How to Support a Spouse With a Corn Allergy
In our case, my husband quickly recognized that after years of steadily losing weight, the dietary restrictions that appeared unhealthy on the outside resulted in increased strength and (healthy) weight gain and supported my endeavor. But not everyone is that lucky, and it wasn't always easy.
Life changes with the diagnosis of any food allergy. In my family, we've had a child outgrow peanut allergy, and another live with both dairy allergy and Celiac Disease. I myself deal with a multitude of allergies diagnosed as an adult. I can say without a doubt, the hardest one to adjust to, by far, was corn.
Corn allergies are challenging because so little is known about the mechanics. While most allergies are triggered by the protein of a food, people with a corn allergy report that their reactions are often to derivatives that shouldn't have traces of protein. The only proof of corn allergy comes with elimination diets and double blind, placebo controlled trials. The trouble with corn allergies is that avoiding corn isn't just about reading labels for the word 'corn'. Besides cornstarch, there are a hundreds of other corn derivatives including microcrystalline cellulose, dextrose and citric acid that trigger symptoms in susceptible individuals.
While the adjustment to a corn free lifestyle is difficult at best, for those avoiding corn; their family members are left struggling to come to terms with what looks like an overly restricted diet. Over the years, I've heard multiple reports of relationships ending. Spouses aren't able to comprehend the needs of their corn allergic partner, or they break under the stress of caring for a child with significant dietary needs. Unless you actually experience symptoms, or take the time to notice a correlation between symptoms and dietary exposure, it's almost impossible to understand why anyone would voluntarily restrict their diet without the presence of an eating disorder.
If you have a family member with a corn allergy, is your home a safe haven?
Create a Safe Haven: Corn Free Zone
Everyone deserves a safe haven. A person with food allergies needs to have some place where they can let down their guard, preferably their own home. While the guard can never be completely down, you can take measures to make your home and kitchen relatively safe for someone avoiding corn.
First off, after a diagnosis has been made is a good time to clean out your cupboards. Rearrange the kitchen to make it easy to find and access foods that are safe for the corn allergic spouse. Make it easy to make meals without corn, with little excess thought. Clear out the silverware drawer, and anywhere else that crumbs might secretly assemble.
Restock your cupboards with safe staples. If you don't want to just dispose of or rehome your old standbys, then label them clearly with big warning dots that remind everyone in the family that the container is only safe for some family members.
Does your relationship depend on food?
Shop Smarter: Or at Least, More Informed
Learn the shopping list. Someone learning how to avoid corn in their diet has a huge learning curve. The days of trying new brands just because you have a coupon or stumble on a sale are gone. Brand specificity is essential to the safety of someone with corn allergies because processing procedures, packaging materials, and cross contamination issues vary between manufacturers. Ingredients and seasonings can vary as well. This may sound like a small issue, but it's a very difficult concept to learn. If they're out of the toothpaste your corn avoiding spouse requests, don't buy something that looks fine to you. Don't try a different brand, or a different flavor. Either give them a call to see if there is a suitable alternative or circle it on the list and keep shopping. That's right, it's better to come home without ANY toothpaste (Or vinegar, or canned tomatoes) than it is to buy the wrong one. Sometimes even the size of a package is important. Larger or smaller quantities may be packaged using corn derivatives for reasons that seem mysterious to those not doing the actual packaging.
Since learning how to cook corn free is a daunting task that you might not quite be ready for, you can play sous chef by helping your spouse with simple preparations (like scrubbing and chopping) and by cleaning up dishes and work areas. It's hard enough to do all the cooking. It's even harder when you're learning around a new restriction and aren't at your best. Not having a lot of fall back options adds to the stress. Having someone else clean up the mess and share the burden a little is priceless. So offer your support after dinner, by making sure the sink and counters are sparkly clean well before it's time to start preparing the next meal.
Don't adapt any recipes unless the one with a corn allergy approves the ingredients. This is another big one. It's second nature to grab a few spices off the seasoning shelf, to sprinkle a few drops of your favorite sauce into a pan of simmering soup. But restrain yourself. Even if you just want to add a little salt, your spouse should be consulted. At least in the beginning, when you both are still learning the ropes and in the process of reorganizing the kitchen. A simple "Hey, hon, mind if I add a little salt? Is this container okay to use?" will go a long way toward avoiding an argument, Or worse, watching your loved one suffer.
Kiss With Care
Although you've probably matured a lot since you were in 4th grade and boys (or girls) had cooties, those elementary ideas that kissing carries germs isn't that far off base. The germs aren't that scary to someone with corn allergy, but whatever you might have had for lunch is. So eat what you want for lunch (or whenever you're away from home), but carefully clear the crumbs from your beard, scrub your teeth and snack on something safe for your spouse before you indulge in that hello kiss. Studies show that saliva can carry protein particles for several hours after eating, and that the best way to clear your mouth of those particles is to brush your teeth and then consume something safe. (Carrot sticks can be a good choice. Chocolate is more fun.)
