Thrive by IU Health

March 15, 2023

Don't give him cookies

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Don't give him cookies

“When he was little, I would make him wear stickers: ‘Please don’t feed me—I have food allergies,’” shares registered dietitian Carrie Anderson on raising her son. “He literally could have died by eating the wrong thing.”

A lifetime of managing food allergies started when a dairy exposure via ice cream at eight months resulted in eyes swollen shut. The doctor recommended keeping him away from milk. Anderson continued to breastfeed him past the age of one, slowly introducing foods to make sure no more allergens popped up. A misstep at daycare landed him in the hospital, and further testing was done. Spencer was allergic to dairy, eggs, wheat and peanuts.

“He ate a lot of mashed potatoes and refried beans,” says Anderson. There were not a lot of options that were egg-, milk-, dairy- and wheat-free that a toddler could eat. She bought a bread maker and learned to make bread from other ingredients.

Fortunately, Anderson had a degree in nutrition, and she knew she had to do her research. “You cannot trust food labels. It could still be processed in a facility with peanuts.”

The phrase “produced in the same facility as [insert allergen]” is not a required label. If the label says egg-free or peanut-free, it is regulated by the FDA and has to meet certain standards. Many prescription drugs may contain gluten. And the flavorings for antibiotics may contain peanuts.

Navigating life with a food allergy

Despite being diligent, Anderson knew there was nothing she could do about the emotional toll food allergies has taken on her son.

Spencer with cake

“It has definitely shaped his personality,” she says. “At birthday parties, he couldn’t have the cupcakes, so she would bring a safe treat. He probably wasn’t invited to a lot of parties due to his food allergies. At school, he sat at a peanut-free table with other children who had peanut allergies. Spencer had a friend that would make sure to not have peanut butter in his lunch so he could sit with Spencer. Your heart breaks because you want him to be like everyone else.”

People think a dairy allergy is just lactose intolerance. It is not.

His food allergies did not stop his love for baseball. They did keep him from the dugouts, sometimes, due to the peanut shells. His parents would erect a tent for him. During travel baseball, the family would search for hotels with kitchenettes or pack meals.

“Spencer is now 25 and is doing well," says Anderson. “However, if he is invited out with friends and he doesn’t feel comfortable about the offerings at a restaurant, he could be hungry, but he won’t eat. He doesn’t like all the attention drawn to him when he starts asking about allergens.”

Anderson Family
Carrie and Ski Anderson with Zane, Sydney and Spencer

Using her experience for good

Anderson’s experiences made her passionate about making accommodations for students with food allergies when she worked in dining at Purdue (1996-2019). She knew what students had to experience every time they ate away from home to ensure there were no allergens present in their food. Food allergies were not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act until 2008, so no special arrangements were required. Anderson would reach out and work with parents and students to come up with allergy-safe meal plans for them during their time at Purdue.

All these things increased Anderson’s desire to become a registered dietitian. Her opportunity came in 2016, through an internship offered at Purdue called The Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway. She was able to complete the 1,200-hour internship under supervision of a licensed professional, graduating in May 2018. She joined IU Health in 2019 as an outpatient clinical dietitian—her dream job.

Supporting other parents

Anderson spends most of her time providing nutritional counseling to patients with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, weight loss, food allergies or any nutrition related issue. She also started a food allergy support group to help parents learn some tips and tricks on managing their child’s food allergies and the ability to share with other parents and feel supported. For more information, Anderson may be reached at 765.429.7748.

“I know how emotionally hard it is,” says Anderson on starting the support group. “It is a lifetime of worry. At any time, a mistake could be made. It’s hard. But, together, we are going to figure this out.”

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