Following Your Passion Without Letting Food-Based Anxiety Get in the Way: Steph La Rochelle

August 18, 2020

When I was fifteen years old I developed severe food-based anxiety. It’s something I’ve carried with me for years. It tried to take over my life and the way I wanted to live it, but I didn’t let it stop me.

Steph La Rochelle is currently playing 'Zoe Murphy' in the national tour of “Dear Evan Hansen”.

I was diagnosed with life-threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts when I was two years old. You could say that my life was forever changed, and in some ways, it was in comparison, but I’ve never known any different. Throughout my childhood, I developed and outgrew asthma as well as several other allergies, including those to eggs, fish, shellfish, and orally allergy syndrome to various fresh fruits. In kindergarten, I sat at an isolated table during lunch to make sure that what I was eating didn’t come in contact with any possible cross contaminants from the other kids’ lunches. I was the kid at school who wore a fanny pack before it was in style; always carrying two epi-pens.

My parents are my heroes. I can’t imagine the anxiety of sending your child off into the world with the potential of an anaphylactic reaction. Any time I was invited to a birthday party they would bake me my own little cupcake so I could eat birthday cake with the rest of the kids. Growing up, I ate in restaurants, always made safe choices, and never had any trouble. My allergies never really bothered me or had me feeling left out. However, as I got older and they started to have an impact on my social life, they did become more difficult to navigate.

Around fifteen years old I developed severe anxiety surrounding food. Even food from home that was ultimately safe left me with fear of an allergic reaction. Many days I would have multiple anxiety attacks; food is not something we can avoid. To this day, I have never gone into anaphylactic shock - knock on wood. As a child, I had a few mild reactions, and many rashes along the way - especially working in restaurants - but never anaphylaxis. The anxiety took over me.

For a very long time, I would not dine out whatsoever. I wouldn’t even order a drink of water in fear that something had come in contact with the glass. This became difficult as many social gatherings revolve around food.

“Wanna grab a coffee?”

“Let’s go for drinks!”

“We should catch up over dinner.”

“Lunch date?”

The list goes on. As an already very introverted person, this made socializing extra challenging. Restaurants, cafeterias, bars, parties, all presented anxiety-inducing situations. Most of the time I chose to avoid those situations and stay home where I felt safe. For the longest time, I let fear keep me from experiencing life.

When I got an offer to join the touring company of a broadway show last summer I was nervous about how I would cope. Being on the road in a different country, multiple flights weekly, unfamiliar with grocery stores and brands, having less control over my living space and food choices; it was daunting for sure. I am a big foodie, and as much as I would love to try different cuisine from all around the country, I’m content with the way I’ve managed. I always make sure to get a hotel or apartment that has a kitchenette. There have been a few times where that hasn’t been an option so I’ve relied on my pressure cooker and the hotel mini-fridge/microwave. I’ve made sure that as soon as we land in a new city, I spend the evening getting organized in my new space. I make a trip to the nearest grocery store and do some food prep so I don’t have to worry throughout the week. I always carry a safe snack on hand just in case.

All this to say, I didn’t let fear win this time. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. While it can be challenging, frustrating, and taxing at times, I really can’t complain. Everyone has their struggles, and for the most part, this one is extremely manageable. Food allergies are not going to get in the way of my aspirations. When life happens to lead me to an uneasy situation, I simply choose to enjoy the company, not the food.

Steph La Rochelle