An Uncomplicated Life Blog: What's Up With Your Kid's Fake Food Allergy?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What's Up With Your Kid's Fake Food Allergy?

Why are so many parents self-diagnosing their children as having a food allergy?

The other day, I left a morning yoga class and was slipping on my shoes. I overheard another mom talking to the next classes instructor, whom is a friend of mine. "We just determined Sally has a gluten intolerance! When she eats it, she gets so whiny, I can't take it. So we tried gluten free for a week and now she's not throwing any tantrums. You should try it with your kids too!" To which my instructor friend rolled her eyes and said, "I wish it were just a food that I could pinpoint for a tantrum cure..." She and I exchanged WTF glances and she went to in teach her class while I went on with my day. However, that one exchange prompted me to write this post, which has been on my mind for ages now: What's up with your kids fake food allergy?! Who are you to diagnose your own child as intolerant or all out allergic? Furthermore, why does everything need a diagnosis or a label?

Now, before I jump in, I want to say this post doesn't apply to the kids who are legitimately allergic to foods. Not the ones who are lactose intolerant and get the runs with ice cream, and not the ones who break out in hives from shellfish and certainly not the ones who need an EpiPen (with it's new outrageous price tag to boot!) after exposure to peanuts. No, not them - those kids are legit. This post is talking about self-diagnosed allergies, not legitimate, clinically proven and even life-threatening ones. I'm not even talking about adults who notice a correlation between eating a food group and feeling gross, or gassy, or just off. Nope, when you're an adult, you can make all the rules you want about the food you consume! Eat what you want - or don't - It's no skin off my back either way.

Here's who I'm really talking about.

Why are parents self-diagnosing their children's food allergies, often erroneously?

In a PTA group I'm a part of,  regular, consistent questions moms ask is about food allergies and behavior. The comment thread plays out like this:

"Ada seems to be really irritated today! I can't get her to calm down. She had yogurt for breakfast and also ate a ton of ice cream last night - do you think it could be a dairy allergy?" To which the replies look like this:

Comment one: "Brayson is the same way when he eats gluten! He goes from zero to sixty and I can't get him to calm down. We're now gluten free and I think I've seen an improvement in him."
Comment two: "Dairy is the WORST! We only do coconut milk and coconut ice cream in our house. Mila's attitude just can't handle cow's milk!" *implies that cow's milk is inferior, several other moms chime in with agreement
Comment three: "You know, we're getting Addison tested for ADHD because when she eats dairy, she's a complete wreck. Dairy just puts her off the charts. So I bet Sarah definitely has a sensitivity! You should get her tested for ADHD too - I'll give you my contact person at the clinic!"

Ok moms. Let's get something straight here. You're talking about feeding your kid sugar filled yogurt and ice cream and you wonder why they're spazzing out on you? Do you know that yogurt has as much sugar in it as ice cream? Do you know how sugar makes the body (and mind) react? Of course your child turned into an a$$hole, you didn't monitor the amount they consumed, or if you did try to cut them off, I'm betting they threw a royal fit and you eventually gave in and let them eat to their heart's content.

I'm using an obvious example for the sake of this post, but you could insert anything in place of dairy/ice cream/yogurt. Gluten. Peanut butter. Soy. Just go ahead and fill in the food demon du jour. I see SO many moms attempting to draw their own conclusions from their kids behavior after consuming a given food. They're attempting to diagnose their own children as having food allergies before they even ask their pediatricians about it. What is that about?!

Don't even try to reason with these moms. I had an allergy test when I was a teenager. You know, the test where you lay on your belly and they drop concentrated oils of various substances over your back, then prick you with a needle to see what causes a reaction? Yeah, that test. That scientific test. When it's suggested in these mommy groups to go and have an allergy test done, not one minute will pass before another mom pipes in with, "Those tests are worthless! They don't test for sensitivities or intolerances. Just a full-out allergy!"

Why are moms (and other caregivers) always looking for a scientific theory (or allergy or illness or disorder) to explain what's going on with their children? It seems as if every little thing requires some sort of official diagnosis. There's not just attention deficit disorder, there's now a whole spectrum. There's not just food allergies, there are levels of intolerances. Hell, even gender is being put on a spectrum now, it's no longer just boy and girl. Are people creating more shades of grey, as it were, so that they can get more funding at their school for more help for their child? More interventions, more special attention? Or are they searching for a label so that when their child acts out in public, they can apologize and excuse the behavior with, "I'm so sorry - Sally is on the gluten intolerance spectrum and she had wheat crackers today!"

Why can't your child just be having an off-day? What if there's something going on at school that's making your child behave differently? What if it's your parenting style and boundary setting that needs adjustment, not your child's diet? Perhaps that too difficult a question to answer for the moms in some moms groups.

All of a sudden, it's super en vogue to have a food "allergy." I get asked ALL the time what my kids are allergic to. When I say, "Nothing. My kids can eat anything. But Henry hates sugar and meat." Other moms look at me like I've sprouted horns! Then they ask me what my "secret" is. Well, here it is folks: I feed my kids healthy, organic foods. We don't eat fast food, ever (ooook, lies, we get Chic fil a a few times a year.) I don't keep sugar in my house (this is true). The sweetest thing Henry eats is yogurt and graham crackers. It's not that he can't have it, it's that it's never in our home so he's never learned to like it! Other than that, there's only one food rule: We eat when we're hungry and stop when we're full. 

