Allergies and socialising – 3 tips and strategies for feeling safe AND understood

When I started the Low Tox Life and the “low tox” phrase that became an unexpected movement, it was out of a personal diagnosis of a non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Creating lots of gluten-free recipes since my diagnosis in 2004, way before there existed resources online for great alternatives, meant friends and family with similar intolerances or full-blown allergies or coeliac disease, turned to me for help. With a background in hospitality and training program creation and development, I naturally fell into the comfortable dynamic of helping people through the challenges they were experiencing and into greener pastures. 

You’d think the main thing was the practicality around ‘what’ to eat, but that’s not really the biggest challenge, I find when working with our Low Tox Life community who have specific dietary needs. The bigger issues tend to be the ones there are no “easy swaps” for; the things we have less control over, like going out, socialising at kids’ parties or at a work function. People don’t want to be a burden but at the same time, they don’t want to be sick or worse – as we know with anaphylaxis, some allergies are life-threatening.

So, I’ve found myself spending lots of time focusing on that area with people and thought I’d share 3 tips here – something I’ll be presenting in greater detail at the upcoming show. 

Be on the front foot at the planning stage of events

Don’t wait until the day of an event you know is coming up socially. Whether it’s a restaurant, a friend’s house or a Christmas party at work, chances are there’s a ‘head planner’ and while not every invitation comes with a dietary requests box to tick, be proactive and have the conversation on your needs. You don’t have to be suspicious or demanding – I find it’s best to come with a generous spirit with phrases like “Thanks so much for the invitation, I’m super excited about it. Being gluten-free (or nut-free or whatever your needs, insert there) I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to be a pain in the preparations and wondered what you were planning food-wise and if I could help in any way. I’m really good with dietaries since my coeliac diagnosis and connecting with the allergen-aware community, so if you want to run menus/catering options by me, I’d be so happy to help”. This way you’re offering to help instead of ‘being a pain’ and I think this means we can have fun socially and feel good and comfortable with our differences rather than like a burden or worse, like nobody cares. 

Be generous when invited to the homes of friends and family.

Again with the generous-hearted lead, offer to bring the often trickier things like a dessert, or an extra dozen sausages that will definitely be allergen-free, and share your food. Don’t make having an allergy, an ostracisation, but rather find a way to share the delicious things in your new world of eating with the people you love. A lot of people are scared of allergies if they haven’t experienced the journey themselves. I remember a friend in the early days, freaking out and proclaiming “I’ve no idea what to make you!” half finding me a dilemma and half worried she might hurt me! 

Use technology

These days, there are apps popping up to help you have more confidence with eating out at restaurants, and if you’re going out with friends, again offer to choose the restaurant, so you can do your research and choose something where you’ll be able to relax while you’re there. Certain restaurant groups take allergens really seriously. As a Sydney sider, I know Merivale group does, for example. You have apps like Foodini that allow you to segment into different food requirements and can always call a restaurant and grill them for how well they prepare food separately in their kitchen when it comes to allergies. I find it’s often best to find a handful of great places, and visit them again and again, rather than always picking somewhere new where the stress of ‘what if’ might crop up. Building a relationship with a restaurant or pub means over time the staff know you, and your needs and look out for your health and safety. Of course always still remind people when you’re ordering, but relationships make a big difference to our confidence being out, too. 

Knowledge breeds confidence in the allergies-and-socialising game, and approaching it with “let me make this easy and help you choose/let me bring” type language and action, means you’ll be respected, and others relieved you’ll make it easy for them to ensure everyone’s having a great time. None of this advice, of course, replaces the need for your emergency tools if you have a life-threatening allergy, but they can go a long way into not having you feel like you’re in a ‘me vs. the world’ dynamic when it comes to having to eat a certain way. 

Come along and hear Alexx Stuart speak on the Learning Theatre Stage on Saturday 21 October at 10.30am, and Sunday 22 October at 3.00pm

Picture of Alexx Stuart

Alexx Stuart

Alexx Stuart is an educator and change agent who founded Low Tox Life in 2010 after seeing the lack of transparency in our food system, personal care and cleaning products. She's built a movement that's non-judgmental, positive and says low tox peeps are a force to be reckoned with! A columnist for Wellbeing magazine, she is also a sought-after speaker and consultant to businesses committing to change for good.

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