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11 Tips for Living With Allergies on Base

More and more today people are being diagnosed with food allergies and sensitivities, and that included military families -- it might be you, your spouse, or children, but either way it can be a challenge.

I’m allergic to dog and cat dander and cockroaches. But more importantly, I have allergic reactions (or food sensitivities) to wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, shellfish, spelt, gluten, peanuts and a host of everyday ingredients including, yeast, lecithin and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

It’s so much easier to PCS to a big city where there are Whole Foods markets, Natural Grocers, farmer’s markets, Marlene’s, and other organic and natural foods stores. But what happens when you PCS somewhere and there’s no such thing? In one small town we lived in, the closest organic and raw foods place was 90 minutes (and a few toll booths) away.

For the scores of military families who will be diagnosed and face these challenges this near year, here are 11 basic things that may help with the transition (regardless of where you PCS to):

1. It’s not just foods alone, allergens can be found in man-made products and environmental irritants. Be aware of lotions, laundry detergents and perfumes. I make my own body lotion with Jojoba oil and organic essence oils such as rosemary, peppermint, tea-tree, etc. The skin is the biggest organ (and porous), so I go natural here too. Ordering oils online is also an alternative.

2. Choose your food sources wisely. Foods sprayed with pesticides and highly refined foods with additives (or genetically modified foods—GMO’s) may also affect allergy suffers. Buy organic (if, and when you can) and wash with a fruit and vegetable wash. Always.

3. Watch out for seasonings. For example MSG (a processed-free glutamic acid) also goes by Aji-no-moto, Vetsin, calcium caseinate, and soy protein isolate. It’s found in nuts, soy sauce, beef bouillon, chips, canned soups and sausages. Read labels. If a product has too many lines of additives, preservatives and coloring etc., I skip it.

4. If your child suffers with food allergies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released guidelines (in October) on how to handle student food allergies in schools. Check with your local school district to see if they’ve adopted (or plan on adopting) these measures.

5. Eat raw even if it’s only 10-percent daily. You probably do this already: add salads and a rainbow of fresh veggies such as carrots, apples and green leafy produce to meals. Lightly steamed vegetables work great too. Sometimes I eat bad stuff (even though it makes me ill). But my whole focus is on finding balance in every way and not totally depriving myself of some treats. Where’s the joy in that, right? You too have to find what works for you.

6. Don’t eat the same thing every day. Eating the same food over and over again over a period of time means you are more likely to develop food sensitivities. Wait a few days for foods to cycle through your system. I know if I’ve been bad one day, that I need to eat “clean” for a few days to compensate.

7. Choose carefully where you dine-out. Some restaurants heat up pre-packaged foods (assembled in a factory) and have a little control over meals’ ingredients. Find places that will accommodate your restrictions, and that offer fresh menu items. If your allergies are really severe, ask if they clean the grill and utensils before cooking your food (separately). Red Lobster and P.F. Chang’s certainly do. Military towns tend to be home to a lot of chain restaurants. You may think you can count on them to be consistent from place to place, but don't take anything for granted.

8. Become intimate with your type of allergies so you can choose the right diet. For example if you’re lactose-intolerant you know dairy products such milk and milk-based products don’t settle well; vegan don’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, or any processed foods containing animal-derived products. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian don’t eat beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, or animal flesh, but eat eggs and dairy products. Macrobiotic diets consist of only unprocessed vegan foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. And, raw vegans only eat unprocessed vegan foods that have not been heated above 105 degrees Fahrenheit; some go to 115 degrees (46 degrees Celsius). Gluten-free diets exclude (the protein gluten) which is found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye.

9. Check other symptoms, they might be related. That nagging post-nasal drip, insomnia, migraine or persistent cough, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, chronic mucus or bronchitis, and other undiagnosed and generic tell-tale signs can also be linked to the foods you eat. Get additional testing, if necessary. I worked with a naturopathic doctor off-base, but he worked with my military treatment facility based physician to run tests and follow-ups. It saved me time and money. I was able to get a 4-paged diagnosis of what I was allergic to. Tricare doesn’t cover many alternatives sources but you can find other ways in which they can work for you.

10. Get friendly with your local produce manager both on and off base. Then you’ll know when the fresh produce comes in, and can order special raw organic items such as nuts, seed and grains (especially if you opt for a raw vegan diet). Also, don’t forget your local farmer’s market and farmers -- they’re a great place for fresh, far-raised, organic choices that are usually hormone-free and grass-fed (no GMO grains). Some store brands are pumped with saline solutions, and animals are raised on antibiotics and fed animal–by product (among others). Google where your farmer's market is and think outside the box. Are you in a rural community? Consider looking for a near-by Amish community for affordable, organic produce.

11. Do your best and bless the rest. If you’re doing the best you can (with your budget, resources, and place you live in), then you can’t worry about (or control everything). Simply do your best to take care of your allergies. Many kids are raised just fine with what’s available and adults cope with what they have. Worry less and live more.

Have you had a similar experience? How did you make it work? What are some of the challenges you face with allergies?

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