*Sponsored by Bantam
Over the last year and a half, my body has gone through some treacherous times as a result of my food allergy anxiety. Rather naively, I never anticipated that my mental health would eventually affect my physical body... But it did. Meditation and exercise became important tools for improving my overall health, both mental and physical. Even just an hour per week improved my mental clarity and made me feel more in control, grounded, and capable. It was empowering.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t active before, but I became more regimented and diligent about it, and switched up the types of activities I was participating in. I adopted a more holistic approach to managing my food allergy anxiety, involving meditation, exercise, intermittent fasting, and sleep hygiene. Along the way I connected with Matt Bomes of Summit Street Medical, and now Bantam, an online community for people living with food allergy, like himself. Matt has exercise-induced anaphylaxis, and has had many reactions requiring an Epi Pen. But exercise remains an important part of his life, and he’s quite the athlete.
Bantam, the latest venture for this 24-year-old entrepreneur, embodies the holistic approach to managing your well-being with food allergy, with a focus on physical activity for mental clarity. One of the products that I’m most excited about are these ingenious yoga pants that have a pocket for your Epi Pen or Auvi-Q, made by WOLACO. So often I’m torn between leaving my Epi Pen in my locker or finding a way to take it into the gym or workout class with me. Some studios don’t allow any personal items in the room during classes, so I have to sneak my Epi in. These pants solve that problem! I just put the Epi in the pocket and I’m good to go. It’s one less thing to worry about, and is really convenient. The pants are available in red (pictured) and black, and both women’s and men’s.
I got the chance to interview Matt about how he lives with food allergy, and why he started Bantam. His ambition is infectious and he has so much energy. It’s wonderful to see someone in the food allergy community open a business that will help so many others. Read on below!
Admittedly, “Bantam” is a new word for me and I had to look it up. Can you explain how the concept pertains to your lifestyle philosophy?
Like bantamweight boxers, Bantam chickens are scrappy, independent fighters whose often smaller physical size requires them to stand proud, confident and unfazed when confronted with physically superior competition. I feel this connotation closely embodies my own perspective on how best to live the food allergy experience despite the pervasive dangers associated with food allergies. It’s important to be confident and speak up for yourself in social situations even though it can often be quite difficult or intimidating.
Bantam is a community blog and lifestyle brand dedicated to telling the inspiring stories of people who refuse to be defined by their food allergies or other dietary restrictions. By sharing the experiences of these individuals, we hope to inspire confidence and normalize food allergies across the world.
How did you learn that you had exercise-induced anaphylaxis? If you eat foods you are allergic to and do not exercise, are you still at risk for anaphylaxis? Was this difficult to manage as an athlete?
I first learned that I have exercise-induced anaphylaxis when I suffered three life-threatening reactions in one week during the spring of my junior year of high-school. In addition to my exercise-induced anaphylaxis, I am also anaphylactic to foods including peanuts, tree-nuts, sesame seeds, chickpeas and red-skinned fruits; when I eat these foods, regardless of exercise, they will cause anaphylaxis, which I’ve suffered several times in response to cross-contamination and other accidental exposures.
However, my exercise-induced anaphylaxis is often more severe and more rapid in onset. In these situations, anaphylaxis usually occurs after I’ve consumed wheat roughly 2-hours before strenuous exercise, often in combination with the type of environment in which I choose to exercise.
Yes, this is difficult to manage because the initial symptoms of anaphylaxis can be quite similar to the way the body reacts to exercise in general, which makes it difficult to identify danger. As a competitive athlete, this is frustrating because I often find myself focusing more attention on controlling the situation as opposed to completing the task at hand. I’ve found that I greatly benefit from a prolonged warm-up and cool-down before and after a workout.
16 anaphylactic reactions is a lot for any body to recover from. What do you do immediately after a reaction to protect and maintain good mental and physical health?
Sleep, water, and move! The day after anaphylaxis is always a personal day for me. After being discharged from the hospital, it’s important to catch up on sleep and drink a lot of water to refresh your system. Personally, I usually still feel lethargic the next day and like to participate in a hot yoga class to stretch out my body and clear out my mind. I like to cook my own healthy meals the next day to mentally regain a sense of control. Fortunately, I have a terrific support group of family, friends and colleagues who I will lean on for mental support, and a quick call to The Food Allergy Counselor, Tamara Hubbard, MA, LCPC, is always a big help as well.
Incorporating sports and wellbeing into a food allergy e-shop + platform is a great opportunity to effect cultural change and perception of those living with food allergy. How will/who will Bantam connect with to inspire and transform these perceptions, both within and outside of the allergy community?
Part of our mission is to eliminate the negative social stigma associated with food allergies, and I believe that providing teens and young adults with a health-conscious, active lifestyle-oriented brand that they can identify with and be proud to represent is an important step in the right direction. Our platform will showcase profiles of allergy advocates and ambassadors with a focus on adolescents, teens and young adults; people who likely have suffered reactions in the past, but who don’t let those previous experiences stop them from living life to the fullest.
I believe colleges and universities across the country are systematically unprepared for the influx of allergic teens headed their way, so providing a platform for those creative, entrepreneurially-driven teens and young adults to connect, share stories and inspire the next generation to live life more confidently will help transform these perceptions.
We’re excited to partner with our friends at the Way of Life Athletic Co. (WOLACO) in their mission to empower the pursuit of personal growth through an active way of life. The beauty of our partnership with WOLACO is that their core product makes life more efficient for food allergy patients living actively, but also provides something that non-food allergic friends and family can benefit from as well. We believe this is a creative way to reduce the stigma associated with food allergies by offering a brand that allergic individuals can proudly identify with, but that also includes their non-allergic peers and provides an engaging experience for everyone.
From our conversations and reading about your accomplishments, it’s evident that you’re a very ambitious and driven person. What do you envision for the future of Bantam, and how it will aid and shape the food allergy community?
It’s easy for food allergy patients, especially teens, adolescents and newly diagnosed patients, to feel alone and isolated throughout their allergy journey. I envision our platform evolving into a place where these individuals feel confident and proud to share their inspiring stories because they can see and feel the impact that doing so has on patients just like them. By showcasing these patients, but sharing their stories that don’t necessarily have anything to do with their allergies, we hope to eliminate the negative social stigma and ultimately normalize the condition. Although anaphylaxis is a life-threatening disease, it can be managed, and it should not define who you are. We believe allergies should not stop you from pursuing what sets your soul on fire, and Bantam will be a place for those stories to shine.
Quick fire questions:
I can’t start my day without: Water.
I am currently reading: Driving Digital Strategy by Sunil Gupta.
Biggest office pet peeve: When the espresso machine is broken.
My first job was: Caddy.
My mantra/words to live by: Run to the Roar.