How to Cope With Food Anxiety
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022 | Last updated: July 2022
Food is how we nourish our bodies and socialize with family, friends, and colleagues. But what happens when what you eat can make you sick or, even worse, threatens your life?
When you live with a food allergy, fear of a reaction can impact your quality of life. Studies show a sizable number of people with food allergies avoid activities like dining out, vacations, or traveling by airplane.1
This fear can lead to anxiety surrounding food. But fortunately, there are ways to stay safe and lower your anxiety while still enjoying food.
Control your food
First things first: Take charge of what you eat. For the most part, you can avoid foods that will set off an allergic reaction. This is a big part of easing anxiety surrounding food.
Read food labels closely. This may be easier said than done when they are unclear. Sometimes allergens are described in various ways on food labels. For example, if you have a milk allergy, you need to watch out for the ingredients whey and casein. Those allergic to eggs may see them described in different ways. They could be called albumin, livetin, avidin, or other names.1
Here are some other ideas for avoiding food allergens:2
- Get rid of trigger foods from your home
- Cook your own meals
- Tell anyone who cooks for you (restaurant staff, friends, and family) about food allergies so they can help meet your needs
- Carry allergen-free snacks
Support and coping strategies
It can help to share your anxiety with others. Think about joining a support group for people living with food allergies. Many are dedicated to parents of kids with allergies. You can talk about your worries and trade ideas for coping. Look for this type of group through nonprofits and internet sources. A good place to start is the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) website.3
Professional therapy is another option for overcoming anxiety. Your therapist may suggest cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). With food anxiety, some therapists focus on a technique called exposure. This is where you are slowly introduced to anxiety-causing situations. You will learn to judge risk, which boosts your confidence and reduces anxiety.4
Kids with food allergies are more likely to have anxiety than those without. These children may benefit from seeing a child therapist or pediatric feeding specialist.5,6
Parents are also a big source of support. Teach your child about their food allergy and, as they get older, how to manage it. Also, be aware of how you talk about an allergy so your child is not afraid to eat.5,6
If anxiety becomes overwhelming, coping strategies can help. They include:5
- Deep breathing. Put your hands on your stomach and envision you are inhaling air from a balloon. Then fill it back up. Pay attention to how your hands move up and down.
- Distraction. The idea is to take your mind off of your anxiety. For kids, this could mean coloring, cuddling their favorite stuffed toy, or spending time with a pet.
- Preparation: Educate yourself on how to treat any kind of allergic reaction and keep an emergency kit to reduce anxiety about what might happen.