For as long as I can remember, I’ve been scared of food. Having a life-threatening nut allergy from a young age made me fearful of any social or unfamiliar situation – I carried two epipens and a pack of antihistamine everywhere I went, avoided any situation where food would be served, and only ate things I had prepared myself.
I thought this was unique to me – until I discovered the wonderful world of the allergy community on Instagram! But before I got to where I am now, here’s where it all began.
My first allergic reaction and my anxiety around food
I had my first reaction at five years old. It was Christmas and I was sat cracking Brazil nuts with a metal nut cracker. I wasn’t eating any of them, just enjoying the mess I was making! At some point I rubbed my hand across my mouth and immediately felt my lips start to tingle. I took myself off to look in the mirror and called to my mum, “my lips are bumping up”. One call to the doctor and some antihistamines later, I was shaken, but back to normal.
Over the next few years I got to grips with having a food allergy. Going to a friends house or birthday party and needing to ask for details of anything we ate. Not being able to share sweets without checking the packaging thoroughly. For a while I lived dangerously, telling myself that ‘may contain’ statements were just companies covering themselves and nothing to worry about.
But I started having more and more reactions, often to things I hadn’t even considered might contain nuts. My anxiety around food started to build. I was also vegetarian (I’m now vegan) and my attitude towards food generally began to border on unhealthy. I stopped trusting other people to prepare food safely for me, even family and friends who knew about my allergy, and my fear of cross contamination became out of control. I limited my social life and became isolated and lonely.
Meeting someone with a nut allergy
I could talk for hours about those years, which amongst all the stress of my allergy included getting married, buying a house and then getting divorced, but I’ll fast forward to October 2020 when I met my now boyfriend, Carl, and things started to change. Carl also has a nut allergy but, much to my amazement, has never let it hold him back. When we first started dating, he told me about all the incredible holidays he’d had and the restaurants he’d been to, and suddenly I wanted to have more than the life I had existing inside my safe, disinfected space. @thatnutfreegirl was born.
I started following people with similar allergies to mine, and used them as sources of ‘safe’ food finds. Until now, I had only eaten something pre-prepared if it explicitly stated ‘nut free’ but gradually I started to get braver and try foods that had clear allergen labelling with no mention of nuts. I even started to consider eating in restaurants! The allergy community on Instagram is the most friendly, supportive group I have ever come across, and has made a huge difference to my life.
Eating out and discovering Allergy Companions
I can also honestly say that discovering the Allergy Companions website is one of the best things to happen on my journey. Frustratingly, being allergy aware or even nut free isn’t something many places think to advertise so if you search “nut free restaurant” on Google you won’t find many results. But now, here was a website where people reviewed how different establishments handled their allergies and which allergens the kitchen was free from, taking all the uncertainty out of finding somewhere to eat. Of course, everyone’s experience of a place will be different but since finding this website I have felt confident enough to eat in over TEN different establishments since October 2021.
The most important thing I’ve learned this year is that, although allergies are never something to be taken lightly, life doesn’t need to stop. I’ve eaten in restaurants, been on planes and socialised more than ever in my life! A lot of people are understanding and a lot of establishments have undergone rigorous training. However, always trust your gut! If someone doesn’t seem to be taking my allergy seriously or I don’t have a good feeling about the food, I simply don’t eat it. I’m done with apologising for keeping myself safe and I’m fully enjoying the freedom of building the confidence to ask questions of people handling my food!
I intended to use my Instagram account purely to document stepping outside my comfort zone. Instead I have discovered hundreds of inspiring accounts and met some truly wonderful people.
My top brands and restaurants!
There are a lot of companies out there who genuinely want to make life easier for people with allergies, I’ve added some of my favourites below!
Nut free and vegan:
Enjoy chocolate @joyofenjoy
Lexi’s protein bars @lexistreats
Angelic biscuits @angelicfreefrom
Niche restaurant @nicheglutenfreedining
@freeandeasyfood packet mixes
@oatavenue granola butter
@frownies.brownies vegan brownies
Thank you so much for reading my blog. I hope it’s given you a few ideas on nut and vegan free products, and showed you where you can eat if you have a nut allergy… and are vegan!
You might also enjoy reading ” Where to Eat in Cheltenham“