Today is a special guest post from my friend Kyle Dine. Though we’ve never met in person, Kyle and I have become friends from across the globe thanks to social media and Skype. I admire how Kyle took his personal experience living with food allergies and turned it into tools to help others through his business. Kyle is trying to make our food allergy world a better place. One day, I hope Kyle and I can share a gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, egg-free, seafood-free, and mustard-free meal together somewhere in this world.
Please note, this post contains affiliate links.
Celiac Disease and Food Allergies under One Roof
How love influenced my understanding of celiac disease, and the scope of a dietary card business
by Kyle Dine
Equal Eats! That was the eureka moment my wife and I shared after brainstorming for months for a new name for my company. For years it had been operating as “Allergy Translation”, but I knew first-hand that the importance of communicating dietary restrictions on chef cards went way beyond food allergies.
I owe much of that perspective to my wife who truly opened my eyes to the world of celiac disease. She was diagnosed at age 20 and was still learning the ropes when we met in our early twenties. I quickly realized the challenges of both food allergies and celiac disease were quite similar, and we have truly grown together over the years to better advocate for ourselves, and each other.
Our Allergy and Celiac Story
In my little family, there’s a mom, a dad (myself) and a daughter. We deal with celiac disease, multiple food allergies, asthma and eczema. Can you guess who has what?
My wife has celiac disease, I have the atopic trifecta (allergy + asthma + eczema), and miraculously, our 5-year-old can eat everything. We still marvel watching her truly enjoy food at the likes we’ve never experienced ourselves. I do experience some anxiety watching her eat my allergens, but it’s less and less as I come to grips that she didn’t inherit my immune system.
Ever since I was young, I’ve always had a distanced relationship with food, or quirk associated with my behavior at restaurants/food events. My allergies were the reason why I was a homebody, why I felt like a burden in most restaurant settings, and perhaps it was a factor in why I connected instantly to my wife when I found out she had celiac disease.
Since our first date in 2006 until now, our comfort level dealing with each other’s restrictions has only grown. I remember her introducing me to home-made gluten-free pizza fresh out of a beadmaker. I remember teaching her how to use my EpiPen™, and making her aware of how I might “get weird” or downplay symptoms during an allergic reaction. I’ve never confided that with anyone, but she gets it. I’ve witnessed her challenges of chefs not taking celiac disease as seriously as my life-threatening allergies, and having to speak up that we require the same vigilance.
Communicate your Comfort Level
We support each other by regularly communicating our comfort levels. This was tested when our daughter was getting introduced to common allergens as an infant. It was truly a team approach as we needed to reduce the risk for each other while following current guidelines for our daughter – think paper plates covered in peanut butter going straight to garbage. Our systems will not work for everyone because we all manage differently. We feel that after living with each other’s dietary restrictions for so many years, we are very well in sync.
Travelling with Food Allergies and Celiac Disease
We’ve travelled a lot over the years together and lived in both Canada and Europe. Our biggest trip was to China (see full recap) for 3 weeks where our secret was packing a full extra suitcase of safe food and a new dish sponge. We ended up buying a hot plate and cooking all our meals on the floor of our room – but we truly enjoyed that trip! We typically look for accommodations where we have our own kitchen and then stick to local grocery stores. When we dine-out, we typically do our research first using TripAdvisor + searching “allergy or celiac” within the reviews. We then venture out and always use our dietary communication cards. Overall, our mindset is not focused on food when we travel, it’s about experiencing the culture and the natural beauty. We stay safe, and keep our food expectations low, while keeping our zest for adventure high!
Importance of Respecting ALL Dietary Restrictions
When I started Allergy Translation in 2006 to provide translation cards to travellers, I made the faulty assumption that food allergies were most important to communicate. After seeing my wife unfortunately get “glutened” on multiple occasions, I knew first-hand the importance of strict avoidance for those with celiac disease as well. I also started learning more about other dietary restrictions and the importance of adhering to them. In some cases, it’s medically related, in others it’s religious. I realized that all of these people are making special requests at restaurants, and I’d rather create dietary cards that control that narrative, rather than having people call it something else (e.g. lactose intolerance being called a milk allergy to be taken more seriously).
From what I’ve learned, chefs around the globe want to know exactly what condition you have, and what foods you avoid. They want to help you eat safely and well. They want to know you have celiac disease, not “wheat allergy”. Many have systems in place, but need to know exactly what they are dealing with.
Disclose Your Restrictions Early in a Relationship and Temper Expectations
I feel the same goes for relationships. You should disclose early to your partner about your condition. They might not “get it” right away, but be patient and guide them as you go. Share which foods are okay, what actions you’re not comfortable with, and what brings out your anxiety. Together you can navigate and safely cohabitate with food allergies, celiac disease, or any combination of restrictions you can fit under one roof!
Kyle Dine is the CEO and Founder of Equal Eats. He has multiple food allergies and performs educational allergy assemblies across North America. He is a charity ambassador for Food Allergy Canada. He’s from Kingston, ON Canada, and his wife is from Slovenia where they are raising their 5-year old daughter. You can connect with him and learn more on Instagram.