Amanda Orlando Is Everyday Allergy Aware

August 9, 2022

Little know fact: food allergies don’t just have a physical impact, they can also affect one’s mental health. As such, Amanda Orlando, a Canadian thought leader within the food allergy community, works with a goal to inspire confidence in her clients and followers. Allergic to peanuts, nuts (excluding coconut), dairy, soy protein and legumes (peas, chick peas, beans, lentils) since birth herself, we asked Amanda to share her experience living with allergies, and to provide some advice on how to manage food allergies with confidence, connecting food, body and mind. —Noa Nichol

Hi Amanda! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.

Well, my hair enters the room before I do! I am obsessed with bright, vibrant colours, and dressing to express my mood and personality, which is always slightly chaotic. I have a new baby boy, and I am enjoying sharing my passion for reading and flâneur-y with him. We go on daily adventures all over Toronto. I love old things—I’m not a very trendy person. I would say I’m pretty open-minded. I enjoy performing and took acting classes for a few years prior to the pandemic because it’s such a thrill for me. Now I make lifestyle and cooking videos for my YouTube channel. I can usually be found in the kitchen experimenting with one thing or another, or in my balcony garden. I spent most of my career in the children’s publishing world, and I am a thrice published cookbook author. I share my life with food allergies on my blog and Instagram.

Today we’re talking about allergies: what are they, and how do they develop?

An allergy is when your body misinterprets certain foods as poisonous and responds with an anaphylactic reaction which can be life-threatening and is treated with an epinephrine auto-injector. An anaphylactic reaction involves two or more systems in the body, and can include swelling, hives, vomiting, increased heart rate, a feeling of doom, and other symptoms. How they develop; that’s the million-dollar question! There is no definitive answer as to why people develop anaphylactic food allergies, or why some people grow out of them. Though I think every person with food allergies has their own inkling of a theory. For a long time, this field of research was largely untouched and not taken seriously. Because the prevalence of food allergies has increased so dramatically in recent years, it is gaining a lot more attention from the medical community and pioneering research is being conducted by hospitals like Sick Kids in Toronto.

In terms of food allergies specifically, what are some of the most common?

There are eight priority allergens recognized in Canada: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, soy, egg, wheat, fish, and shellfish. These are the allergens responsible for causing the highest rate of allergic reactions, though any food can be an allergen and it is not unusual for people to manage “non-top-eight” allergens, like peas, for example, which can cross-react with peanut or soy allergy. I personally have allergies to some non-top-8 allergens myself, and that presents its own set of challenges because they are not regulated like the top eight are.

What are some physical symptoms of having an allergy? How about the (lesser-known/discussed) mental/emotional impacts?

Anxiety is common in the food allergy community – whether it be fearing food or having post-traumatic stress from past anaphylactic reactions. Although people with food allergies are “fine” as long as they don’t consume their allergens, think about how many times a day you interact with food. The daily management can be exhausting at times. I have had many anaphylactic reactions in my life and so many emotions surrounding them, from feeling guilty that I made a mistake, to distrust towards myself and others, to pride in myself for overcoming such a traumatic physical hurdle. I’ve also seen a rise in disordered eating habits as a result of food allergies, as these habits are typically derived from a need for control. When you have food allergies, so many things are out of your control and so often you cannot get the clarity you need to make informed decisions about your food choices. It can be overwhelming, and I think that’s where the desire to gain a sense of control over your body via extreme dieting (or other disordered eating habits) comes from; though it’s a false sense of control. Food is one of the central fibers that unites people socially and emotionally. It’s impossible to opt out. But there are lots of times when I think man, I would love to take a break from having food allergies for even a day. That being said, having food allergies is not all bad! It has caused me to have a deep curiosity and fascination with food and where it comes from. Because I have to make most of my food and pantry staples from scratch, I have been obsessed with cooking and baking since I was a little kid. I think it has also made me very appreciative of others who show support, because not everyone is willing to go out of their way to help keep me safe or to make me feel welcomed. 

Naive question, but is there a “cure” for some types of allergies? And for lifelong allergies, what does life with an allergy look like?

Not a naive question but perhaps a controversial one! There is a lot of debate about food allergy tolerance induction treatments. These are treatment plans, not cures. Some people have great success with these programs while others are very hesitant to try them. Their promises can vary from allowing a slightly increased tolerance to one’s allergens, to claiming that you can overcome allergies altogether. The reason they are controversial is that they are relatively new, the results are not guaranteed for everyone, there is often a chance of having anaphylaxis while doing the treatment, they can take many years to complete, the cost can be prohibitive, and not everyone is eligible, to name a few. These treatments are not the right fit for me, but they are attractive options for some people. Personally, I am very interested in the emerging gut microbiome research and its connection to our immune system and immune diseases. I can’t wait to see what that research uncovers! There are some commonalities among the daily lives of people with food allergies—reading every food label, cooking from scratch, carrying an epinephrine auto injector (such as Epi Pen or Auvi Q), stocking up on your favorite allergy-free foods, or communicating with restaurants about your allergies. But there are also things that people can handle totally differently, like how we choose to travel (or not) with food allergies, how we approach dating and social relationships, whether or not we have anxiety, whether we are comfortable eating in restaurants. Just as food allergies themselves can vary from person to person, so too can the ways in which we choose to manage our unique situations.  I used to be very closed off about talking about my food allergies with others, and often tried to hide them altogether. At this point I am pretty open about talking about my allergies because I no longer feel embarrassed of this part of my identity. It’s just one part of who I am.

You’ve written some cookbooks specific to people with allergies! How do people use these, and what are some of your fave recipes?

My latest book, The Easy Allergy-Free Cookbook, features 85 recipes that are free from gluten and the top eight priority allergens. The majority of the recipes are ready in 30 minutes or less, one pan, and require five or fewer ingredients. My goal with this book was to create easy and approachable recipes using accessible and familiar ingredients. Cooking every night can be difficult and time consuming, and I want to help make it easy! My favorite recipes in the book are the Lemon Bars, and the Tuscan Chicken. I’m a sucker for anything lemon! I love bitter. The Tuscan Chicken is rich and creamy, and made with oat milk, which is a staple in my house. My previous book, Everyone’s Welcome, is more flexible. All of the recipes are free from peanuts, nuts, dairy, egg, soy, and shellfish. But there are recipes for making your own breads from scratch if you can eat wheat, for example. The design of this book was like a dream. It’s very graphic design focused and is a beautiful hardcover book. It looks like a piece of art, and it is. The unique, vibrant, chaotic cut-outs design was created by Tree Abraham. When I first saw it I felt like she had illustrated the inside of my brain. The book also contains some essays on life with food allergies from my perspective. I felt nervous to publish those essays at first, but after the book release I heard from so many other adults with food allergies who shared my point of view.   

If we think we may be allergic to something, what are your top tips to testing/discovering our sensitivities?

Beware of general mail order “sensitivity” tests! If you think you may be allergic to something, book an appointment with a board-certified allergist. They conduct skin prick tests and blood tests. If those come back clear, then they may progress you to an oral food challenge where you eat the potentially allergenic food in a safe and controlled environment to prove whether you are allergic or not. If the allergist determines that you have an allergy, you might be joining the Epi Pen club!


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