Children aren’t the only ones with food allergies. In Australia, about 2 in every 100 adults suffer from a food allergy1. Some food allergies persist from childhood into adulthood and some don’t develop until the adult years. Unfortunately, when a food allergy develops for the first time in adults, it usually persists1.
Adults with food allergies often find themselves in situations that can make managing their food allergy difficult. This may include eating out with friends, work meetings involving food or even the work environment itself. For adults with a newly diagnosed food allergy this change in lifestyle can prove challenging and even stressful. In this guide we offer some suggestions on how to manage your food allergy in the work environment and how to manage the stress a food allergy can cause. For tips on eating out with food allergies, check out the Teen 13-18 years section on this website.
Food allergies in the workplace
Managing food allergies at work can present its own set of challenges. From staff kitchens to business lunches there are lots of things to think about, particularly if you are in a new job or new to the workforce.
If you have a severe food allergy it is important to let your manager know about it before your first day in a new job2. This way they can implement some strategies and make accommodations within the workplace that will reduce the risks of you having an allergic reaction. As you get to know your work mates, let them know about your food allergy as well2. Provide them with information about the seriousness of your allergy. If more people at work know about your allergy then it is more likely that there will be someone to know how to help if you do have an allergic reaction.
Unfortunately accidental exposures to food allergens still do occur. It is important to be prepared for this. If you have been prescribed an adrenaline auto injector (AAI) make sure you have this with you at all times or that it is kept in an easily accessible place that is known to your colleagues2. Your Action Plan for Anaphylaxis should also be kept with your AAI. Some people with severe food allergies also choose to wear a medic alert bracelet or necklace. This will remind your colleagues in a time of emergency that you have a food allergy and that you have medication to treat it2.
Also, make sure that someone in your workplace knows what to do in case you have a severe allergic reaction at work. Educate your manager and colleagues on how to spot the signs of a severe allergic reaction2. Train selected colleagues on how to administer the AAI in case you are unable to give the medication yourself. Advise them to call an ambulance after they have administered the medication2. Keep in mind that you do not need a first aid certificate in order to administer an AAI2.
Many adults with food allergies choose to bring their own lunch to work. It is important to make sure your lunch is not contaminated. Keep it in a sealed container in the fridge or you may choose to ask for a separate shelf in the kitchen pantry.
When special events take place, like catered training days or business lunches, inform the organiser of your needs prior to the day. Discuss appropriate options with them and how they can best accommodate you. For example, buffet style lunches are not suitable, however the catering company may be able to make a separate meal and have it put aside for you. If the lunch is at a restaurant, offer to book a restaurant or provide the coordinator with a list of restaurants that you know that can meet your needs3. Alternatively if you are not comfortable with eating at a restaurant, suggest meeting for coffee instead.
Discuss with your manager about how you can make your workplace allergy aware. If you share a computer or workspace with other colleagues, put up a notice requesting they don’t eat in the shared workspace3. Also you can request to have food allergy information put in an office memo or company newsletter2. There are also a number of posters available that detail general information on food allergy, like those available for Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia4. Speak with your manager about hanging these in high risk areas like the office kitchen.
Tackling Your Daily Stressors…One Step at a Time
Let’s face it; we could probably all benefit from stress management advice. Whether you’re the CEO of a company, a full-time university student, or a single parent, we all face some level of stress on a daily basis.
Here are a few stress management tips that can help you cope with the added worry that a food allergy can cause.
- Get moving5. You may be asking yourself…”How am I going to have time to exercise when I’m already stressed out because I have too much on my plate?” This does NOT have to be an hour-long workout in the gym. Whether it’s a 10-minute walk or a quick yoga session, researchhas shown that physical activity can improve stress levels, reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases, and produce endorphins to make you feel good6. If that doesn’t fit your schedule, look for ways to incorporate exercise into your day, like getting off the bus a stop early or parking further away from work and walking the rest of the way. Remember, any physical activity is better than none at all5!
- Eat right7. Most of us have an idea of what a “balanced, healthy diet” looks like. However, knowing how to eat well and actually doing so are two different things. If you need help in this area you can always reach out to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD). APDs are experts in nutrition. They can help manage your food allergy, whilst giving some great advice on how to achieve a balanced diet.
- Spend time with people who care7. Sometimes just spending time with friends or relatives can make you feel so much better. Sharing your thoughts and feelings can help too. Even if your loved one can’t relate, just having that set of ears can be helpful. Want to talk to someone who’s familiar with dealing with food allergies and related conditions? Find a local support group, attend a meeting or event, and make a new friend!
- Establish Routines7. Having a predictable pattern in your day or week can be calming and re-assuring. Allocate times for exercise, waking and bed times, relaxation and meals.
- Take a break from the stressor8. It may seem like a hard thing to do but give yourself permission to take time out from the stressful situation. Whether it’s a deadline at work, a crying baby or money worries, allow yourself time to spend time thinking about something else. Obviously you cannot avoid the stressful situation altogether, but giving yourself a break for half an hour can help to give you a fresh perspective and to feel less overwhelmed.
- Allocate time to relax7. This will help calm and readjust your body and nervous system. Whether it’s finding time to listen to music, attending a yoga class or letting yourself be absorbed in a relaxing activity like gardening, a set relaxation time can help manage stress. Another option is participating in formal relaxation classes like meditation. There is lots of research that shows that even brief meditation can provide immediate stress relieving effects8.
Some food allergies persist from childhood into adulthood and some don’t develop until the adult years.
- 2016. Food allergy. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. Viewed 12 July 2016. http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/food-allergy
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Over 18’s and Adults. Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Viewed 12 July 2016. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/living-with-the-risk/life-stages/over-18-s-adults
- 2016. Managing food allergies at work. Food Allergy Research Education. Viewed 12 July 2016. http://www.foodallergy.org/managing-food-allergies-at/work
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. 2016. Workplaces. Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Viewed 12 July 2016. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/how-to-manage/workplaces
- The Department of Health and Aging. 2014. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Guidelines for Adults (18-64years). The Commonwealth of Australia 2014. Viewed 13 July 2016. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#apaadult
- Better Health Channel. 2012. Physical Activity- It’s important. The Victorian Government. Viewed 13 July 2016. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/physical-activity-its-important
- Australian Psychological Society. 2016. Tips for managing everyday stress. Australian Psychological Society. Viewed 13 July 2016. https://www.psychology.org.au/public/topics/stress-and-wellbeing/
- The American Psychological Association. 2016. Five tips to help manage stress. The American Psychological Association. Viewed 13 July 2016. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/manage-stress.aspx