog post references your blog post + has a recipe for gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Which is what I sent to school with our food allergy teen in hopes that she will get a kiss. Awwww...