Hallmates, Shower Shoes, Dining Halls, and … Food Allergies
By Pam, age 19. Allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and soy.
College. What does it mean to you? To me, a month after my high school graduation, college meant training for field hockey, shopping for dorm room necessities, and looking forward to parties, friends, roommates, freedom, and fun. Two weeks before college, however, that perspective on college made a 180 when I found out I was allergic to soy, in addition to 18 years of nut and peanut allergies. Just fabulous—no more of my favorite snack foods; scratch that, no more food I was accustomed to eating, period. Instead of waving a white flag and giving up when life gave me a few too many lemons—I took those lemons and made lemonade.
Telling People. First off, this isn’t elementary school where you need to tell everybody and their brother’s dog’s hamster’s friend. You don’t need to tattoo your forehead with a warning label—you are just as normal, if not more normal than many people you will encounter. Tell your roommates, resident advisors, and other people that live on your floor about your allergy so that they can watch out for you. Tell your friends, but remember that you don’t have to discuss your food allergy when you first meet someone – it’s okay to wait until you see how much time you’ll be spending with that person. When you do tell people, explain what a food allergy is, what happens during anaphylaxis, and what to do in case of a reaction. It’s important to relay that it’s a serious issue, while showing your new friends that having a food allergy is just another thing that makes you unique.
I was an incoming freshman on the field hockey team and I had to have a meeting with the trainers, coaches, and the entire team in the training room on the first day after our first team meeting. I had to explain the foods I am allergic to, what happens to me if I eat them, and what to do if I start to have a reaction. I then had to field tons of questions from girls I didn’t even know yet. I was worried about my teammates judging me, alienating me, or giving me a hard time. That wasn’t the case. Instead, they instantly became my older sisters, watching my back. Many of them didn’t know anything about food allergies before meeting me, so it was a new and intriguing fact of life to them. After I tackled the initial public explanation, I became comfortable explaining food allergies to anyone.
Living Accommodations. Before moving in, I contacted the Disabilities Office, Residence Life (housing), and Dining Services to arrange meetings with them and find out what special accommodations were available to me. I was allowed to have my own refrigerator in my dorm room; they gave me the dining hall menus in advance each week, and dining services even offered to make me special meals. It was great! The dining hall at Philadelphia University already takes major precautions for individuals with food allergies, so I could eat just about everything.
Emergency Action Plan. Your parents always tell you to be prepared, but having an action plan is something to take very seriously. You’re in college—be mature and put your health first.
Because I am a girl, it’s easy for me to carry what my friends, family, and I call a “life bag.” I know a lot of guys that carry sack-bags (by Nike or Adidas) around most of the time. If you’re a guy and you don’t already carry one, I would definitely suggest getting one instead of cramming your pockets with what you need. This way, your epinephrine auto-injector will be concealed, so you will avoid answering monotonous questions. My friends all know about my “life bag” and are comfortable with what to do if I start to have a reaction.
Everyday Life. Leaving my dorm room, I always have my life bag, a couple of snacks I can eat throughout the day, and my cell phone. In my room, I have four crates that I keep stocked with food I can eat, especially when the dining hall is closed. I also keep a plethora of restaurant menus to order from.
So go on already, enjoy college. It really is the best time of your life!
Now that you’re 18, you’ll need to update your Food Allergy Action Plan with your own signature and your college address (if applicable). Ask your doctor to fill this out; give copies to the student health center and your resident assistant, and be sure to keep a copy readily accessible in your dorm room or apartment.