The link between food allergies and childhood anxiety

September 15, 2017

How to manage your child’s food sensitivities for a better social experience

A recent study shows that children with food allergies have higher chances of experiencing social anxiety, fear of rejection and humiliation. This is because young children often have concerns about fitting in with their classmates, and being seen as “different” often triggers emotions of isolation and sadness. Top food allergies include dairy, shellfish, gluten and eggs but can also stem from certain additives such as preservatives and food dyes. Although food allergies are shown to result in anxiety, their effect on the immune system can also manifest in other physical and emotional ways. A typical food allergy might result in a skin rash, whereas others can affect the brain through irritability and lack of focus. We’ve heard of the gut-brain connection before, and food allergies are no exception.

Learning how to manage your child’s food allergies is key to dealing with any potential negative imbalances and feelings of anxiety.

How to manage your child’s food allergies

Plan ahead. For some children, the source of their anxiety is dealing with food allergies at social events. According to Jessica Reber, registered dietitian at Swedish Pediatric Specialty Care, “Planning ahead as much as possible makes eating at social events a smoother process. If you’re going to a restaurant, try to review the menu online before you get there. If you’re headed to a party and aren’t sure of the options, bring a main dish to share or offer your child a mini-meal before you go. Snacking can be easier to manage than an entrée with multiple ingredients prepared outside the home.”

Do your research. If you’ve narrowed down the source of your child’s allergies, try doing some proactive research so you can prepare yourself – and any future meals – accordingly. This will not only give you peace of mind, but it also will help your child recognize where any negative feelings are coming from. “One of my favorite resources for caregivers is www.kidswithfoodallergies.org. The recipe section lets you filter out different foods and also gives ideas for food substitutions. To help build confidence and comfortability around food, get children more involved in the kitchen and with shopping. Teach children from a young age how to discuss their needs around food and advocate for themselves,” recommends Jessica.

Get support. Most hospitals will be able to recommend experts that can help you deal with your child’s allergies and anxiety. Jessica explains, “In my experience, parents are understandably worried and concerned when their child is initially diagnosed with a food allergy. However, after receiving nutrition education, everyone reports feeling better and more equipped to deal with the new diet. I think meeting with a dietitian at least once can go a long way to helping families deal with a food allergy diagnosis. A dietitian can give general information and also provide ideas around anticipated challenges.”

Discovering your child is having a tough time at school is hard to take. However, with enough information and the right management, you may be able to help them deal with their emotions and turn their lunch hour into a safe, pleasant experience.

Although food allergies are never enjoyable, Jessica recognizes a bright side. “One silver lining of living with food allergies is that children usually end up with more dietary variety from trying new foods and recipes. And with planning and creativity, we can greatly reduce the impact food allergies have on families.”

To explore more options for your child’s allergies and to learn more ways of managing them, reach out to your local medical provider today.