Lori Moussapour, LMSW, M.A.
Therapist, Coach and Educator, specializing in Food Allergy Support, Education and Empowerment
FoodASC Member since 2018
Please tell us about yourself and why you are interested in food allergies.
I am a social worker, educator and coach. I’m married and a mother of three who loves writing, reading, and traveling.
I am also a wanna-be cyclist and foodie!
I coasted through my first 12 years parenting without any food allergies in the family, and then in 2007, our youngest child was diagnosed with an allergy to eggs. We were told she’d likely outgrow it and to travel with Benadryl.
When she started toddling, we took a trip to Turkey, a biennial family tradition.
One morning, in a quiet cafe, a friendly waiter handed our gregarious, wandering toddler a cookie. While my husband successfully swooped the whole of it out of her mouth, fearing it had eggs, she had obvious oral contact with crumbs.
In that moment our lives changed as we helplessly witnessed full blown anaphylaxis. We were lucky and she made it through. Upon return home, we had a full workup and learned that she was severely allergic to all tree nuts as well. Likely the offending allergen was hazelnut, a staple flour in most baked goods in Turkey.
This experience initially slowed us down. I was afraid to travel, limited our dining out and socializing.
As a therapist, I had studied anxiety and the ways in which it negatively impacts well being. Within a year, I recognized it’s hold on my family and took steps to limit its impact. I found mentors and guidance from peers, read voraciously on the topic and researched ways of living that harnessed the protective elements of vigilance, and minimized the destructive outcomes of its more dastardly partner, anxiety.
I began to feel a new and exciting passion…. empowering myself and others to live fully, despite a food allergy diagnosis!
Please tell us about your business.
I started Food Allergy U, a division of To Empower U, to support, educate and empower those living with food allergies.
At the same time, I also am committed to promoting more sensitive, informed and inclusive communities. I have worked with local after school extra curricular organizations (such as Martial Arts or Music Schools) to help their owners offer food allergy friendly services.
My work with families takes one of a few forms. I offer one:one coaching and when appropriate, psychotherapy services, in office or online.
I am especially committed to helping folks manage worry and stress. I use evidenced based programs to coach and counsel those whose anxieties take up too much emotional real estate. I also write a blog to inspire personal or professional growth and change and to empower the Food Allergic community. To learn more visit ToEmpowerU.
Describe a challenging experience you had related to food allergies and your lessons learned.
Once, while visiting a STEM event with my daughter, we approached a booth, led by a nationally recognized organization that teaches leadership and strong values, promoting itself with a cookie giveaway. They had mixed various cookies on the platters. I asked the adult working at the booth, if she would please let us read the box label and take from a safe one directly. The adult refused to open a new box until the cookies on the platter ran out. I was outraged! Because I had been a volunteer leader at this organization myself for over 13 years, I knew this was entirely unaligned with its values. I was so shocked. I wanted to fix it for my daughter and hand her 10 cookies in one fell swoop, but I didn’t. I wanted to carefully model healthy expression of our anger, self-advocacy, and avoid any perception of being victimized, although we were wronged.
I told the lady how we felt, how her approach was discriminatory and made various suggestions on how she should be running her booth. I spoke in proverbial WE, as my daughter was too young to confront an adult on her own. “Well, we gave her a mouthful, didn’t we?” My paradigm shifted my daughter’s a bit. No tears, no whining and a bit of indignance settled in. I asked, “Do you have anything else you would like us to tell her?” Still a bit stunned, she replied, “no.” and we walked away and visited the many STEM events, having a lovely day. When we got home though, we got back to work, wrote letters and made calls to make sure this would not happen again at this event.
There would be thousands of times in my daughter’s life when she couldn’t have a treat, share in a meal, or fully take part in all culinary experiences. My goal has never been to ensure that she takes part in everything her peers do. While I almost always brought her own cupcake to parties or her own meal at large gatherings where I couldn’t control the kitchen, I didn’t believe in ALWAYS compensating for the disappointment that came with not always taking part. Learning to tolerate difference or disappointment, and to act with integrity would come in handy during adolescence when faced with an array of tantalizing, yet risky experiences.
Describe a rewarding experience you had related to food allergies.