Speak Up: Learn to Advocate
The only thing worse than having to make everything you eat from scratch is the realization that this need extends to any kind of medication as well. Unfortunately, even with a doctor's recommendation, due to the excipients used in medication avoiding corn in a medical setting is challenging at best. Most doctors, nurses and pharmacists think of corn as a golden grain. They don't consider the fact that it can be used in over the counter and prescription medication, in IV fluids, or to dust the latex gloves (or non latex gloves) used for exams. Reactions can also be triggered by the alcohol base in some cleansers and air fresheners, the cornstarch in bathroom and facial tissue, and even the laundry detergent in hospital gowns. While it's impossible to live protected from every single source of corn derivatives out there, your corn allergic spouse needs help avoiding corn when they're most vulnerable. They need you to learn the risks, where corn derivatives might be hidden, so that if they find themselves a patient, they have someone advocating for and protecting them. Otherwise, their voice risks being hushed by well meaning nurses who think that concerns are unfounded and caused by whatever it is that puts a patient into a hospital bed. Being in pain makes it much harder to think clearly or advocate well. Reassure them by learning and asking questions so you're prepared if you need to be.
But I LIKE eating out!
Your feelings and needs are valid, and you have every right to still want to go out to eat. You have the right to visit restaurants with friends every now and then. Just don't let your spouse get left out. And don't let now and then become nightly. Find ways to supplement your restaurant trips with bring your own picnics or non-food social activities you can both partake in.
Corn Free Support
- Dinner-less Dates, Ideas for Corn Free Couples
Date night and dinner go together like...well, like movies and popcorn. But when you have a corn allergy, neither seem nearly as safe or appealing as they did before diagnosis.
Although it seems all encompassing sometimes, it's important to remember that there's more to life than eating. Find new ways to connect. Food and restaurants may be a challenge for the newly diagnosed corn allergic. Find things to do that don't involve food directly. As difficult as it is for you to suddenly be placed in the position of not sharing newly found delicacies with your loved one, try to recognize how isolating it might be to suddenly be unable to share food with friends and family members. Social situations often revolve around food. You can support your spouse by being a food buffer at social events, change topics if someone is trying to press dangerous appetizers into her hand, support their attempt to bring safe food and simply by being aware of the fact that they may not have free and easy access to calories at an event. Even if you're filled to bursting, your spouse might be starving and just need your cooperation in making a graceful exit. In fact, they'll find it much easier to make that graceful exit if you pick up their cue and initiate it.
Having a food allergy, especially as an adult, is isolating. It creates an extra layer of self consciousness that is difficult to understand if you haven't been there. On one hand is the reasonable looking suggestion of eating something that might be safe. On the other is the knowledge of pain and suffering, sometimes humiliating in nature. As adults we are aware of social precedents. We want to be cooperative, we want to fit in. We want to be polite and we know that ettiquette often dictates taking a taste of what our host offers us. As allergic individuals, we also are aware that food isn't as innocent as it looks. We aren't questioning the safety and love that went into the preparation, just acknowledging the daunting task it is to learn our unique needs. We need our friends and significant others to acknowledge how difficult it is to walk the line between overlapping rules of nicety and allergy survival; to support us as we navigate difficult waters.
Live With a Corn Allergy
It's not easy to love someone with a food allergy of any kind. Corn allergy may be even more difficult, since labels are not always clear and the mechanics of reactions are not well understood. Digestive reactions may not make themselves immediately visible to the casual observer, and instincts cause sufferers to attempt to hide their discomfort behind cranky remarks and generic fatigue. While living with corn allergies in the family may be challenging, and make it tempting to think of your loved one as suffering from an illness, it's important to recognize that they aren't sick. They have a condition that restricts their diet and environment.
Supporting someone with a corn allergy means more than just validating symptoms or concerns. It's not a condition they will ever overcome, or outgrow, or give up like a funky hairdo. It's a part of their life. Accept it as a part of them, and learn to live with it and fight for their safety, rather than against the allergy itself. Remember that to live with a corn allergy, you still need to live. You need to be a part of society, not apart from it. You can't protect your loved one by completely sheltering them, but they can't fully live their life if they're always reacting even on a low level. You can only accept, acknowledge, adapt and move on. A corn allergy means a new lifestyle for the whole family. Hopefully, it will be a healthier and more fulfilling one.
Your loved one doesn't have a choice in the matter. You get to set the tone. Will you allow their allergy to help you grow together, or apart?