By Madison Service, 2019 Bastyr University Dietetic Intern
As you may have experienced, some friends, family members, and co-workers are overwhelmingly supportive of you and your dietary restrictions, but others… not so much. Here is a helpful guide on how to navigate some of these more difficult situations.
1. Try to approach these conversations with a serious, but informal tone. A gluten-free diet is not embarrassing or shameful and it should be talked about with those around you.
2. Try to find a quiet space in a non-rushed environment when talking about your condition and the gluten-free diet.
3. Focus on the positives of living gluten-free. You are taking control of your health by putting the right kind of foods in your body.
4. Regardless of how many times you explain your situation to someone, they may still not fully understand or get it, for any number of reasons. Prepare yourself for this scenario and understand that it is okay. Realize that just because you’ve explained things to someone, this doesn’t mean you won’t need to explain again, and realize you will still have to be careful when eating at their homes, or foods they have prepared.
Here are some common questions you may experience, along with suggested approaches to answering.
- Why are you choosing not to eat gluten? Isn’t that just a fad diet?
(celiac disease) Although it may seem like it is my choice to not eat gluten, it is actually medically prescribed to me. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition, just like type 1 diabetes, lupus, or multiple sclerosis, and not eating gluten is the only way I can manage my disease. Currently, there is not medication for celiac disease, but I use the right diet as my form of medicine. This means staying away from gluten which is found in wheat, barley, and rye (including all types of wheat like spelt).
(gluten sensitivity) I am sensitive to gluten, which means that eating even small amounts makes me feel sick (or include your personal symptoms such as migraines, stomach pain, joint pain, skin issues etc.). My condition is not well-studied or understood, but simply removing gluten from my diet has helped me and many other people. I view my gluten-free diet as a form of medicine because I feel so much better when I eat this way.
- That sounds awful! Don’t you miss eating breads and pastas? I could never do that.
There are actually many great gluten-free bread and pasta products out there! The food industry has come a long way with gluten-free products that taste delicious and satisfy this craving. I have found restaurants and my own recipes that cater to my needs. There are also some awesome naturally gluten-food dishes found in ethnic foods, like Mexican and Thai food, that don’t rely heavily on wheat. Although I sometimes miss eating whatever I want, I do not miss being sick. Removing gluten from my diet is worth it; I hated feeling sick and tired all the time.
- Can you not just cheat every now and then? A little bit won’t hurt too much right?
Even the tiniest amount of gluten can have a huge impact on me. To put this into perspective, to be considered gluten-free, a food has to have less than 20 parts per million of gluten. This is like one teaspoon in 65 gallons of liquid. I really have to watch out for cross-contamination and gluten in hidden places like sauces, salad dressing, and even medications. Long-term exposure to even small amounts of gluten can increase risk for other health problems.
- I know you can’t eat gluten, but I want you to be able to eat something when you come over for dinner tonight. What can I do?
I have a lot of great recipes that I would love to share with you if you are interested! I don’t want you to have to bend over backwards for me, but I appreciate your considering my diet. If you want to make a gluten-free dish, it is important that this food has not touched any other gluten-containing food. I know this is complicated, so I am more than happy to bring my own dish as well. I would also be glad to come over early to help out with preparation to avoid pitfalls.
You may have these conversations with the same people more than once, but remember these talks are good for your health and will get easier over time. Connecting with a local GIG support group is also a great way to learn about how others who are gluten-free deal with these types of situations.