I'm no allergy specialist or medical professional; just a mom with a marketing degree. But apparently, my common sense approach to food is working for us. And if some day it stops working for us, I'll examine what environmental changes have happened lately that could be responsible for a change in my child's behavior. And if there's nothing and my child continues to act out or act up, I'll look at my parenting. And if that still doesn't work, I'll make an appointment with a food allergist. And if that yields nothing, I'll chalk it up to a growth spurt or a phase. And we'll continue to eat all the food groups in moderation. Because I just can't understand what's up with all these kids' fake food allergies.


  1. You nailed it right on the head. I think a lot of parents want a diagnosis or something they can deflect the blame onto instead of actually looking at the real problem. If they have an allergy then it's not their fault when their kid is a jerk, whiny, picky, etc because it's a medical issue. I see it all day long. I tell a parent their kid is fine, the testing came back normal and they look upset. HELLO I just told you your kid doesn't have a heart problem and they are secretly hoping I told them they did? People need to rub some dirt on it and toughen up a little bit right?

  2. Echoing Amanda - you NAILED this. In fact I was getting so pissed off as I read because I know "those moms" you're writing about. Come on parents -- let's get a grip!

  3. LOVE. I truly don't understand what people are on about. Have you ever seen the Louis CK sketch where he talks about parents who "DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY THEIR KIDS ARE LIKE THIS" while simultaneously shoving french fries and big gulp cokes down their throat.

    uhh.. take a wild guess.

    I say this as someone who is currently going through a gluten cleanse because I'm not feeling well and down to my last attempts before an endoscopy (which I would do anything to avoid) but I FULLY INTEND ON STOPPING if I can. But I'm an adult, so that's my call.

    If food isn't causing you to have any serious adverse effects, you're ok.

  4. Oh, Paige, how true this post is!! Allergies seems to be a trendy way to make excuses for your child's behavior. My mom fed us healthy but we were never deprived of sugar and junk food either - I swear, sugar never affected us kids growing up, but I know some people who give their kid a cookie and they're bouncing off the wall. That was just never my experience. Moms these days seem to get crazier and crazier, their crazy fueled by Facebook groups!

  5. Yes girl yes! This is why we are friends. Allergies seem like the "trendy" thing these days. Like WTF! I didn't know a single kid with allergies when I was young. Ok, maybe a kid got a bit of hay fever, but that's about it. Now it's like every other kid has some sort of "allergy."

  6. I don't have any food allergies now and I don't remember to have one when I was a kid. I was just a picky eater.
    Is this "food allergies" a thing now?

  7. If a parent doesn't want their child to eat something, who cares about their reason?! One of my children has a dairy intolerance, and I frequently use the word "allergy" to keep it simple. It would rather not have to explain what that means to people who don't understand the biology behind it. I just want to make sure no one feeds her dairy.

  8. Exactly what Amanda said!! I think too many parents these days see everything their kids do as a reflection of themselves or their parenting, so they want their kids to be perfect all the time and if they're not then phew we have an allergy or a diagnosis for why they act this way so it's in not my fault! I think people forget that kids are just their own person with their own personality and that sometimes no matter how much you try to control them you can't, because they can think on their own!

  9. "I'm so sorry - Sally is on the gluten intolerance spectrum and she had wheat crackers today!"
    Yesssss! It seems everyone is looking for an excuse. Sorry, but some kids are just a$$holes. Maybe it's due to the fact some parents don't say no? Or maybe it's just their personalities? Yikes. Not a popular answer there, huh?

    Loved this post. Can't wait to read the discussion.

  10. I agree with you that some parents want to find an excuse for their child's behavior. I do think there can be intolerances with certain foods however, and some of those could be found by removing the food from a child's diet at home to see if any changes occur.

  11. UGH I hate it when women my age (20s) are all "I don't eat gluten" ... my answer is always "babe, it's not less carbs." I remember in elementary school we had separate peanut allergy tables. Always filled with kids with a hyper protective bubble around them hahaha

  12. both of my brothers had ADHD when they were kids, and believe me.. if my mum could have fixed it by changing their diet, she would have haha. this day and age people are far too diagnose happy, whether it's ADHD or a food allergy. however, she did always tell us that the boys couldn't have lollies/candy or bubblegum because of it, and it wasn't fair if i got it, so none of us got it. as a teenager/adult my mum told me 'nope that was a lie, i just didn't want to give you that crap'. hahahaha. got me mum, got me.

  13. Haha AMEN! I'm not a mom so I don't hear a lot of this, but that would be so irritating. The part when people are trying to explain their child's attitude with an intolerance had me like WTF!?

  14. This made me laugh out load haha I live in an area where every kid has 4 parent diagnosed issue... it's really so sad.

