This is a story of the discovery of my food allergy and the journey to find some relief.
At the end of my junior year of high school, I started getting cystic acne. By this time, I had learned my skin and developed a routine that helped keep it clear. My mom recommended I see an allergist. At my appointment, I told them about all of my symptoms after eating certain foods. They performed a prick test for the foods that I had mentioned having reactions to plus some common allergens and the full environmental panel. This is one of the rare occasions where scoring 100% on a test is not a good thing. I was allergic to everything!
I was allergic to all the food I was used to eating. I could no longer eat anything grab n' go items or any prepackaged foods. I had to basically find new things to eat, and those foods had to be made from scratch. Since this was such an abrupt change from my original diet, I had a hard time sticking to it. Eventually, I went back to what I was previously eating because the change wasn't manageable. As a result, my acne was getting worse. I developed digestive issues, rashes, hives, constant itchiness, and joint pain (especially in my knees). If I thought changing my diet was hard to manage, these symptoms were unbearable. I was forced to eliminate my allergens from my diet just to get through everyday life. Over time, I found other foods that I liked and could eat as well as substitutions for foods I was allergic to.
Two years later, I attended Kent State University for fashion design because they were affordable and boasted an allergy-friendly dining program. After testing all of their accommodations for people with dietary restrictions, food allergies, or intolerances, I found them insufficient. Firstly, they suggested that I inform each dining hall server of my food allergies and assured me that the server would then make something that I could eat. Long lines and impatient servers made this an impractical solution for all parties.
Secondly, they suggested I eat exclusively at the "healthy" dining hall that only sold food products and meals with higher-quality ingredients. Think the Whole Foods of dining halls. They sold kombucha, avocado oil chips, aloe vera juice, and Enjoy Life chocolate bars. Though it had much more options for me to choose from, it depleted my funds very quickly. I had the meal plan designed for athletes and was spending it up before the end of the semester. Paying for my classes, housing, and meal plan was already a struggle so this option wasn't for me.
Thirdly, they suggested this To-Go Meal program where I ordered from a specific menu, and I could call ahead and pick the food up. Due to poor communication, my allergens still ended up in plates set out for me. Once, they put tomatoes in my food because "the plate lacked color" as if my food being beautiful would save me from anaphylaxis.
None of the "options" they provided worked for me so I ended up having to petition myself out of the meal plan program during my sophomore year, but that came with its own set of challenges. Now, I had to go to the grocery store without a car and hope that my dorm room was near a kitchen. Most of the time it didn't work out so I ate very little, which only made my other symptoms more severe. I lost about 10-20 pounds and had unbearable body aches and knee pain at night.
After 3 years of dealing with food insecurity, I shared my concerns and sent a proposal for a program that would allow me to finish my degree from home. They refused to offer any support or inconvenience themselves in any way. I dropped out of college with only 6 credits away from graduation and moved back to SC. I worked full-time at Fresh Future Farm, where I had access to fresh foods that I could eat without worry. I started researching gut health, managing food allergies, elimination diets, and functional medicine in an effort to regain the health I once had. With wellness funds that the Farm provided, I was able to see a local functional doctor. I'm doing much better and have a better grasp on my health.