a girl with curly hair and a hand on her chin looking at a boy wearing blue jacket and a white shirt and  looks worried

Coping with anxiety around allergies and dietary requirements

4 min read
14 September 2021

If you have food allergies, intolerances or other dietary requirements, it can cause a lot of anxiety – especially if it affects your ability to do things others may take for granted. Here Caitlin, 16, shares her experience and her tips for coping.

There are very few restaurants that can cater for me, severely limiting my options for eating out.

Struggling with food and eating

All through my childhood, I had no complications with eating or food. However, I developed an eating disorder around the age of 13 and was treated at the age of 15 by a CAMHS eating disorder clinic.

After completing the weight gain meal plan I was placed on, it became clear that my being unwell wasn’t only due to the meal plan. After a consultation with a CAMHS dietician, it was agreed that I should try cutting out dairy from my diet. Unfortunately, within a week I became seriously ill. As some of you may be aware, soya products are the main alternative to dairy – which I soon realised I was also intolerant to. Thankfully, I am now able to greatly reduce my symptoms by not consuming dairy, soya/soybeans, sulphites and some fruits and vegetables.

It was a very distressing and confusing time because, as well as the physical pain, it was very difficult to have to think so much about food and not be restrictive in my diet while still trying to recover.

It was a very distressing and confusing time because, as well as the physical pain, it was very difficult to have to think so much about food and not be restrictive in my diet while still trying to recover.

Anxiety and stress around dietary requirements

Now I am glad to say that I have found enough alternative products that I can mostly eat ‘normally’ with others. However, there are still situations when it can be extremely challenging.

There are very few restaurants that can cater for me, severely limiting my options for eating out. Of course, many of them provide allergen information online but it takes away enjoyment when knowing there is only one specific dish that you can eat at a restaurant.

Additionally, there is the constant fear that a mistake will be made. It’s also too demanding to ask friends to provide food for me when even the slightest cross-contamination can make me so ill that I need to stay home for a couple of days. It removes all spontaneity from eating as everywhere I go, whatever I do, I need to have a plan for food and/or pre-prepare and bring it. This can be incredibly stressful and, as a result, I sometimes avoid eating out. Sadly, this means I tend to miss out on social occasions with family and friends. It’s difficult to be confident when even the smallest error can have disastrous consequences.

It’s difficult to be confident when even the smallest error can have disastrous consequences.

My advice to young people with dietary requirements

My recommendation to other young people is to make as much fun out of it as possible. I find it a lovely chance to shop, bake and cook with my Mam – things we may not have done otherwise. We spend time finding recipes, buying ingredients, and then trying them together. My best friends have also turned it into a kind of game, sending me pictures of foods that I can eat that none of us previously realised.

It may seem counter-intuitive but being more responsible for what I eat has assisted recovery from my eating disorder - it’s resulted in me learning the benefits of proper nutrition from a balanced, healthy diet.

To those of you with similar struggles, I want to remind you that you’re not alone, and I want to offer some encouragement; technology keeps moving forward and so there are more and more products on supermarket shelves to cater for those with dietary requirements. Things are getting better, but for now, you’ve got this.

To those of you with similar struggles, I want to remind you that you’re not alone.

More information and advice

Where to get help

  • YoungMinds Textline

    Text YM to 85258

    Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.

    All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.

    Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.

    Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • The Mix

    Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

    Free short-term counselling service available.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, seven days a week
  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support.

    Opening times:
    24/7

Thanks for sharing your story Caitlin, 16

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