Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Anesha Santhanam
Hey y’all! What’s up? My name is Anesha, I’m 15 years old, and I’m going into 10th grade. Just like many of my fellow teenagers, the jump into high school was something I definitely had to adapt to. Not only did I have to balance my academics, schedule and activities — I was also faced with the daunting task of managing my food allergies and being a self-advocate to ensure that I was safe throughout high school. Here’s a background on my allergens: I’m allergic to sesame seeds, poppy seeds, all nuts, shellfish, and penicillin. Not only do I have to look out for my allergens in food — as a teenage girl, I have to check literally all the makeup items I want to buy – lotion, mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, lipstick.. Staying safe means that you have to be cautious with everything: but over my years, I’ve found a way to take care of myself without fear and with minimal stress!
As a sophomore, I’m very active in my school. Besides taking rigorous honors courses, I’m an athlete on the school tennis team and a trumpet player in the jazz band. These activities require me to travel to other schools for games and performances. Going on overnight trips and eating out are also a part of the package, but I’ve found an effective way to cope with all of it, and I’d like to share with you some of the tips and strategies that worked for me!
Daily school life
In my freshman year of high school, I carried my own epinephrine auto-injector around and learned how to self-inject so that I could feel safe and secure at all times. So, I got a small sling bag that OBVIOUSLY had to match all of my clothes (don’t blame me, I just wanted to have good style!) and carried my epinephrine auto-injector and antihistamine in one pouch. I also put a list of emergency contact numbers in the same pouch. When no one else is around, your phone is your best bet at calling for help, so I carried a wireless backup battery phone charger just in case. I also made it a habit to wear a medical bracelet that has a list of my allergens and an emergency number at all times. My medical bracelet and sling bag are my two personal bodyguards! I never leave the house without them!
Extracurricular activities in high school
Sports: Being on the tennis team meant that I had to stay after school for practice and go to other schools to play (and win) games. The first thing I did was put my sling bag in my tennis bag. During summer, I packed an icepack or a cold water bottle to keep the epinephrine auto-injector cool so it didn’t overheat. You should never forget your medication!
Eating nutritiously and staying hydrated is important for any sport. To ensure that I had something to eat, I packed snacks that were healthy and could last a LONG time without getting spoiled in the heat. Some examples of the snacks I brought to practice and games were a banana with nut-free dip, tricolor pasta with ranch or Italian dressing along with an ice pack to keep it cool, 100-calorie mini pretzel snacks, electrolytes, and water.
Trips and Overnight Stays: As a part of the band program, many of my performances required me to stay late after school and to go on overnight trips. Prior to each trip, I contacted my director about food details, where I would be eating, and how to get any menus I needed. I called up the hotel I was going to be staying at and asked them if they had any accommodations for food allergies and menus. Also, I brought snacks like pretzels, chips and cookies so if I had nothing safe to eat, at least I didn’t starve! (Please make sure the snacks you take are free of your allergens!)
Being organized is super important when you have food allergies. I check for all of the things I need like my medical bracelet, cell phone, epinephrine auto-injector, antihistamine, other medications, extra snacks, etc. on the day of the trip.
As a teenager, I LOVE hanging out with my friends at the movies, restaurants or the mall. I follow the same strategy that I use for overnight trips. If I know where we plan to hang out, I look up the website and find the info. For sleepovers, I pack my own snacks and cereal in case I need it. When I arrive at a restaurant, I make sure I let the server know right away about my allergies. I request an allergy menu if they have one, and if not, I ask to talk to the chef when I place my order. When ordering with a group of friends, order your meal FIRST. Don’t be shy! Meals without allergens take more time to make than regular meals because they might make it in a separate fryer or on different equipment to make sure there isn’t any cross-contact.
These are all the tips I have for you, and the last tip is to just HAVE FUN! Don’t let food allergies hold you back! Once you follow these tips along with your own strategies, taking care of your food allergies will be a piece of allergen-free cake! (see what I did there?)
To sum it all up, be safe and have a good time when you’re in high school. And don’t forget to advocate for yourself and for other people just like you, because if we work together, someday we can find a cure for food allergies!
My name is Anesha Santhanam, and I’m proud to be a FARE Teen Advisor! Peace out!
Registration is now open for the 12th Annual Teen Summit this fall in beautiful Newport Beach, CA. Visit foodallergy.org/teensummit for more information.
Special thanks to Enjoy Life Foods and Nice ‘N CLEAN Premium Wet Wipes for supporting our Back to School Safely campaign. For more resources, visit foodallergy.org/back-to-school.