I can’t point to one rewarding experience per se, but I can state with confidence that living with food allergies has offered us many unexpected rewards! My daughter’s challenging journey has contributed in many ways to her beautiful and strong character – her resilience, her perspective, her ability to walk her own walk despite what the crowd is doing, her compassion for others, and most pragmatically, her resultant vigilance about what she eats.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish a food allergy on anyone. But if you have to live with allergies, then you may as well see how, to some degree, experiences of exclusion and anxiety – the kind known to allergy sufferers everywhere – can also seed growth, resilience, kindness, compassion and vigilance.
What motivates you to do what you do?
Remembering how positively I was impacted by the parents who informally mentored me when my family was newly diagnosed, motivates me to give back.
Watching powerful, dedicated and caring parents lead fundraising efforts, support research causes and undergo experimental treatments and interventions calls me to action.
Witnessing the generous and courageous efforts of bereaved parents launch amazing awareness movements, such as Red Sneakers for Oakley, or the creative fundraising and programming of End Allergies Together to accelerate treatments and cures for food allergies remind me to tap my own best resources to serve this community.
As a social worker and coach, I am trained to listen well and help others tap their own strengths to create meaningful change in their lives. Helping folks live fully and feel capable, confident and empowered, despite food allergies is tremendously rewarding!
Do you have a go-to resource? If so, what is it and why is it useful?
I feel lucky to have many go to on line resources such as Kids with Food Allergies, FARE, FAACT, Food Allergy Canada etc… Then there are great specialty resources. I really like Why Risk It for teens, Allergy Home for school advocacy and partnership and Spanish language content, and ACAAI for medically informed content.
What do you wish other people knew about food allergies and what’s one action that can be performed to increase knowledge and awareness in the general population?
I wish that the general population could live a few days in our shoes, to fully understand the amount of thought, advance planning and worry that goes into sending a toddler to pre-school, navigating a large celebration or gathering at someone else’s home or dropping a tween or teen off at a school dance. This experienced would build empathy and openness. I also wish that parents of the general population could see the beauty, care and generosity of their children, unhindered by adult influence who as young as Kindergarten, more often than not, intuitively offer support to their food allergic peers. I wish they could see how in many ways, making an accommodation, such as avoiding peanut butter at lunch, or having dairy free snacks for a year, is so much more than an inconvenience or boundary evasion. It is an opportunity to build habits that seed character and citizenship!
What advice would you give to someone just embarking upon this journey?
I would tell someone new to food allergies to trust that the journey eases. The intensity of worry, work and perception of limitation eases over time. I advocate for focused learning about emergency response, label reading and precautions to navigate school, after school, dining out and travel safely. While I encourage parents to advocate for inclusion in all school and personal life activities, I don’t recommend unwavering compensation for challenges. Our kids need to learn to tolerate difference and comfort with non-participation. I brought my own cupcakes to most birthday parties when my child was 5, but when I forgot to or couldn’t, my daughter just learned to say “no thank you.” When tears formed, I didn’t overly shower her with hugs and pity. I needed her to be resilient so over time, when it came time to send her to college, I knew she had the emotional muscles to politely decline a kiss from a long time crush who had been drinking “Hot Himalayan Expresses” (Martinis with hazelnut liqueur.) Tolerating disappointment and even occasions when things are “even-Stephen,” builds character, empathy and resilience.
Lastly, honor you and yours and your traditions. Prioritize that which is most important to you and make sure that food allergies doesn’t negatively impact that. My family passion is travel. Our first anaphylaxis occurred while overseas, so we lost our gumption to travel for a bit. But because this is such a cherished tradition, I prioritized it. We started local, then traveled nationally, sticking mostly to large cities. In good time, we ventured Canada, Mexico and have now been to over 15 countries.
Just over a year ago, we traveled to the Grand Canyon, a major milestone, for us, for its isolated location.
Entirely self-catered, we felt confident exploring one of nature’s greatest wonders.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
Living with food allergies isn’t the same for everyone. For those for whom worry, anxiety and stress take up too much emotional real estate, I recommend counseling or therapy from practitioners who specialize in supporting the needs of families with food allergies. I am proud to be a part of a community of therapists who do this work. I offer therapy though a group practice in New York City. Learn more by contacting me through www.ToEmpowerU.com.
Check out The Food Allergy Counselor Directory to find a practitioner in your state.
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