Tips for High School Students with Food Allergies
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member Claire Johnson
I’ll admit, it’s hard. Being a teen with food allergies is a difficult thing to deal with. There are so many things to worry about, such as school dances, parties, in-class experiments and social gatherings. All these worries are frustrating to live with. From people asking you left and right, “Why aren’t you eating anything?” to living in fear of coming in contact with your allergen, high school can be tough. As a junior in high school, there are so many things I wish I could change about my last three years. Here are some things I’ve learned throughout my high school experience while managing life-threatening food allergies.
1) Go to all the social events you can.
Don’t let your allergies hold you back. I live with nine food allergies, and I regret not going to all those football games. You have to remember, high school isn’t about the food; it is about the experiences. I remember avoiding almost all my high school football games because I was too terrified to be surrounded by everyone eating a hotdog, or scared I would get peanut shell dust on my feet. When I look back, I want to remember the fun times I made with my friends, rather than the times I stayed at home, scared I wouldn’t belong because I wasn’t eating. When I finally went to my first game, those fears disappeared because I knew I was prepared. I was too ecstatic to think about the food. I only wanted to have fun.
2) Talk to your teachers.
Food allergies may seem like the worst thing in the world, but they can actually be an advantage. They allow you to create special bonds with your teachers, which helps you throughout high school. For example, one year my Honors Chemistry class required a lab that involved food. I pulled my teacher aside and told her about my allergies. I explained that I might not be able to participate. She completely understood and explained what the experiment was and what food we would be using. It turned out I am not allergic to the food we used so I was able to participate. Ever since then, we always talk in hallways and smile each other’s way if we see each other. Sometimes she even asks me about my allergies because she has other students with food allergies and wants to able to support them.
Other teachers have remembered me from four or five years ago, just because I was the student with food allergies. It takes a lot of courage to go up to your teachers and discuss your food allergies because some won’t understand, or will simply nod and shoo you off, but you’ll be okay. I’ve always found that ONE teacher who really cares, and that’s who I make a connection with.
3) Find friends who care.
High school is the time in everyone’s lives where you get to see who your real friends are and aren’t. If someone brushes you off because of your allergies, you automatically know they were a fake friend, and you don’t want to spend your time with them. Food allergies are helpful to dodge those fake friend bullets, because your real friends won’t care if you can’t eat out; they still want time with you as a person. I regret holding on to friends who didn’t care for me, even though I knew they weren’t a good fit. Letting them go allowed me to realize who my true friends were, and those people have become my best friends. Finding my true friends has created such a better high school experience for me because I know I will no longer be judged.
4) Finally, don’t let food allergies define you.
You will sometimes come across people who judge you or make fun of you for your food allergies. I have met my fair share. The best thing to remember is that high school is only four years of your life. Live those four years to the fullest and focus on having fun, rather than holding yourself back because food allergies do not define you. You define yourself.
Claire Johnson, 16 years old, is a member of FARE’s Teen Advisory Group from California and is allergic to wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, banana, oats, sesame and shellfish.