    Rachel |

  15. How bizarre! I've never heard of this but it sounds pretty annoying!

  16. I am not sure even where to start. While I appreciate the passion with which you wrote this post, and I agree that food sensitivities/allergies are a hot topic of discussion right now, I have a slightly different perspective in several areas than just about everyone who has commented thus far! Ha ha.

    1) Food sensitivities and allergies are vastly different. The medical food allergist tests typically are gauging for IgE reaction which is the "immediate immune reaction." (Think peanut) The test you had when you were young was this kind of test. IgG reactions are more of a slow burn response by the body and therefore harder to diagnose. Fluctuations in behaviour, irritability, sleeplessness, fatigue, and mild gut upset are all legitimate IgG reactions. These reactions, in my opinion, are better evaluated by a naturopath (instead of a medical allergist.) The test naturopath's use challenges between 150-180 foods for the IgE AND the IgG reactions.

    2) In my 23 years of practising chiropractic (with a specialization in pregnancy and pediatrics), it is evident to me that, in fact, the parent is actually the best gage of correlating whether a child is, perhaps, having a reaction to a particular food. While I will agree that unrelated behavioural issues, responses to sugar, dyes and processed food, and certain parenting styles may cloud the issue of definitively determining a child's true sensitivities, I do not believe any of those factors are cause to ignore a potentially food related issue.

    3) Finally, we are in an unfortunate time of having created kids and kids of kids who have all been eating horrible, gluten laden, highly processed diets rich in grains, indigestible bovine proteins, chemicals and additives we cannot pronounce. The repercussions of this behaviour is that we are facing a time when probably 1-4 kids have either an environmental allergy or food allergy or both. Sad, but true. The good news is that people like yourself are turning again to paying close critical attention to what they are feeding their families and themselves. Well done! The hope is that within a generation or so we can start to turn this titanic around.

    I don't have my own children but I would be crushed to read this if I did, and I was just trying to figure out what was happening with my kid. These parents are often exhausted, burnt out and terrified they are not going to get this under control. Even the mild food sensitivities take their toll. What may seem like casual pre-yoga class banter may actually be a serious cry for help masked in social yoga-pant-wearing conformity.

    I thank you for writing this. I really do, Paige. This is your opinion and you have every right to voice it. I just couldn't pass by without giving a little bit of an alternate view. Thanks for reading.

    1. Ahhh, you're a no reply blogger so I can't email you! First, thank you for writing such a detailed comment - I really appreciate the time you took to explain yourself! I love contrarian views. Second, I think we probably {almost} entirely have the same line of thought. I didn't go into detail on the social scene/context of "these moms" partially to protect identities. But I can tell you that, in large part, the moms I'm writing about DON'T seek any professional guidance, and simply try to diagnose on their own. If they had the help of traditional Western or Eastern medicine, I'd applaud them. Both are legitimate science to me. And I'm of the opinion that your third point is spot on!

  17. There is nothing wrong in wanting a scientific explanation in everything. BUT it should not be done by using unscientific method, i.e. anecdotal stories, opinions, personal belief, etc, to make that conclusion and try to pass it as science.
    science + science = science
    science + person opinion = nice story to impress clueless people

  18.! As I was reading I was nodding along thinking of all the instances I've heard parents and kids blaming their attitude and behavior on "allergies". It's a parents "allergy" to discipline, structure and healthy diet! I get it, some kids are legitimately allergic or intolerant to various foods & when you don't feel good kids don't behave perfectly. But this is the reality far less than what we're seeing when mom's turn to Dr. Facebook. Also, I think a good bit of it may be that in being gluten free or dairy free or whatever intolerance they believe their children have they are feeding them more real, whole foods and less processed junk. Less processed junk = less bad sugars etc and along with it likely comes behavior!

  19. While I wasn't expecting this, you've actually made me re-evaluate what I'm feeding my daughter! Maybe it's just because she dropped her naps (Ugh), but she's been so grumpy for the past couple weeks, and I wonder if any of it has to do with sugar/processed foods. I mean, I don't THINK I feed her that much, but I'm willing to look at changing anything, including my behaviors, to get my happy daughter back!

  20. I normally love your posts! But I was sort of bummed to see judgments made on others at a yoga class, everyone says it's a safe space, but you can't really go anywhere it seems without someone judging what you say :(

    1. Dangit you're a no reply blogger too, meaning I can't email you a response privately! But I wanted to address this:

      I'm afraid you've missed the whole concept of yoga. Yoga is never arriving at the place of perfection and nonjudgment. You never fully let go of your ego. It's about the PROCESS of letting go, of working on being nonreactionary, of letting go of judgement and comparison. Yoga isn't a destination, it's a journey (of the self). It's not the ends, it's the means.

      And I had a good chuckle at this comment - aren't you judging me for judging others?! And on and on. All we can do is work on it and be our true selves, right? Namaste!

  21. I agree with everything Heather said. I have a 2 year old with a gluten and dairy intolerance that has been diagnosed but so what if parents are correlating behavior with what the child eats and using it as a diagnosis at least they care enough to evaluate...meanwhile there are parents feeding there kids fast foods and processed crap on the regular.