Setting Healthy Boundaries When You’re Living Gluten-Free

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As you transition to living gluten-free, your day-to-day interactions around food can be stressful. Many people aren’t familiar with gluten-related issues and disorders. Some may think going gluten-free is a fad rather than a medical necessity. How can you successfully navigate the different reactions and attitudes toward your gluten-free requirements? We’ve got some tips for navigating conversations and actions may not always be or feel supportive. 

1.

Set hard boundaries with disrespectful family or friends. 
Some people mean well when they question you about your gluten-free diet. Others may be less well-intentioned and may not be respectful or caring. Remind yourself that your health is important, particularly when faced with doubt or pushback from others. Your requests for food information and food safety are critical to your health, no matter what anyone else may think.  

If someone makes cutting remarks on, or questions the validity of, your gluten-free choices, you do not have to engage in conversation with them. Setting boundaries can help create emotional space between hurtful comments and your mental wellbeing. Come up with a “boundary-setting statement,” one that clearly explains your situation, how it makes you feel, and establishes what you’re willing to discuss and what is off limits. An example of such a statement might be: 

“Eating gluten-free is a medical necessity for me. I am asking that you not questioning my choices to maintain my personal health.” 

People who care about you will understand and respect your boundaries. Others will, hopefully, back off. 

2.

Know your worth.  
You are worthy of safe food and a safe cooking and eating environment. Part of setting boundaries is believing your health and safety are worth the added steps and precautions you must take to maintain them.  

The practice of caring for yourself involves more than avoiding gluten. In moments when you may feel like you’re asking for “too much” or being a burden to others, acknowledge that you are worthy of safe gluten-free food and acceptance from others. Your attitude demonstrates that you take your health seriously. If people don’t accept that you are required to eat a certain way to remain healthy, that says more about them than about you. Don’t let the attitude of others determine your feelings of self-worth. 

3.

Don’t feel like you need to apologize. 
A boundary-setting statement is not an apology and should not include the words “I’m sorry.” You have nothing to apologize for if you are taking care of yourself. You should not be sorry that you must stick to a specific diet or be extra careful about avoiding gluten in all forms. You should also not be sorry that others do not understand your condition or dietary requirements. 

If a simple explanation about your eating restrictions or your celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) diagnosis is not sufficient for someone else to respect your needs, that’s on them, not you. What is on you is careful monitoring of what you consume, no apologies needed. 

4.

Acknowledge that some friends or family members may never “get it.” 
Not everyone will understand or accommodate your gluten-free needs — and that is okay. While this can be disappointing, learning to accept that certain people in your life may never understand can relieve you of the burden of trying to make them. Adjusting your expectations around their inability to meet your gluten-free needs will also help you avoid future disappointment. Taking charge of your health includes being responsible for making sure you have food you can eat in any situation. Regardless of how people react to your gluten-free needs, you know what is safe, what isn’t, and what requires asking questions or reading labels.   

5.

Know when to walk away from conversations. 
There may be times when someone chooses to make fun of your dietary requirements or tries to put you down. When a situation turns negative, walk away – either figuratively or literally. While remaining safely gluten-free in some situations can be challenging, it should never result in an argument or fight. Your gluten-free diet is never up for debate.  

Set realistic expectations with family and friends. Take time to educate others about celiac disease or NCGS and explain what constitutes a gluten-free diet. Those who have good intentions will make efforts to understand and accommodate. Those who don’t may never change. Stay strong, stay safe, and set clear boundaries to avoid stressful situations. Living gluten-free is a serious commitment that gets easier over time. Surround yourself with supportive people who can help you along the way. 

The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.  

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