Sonya Lee Beisler - Food Allergy Mum Interview Series May 20, 2017 10:31

Food Allergy Week May 14-20, 2017

Australian children have the highest recorded rate of food allergies in the world. One in 10 babies born in Australia today will develop a food allergy. As, Food Allergy Week coincides with Mother's Day this year we are highlighting the awesome work of Aussie Food Allergy mums and advocates.

Australia has the unfortunate title of "Food Allergy Capital of the World". Hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions quadrupled in the last 20 years, while alarmingly the number of allergy-related deaths in Australia is increasing by 10 per cent each year. 

Food Allergy Week, May 14-20 is an initiative of Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia to raise awareness of food allergies in Australia.

In our Food Allergy Mum Interview Series, we hope to promote understanding and insight in to the challenges of parenting a child with life threatening food allergies, along with the need for change to build an allergy aware allergy safe commUNITY!

Sonya Lee Beisler,  Cookbook author,  founder Allergy Save

What are your child's allergies? When did you find out?

Cohen developed severe eczema from 4 months old. We tried every possible remedy to cure his eczema but it kept coming back. I suspected it was food related even though our dermatologist was insistent it wasn’t. At 12 months old, he was diagnosed with severe allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, rice, corn, oats, chicken, fish, soy, potatoes, peas, peaches, mangoes. He is now almost 11 years old. His only major remaining allergy now is nuts.

How important is the support of friends, family and community?

Very important. Having a child with severe allergies can be very isolating. Often your child is excluded from social engagements, parties, etc. So many social interactions involve food. Knowing that exposure to an allergic food can be life threatening for your child, social engagements take on a new meaning. No longer are they a relaxed enjoyable time to catch up with people and make new acquaintances, they are now a time of high stress. Between the preparation of taking your own “safe” food and the stress of being on high alert, sometimes it easier to decline invitations and slowly disconnect from society because it all seems too hard sometimes. When you have support from friends, family and community, it absolutely means the world. A sense of belonging and community is an essential part to being a healthy person and family unit. Simple gestures from people who care and understand can make such a huge difference. It’s the handwritten note from a mum asking what my son can eat so he doesn’t miss out on food at a birthday party. It’s my church changing communion bread to a bread that is safe for my son, so he could be included. It’s grandparents giving a toy instead of chocolate at Easter time. It’s the little things that let us know we matter. Our kids miss out on a lot so any time someone does something to help include them means a lot to us and helps fuel us to keep going.

Do you have a proud mum moment that you would like to share?

I have so many proud mum moments, every day. One that stands out was when my boy was only about 2, it was before he could talk properly. We were at the park one day and another child offered him some lollies. I was about to intervene, (as in do a running nose dive and catch the said bag of lollies on the way through), when my son put up his hand and said with such authority “NO”!! I was astounded and sooooo proud. I knew from that day, he ‘got it’. Sure, he still had so much to learn, but at 2 years old he knew not to accept food from anyone but me.

What would be one piece of advice for parents who have a child with new food allergy diagnosis?

Educate your child about their allergies. You are their advocate, protector and carer until they are at an age and maturity to look after themselves. I see so many allergy parents try to wrap their kids in bubble wrap to protect them and keep them safe. While, I do understand this mentality, it isn’t practical. Why isolate your child any more than is necessary.  It is our job to teach them about their health. Yes, it is their health and they need to understand what their allergies mean. There will come a time when you won’t be there and they will need to evaluate risks and negotiate life for themselves.  Explain the consequences of eating the wrong food. Educate them in a practical, non-fearful way.  If they have a peanut allergy, for example, show them what a peanut looks like - in its shell, out of its shell. Show them what foods peanuts are often found in. Teach your child how to read a food label. Make the most of every teaching opportunity. A funny story that springs to mind is when, I was explaining to my boy that if he ate the wrong food his eczema would blow up. So, when he would question me with trying a new food from the supermarket we would read the label together and evaluate whether the ingredients were safe. If it wasn’t, I would say no it’s not a good idea, it may make you blow up. It wasn’t until a few years ago, he questioned me about what that actually meant. He used to think he would literally ‘blow up’. Obviously I hadn’t explained it properly, regardless it kept him safe, he didn’t dare try anything he shouldn’t. Don’t underestimate allergy kids, they are remarkable and very intuitive.

Do you have a favourite, safe for your family recipe or meal idea to share? What’s one of the first recipes you taught your kids to make?

Cooking for our family is so much easier than it used to be. I like to cook from scratch using real ingredients. It’s easier, healthier and safer. I have a range of allergy friendly recipes on my website Allergy Save. I’ve also written 3 ‘Top 8 Free’ recipe eBooks which are also available on my website. I also share recipes on the Allergy Save Facebook page, which is also a great place of support and encouragement for allergy families. 

Sonya Lee Beisler is a working mum of two children, and is a food allergy cook book author, eczema, nutrition and food allergy blogger and advocate. Sonya runs the allergy friendly resource and service Allergy Save, which offers support, information, allergy friendly recipes, allergy coaching and consulting service for sufferers of allergic conditions. She lives with her beautiful family in rural NSW.