• Emily

Owning an allergy: learning not to apologize


Dairy free brownie spoon
Me enjoying some dairy free brownie mix!

I’ve been lactose intolerant noticeably for about 8 years now, 5 of which I spent (like most others with an inconvenient but not deadly allergy) ignoring it completely. Sick became the new normal for me, and I just assumed the stomach pains, gas, and frequent bathroom trips would be my lifelong companions.

I was raised on pizza, ice cream, and everything cooked in butter, so I simply didn’t know any better. Gradually my symptoms got worse and worse until a small amount of butter on toast sent me running to the toilet and sick in bed for the next 24 hours.

I finally accepted my allergy as legitimate and started researching alternatives. I’m lucky that now there are so many dairy free delicious options on the market now from Ben & Jerry’s almond milk ice cream to cashew milk cheese (just not Daiya!!)

At home, I am content in my dairy free world where I run no risk of cross-contamination and am delighted that I can go for days at a time without feeling sick at all.

There’s another step on the allergy journey: feeling confident telling those around us that we can’t eat something. Remember how I said I’ve been lactose intolerant for 8 years but only taking it seriously for 3? Do you know what we had for Christmas this year? Lasagna. My dad made lasagna for Christmas. Both my parents seem to think that “a little bit won’t hurt you” but then are upset when I spend the rest of the holiday in the bathroom.

While I can appreciate that my parents just don’t understand my allergy and aren’t trying to cause me pain, it’s still difficult to live my life around them.

Whenever I have dinner at friends houses, I have no problem bringing something to eat. Ordering pizza? I can get my own small without cheese. Cooking Mac n cheese? NO PROBLEM. I'll eat beforehand! I don't ever want friends to feel inconvenienced by my allergy and would much rather eat at home than have them scrambling to cook something I can eat.


I always apologize when I'm forced to tell friends or family, "I'm sorry but I can't eat the dessert you baked for 3 hours." Even though that's an exaggeration and most of the people I know buy things from the store, it still makes me feel like such a downer when someone is so excited to serve something but I can't eat it.


Then there's going out to eat, which usually ends in disaster unless we're at a hip place where it's considered cool to not have dairy or gluten. Most restaurants though have no sense of allergies, which is astounding to me since around 65% of the world's population has trouble digesting lactose. You would think that restaurants would want to appeal to as many people as possible, but I can't tell you how many times I've been asked "Is it an allergy or a lifestyle choice?"

Does it matter??? Shouldn't you as a restaurant be catering to me??? I know when I'm forced to step foot into Olive Garden that my outlook is bleak, but it's really not that hard to not put butter on everything. It blows my mind every time someone doesn't even understand what dairy is. I've asked people if there's dairy in something before and they've responded by saying "Oh there's eggs in it sorry." I'm like that's great news why are you sorry??? It's only when I get my food that I realize that it's soaked in butter.


In the last 3 months or so, I've gotten much more confident politely asking restaurants not to use dairy on my food and specifically remind them that I can't eat butter on a hamburger roll or toast or that my vegetables can't butter on them. While I still get sick once in a while, it's decreased the frequency and intensity of the sickness I feel when going out.


It's taken me so long to get to this point where I feel confident speaking up about my intolerance to friends and waiters, and overall it's made a huge improvement in my life. It can be difficult to tell others, because you almost feel like you're drawing unwanted attention to yourself or being an inconvenience, especially since it's an intolerance and not an allergy that might kill me. But it's important for me to be able to live my life without constantly being in pain.


So if you have any kind of allergy or can't eat certain foods for religious or personal reasons, please speak up!! It can be hard when you feel like your diet is a burden, but if you're going to feel sick or sick with guilt, it's much better to be up front and explain to your waiters, your friends, and your families that no you cannot have a little.


Don't let it take you as long as it took me to figure out that getting sick does not have to be the new normal.

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