How To Be Gluten-Free Without Being Socially Awkward
No one wants to be socially awkward. However no one wants to eat something they know causes unpleasant symptoms, either. For the 1 in 133 people worldwide suffering with Celiac disease, or the 6-7% of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, living gluten-free (GF) is not easy. There has been a tremendous increase in availability, variety and quality of gluten-free products in recent years. However, there are still many facets of gluten-free living that create a ton of awkward social moments.
Let’s start with the dinner party. Being a guest in someone’s home, who you know put a ton of effort into the event, only to then realize there is nothing there that you can eat, can be major anxiety provoking. What do you do? Make up some lame excuse about why you’re not hungry? Politely eat the glutinous food anyway, knowing your body will make you pay if you do? Or explain to them that you are gluten intolerant, which is always followed up by someone wanting you to embarrassingly explain the details of what exactly what happens when you eat gluten. Which is then always followed up by having to explain that no you do not have an allergy that is going to make your lips swell up and your throat close off, you have a sensitivity, which could mean that you feel sick almost right away, or that you feel fine until 3 days later and then your joints start to hurt and you can’t concentrate on anything. This is a socially awkward conversation to have.
Being gluten-free can also make grocery shopping strenuous. You often have to go out of your way to health food stores just to get some bread that isn’t the consistency of cardboard. You have to be the person blocking the aisle while you read each and every label. And you definitely don’t want to spend your whole paycheck just on food.
Some of the most socially awkward moments in gluten-free life are going out to dinner. If the restaurant is not GF friendly, now what? You’re starving, and no you do not feel like just having a salad with vinaigrette. You try to ask the waiter if the sauce in the special has gluten, and he either tells you “yeah, sure it’s gluten free” when you know he has no clue, or he rolls his eyes as he has to go out of his way during dinner rush to go ask the chef. You don’t want to be the snobby high-maintenance person everyone hates to go out to dinner with, but you also don’t want to sacrifice your health.
So, how to get over these challenges? Here are my tips for living gluten-free without being socially awkward:
At the dinner party: Make something gluten-free and delicious and bring it to share with everyone. The host will appreciate this anyway. You may still have to end up explaining why you are only eating your own food and not the prepared food, but at least your host will not feel bad that you are sitting there without something to eat. There are a million outstanding and easy to make gluten free recipes out there (try glutenfreegirl.com), so it’s guaranteed that the other guests will be astounded at how good gluten free food is. Who knows, maybe you’ll show someone that gluten free isn’t that bad and convince them to try convert, which could end up relieving their own health problems. Bringing a delicious dish is a good way to spread the gluten-free word!
At the grocery store: Understand the system. Many stores now have designated gluten-free sections. Others, like Trader Joe’s, have clear labels that make it easy to know if something is gluten-free or not. Do lots of research on which ingredients are hidden sources of gluten. The more practice you get reading labels the more comfortable you’ll feel. Also, one of the best parts about being gluten-free is because of its limitations, it encourages you to eat whole foods that don’t come in packages. Eat an abundance of organic veggies, fruits, dark leafy greens, grass-fed meats, and experiment with a variety of gluten-free grains like millet, buckwheat, and quinoa. A whole foods diet requires very little analysis of ingredient lists.
Going out to dinner: Use the internet to help you find great gluten-free restaurants. There are many helpful websites (like urbanspoon.com) and apps (such as Dine Gluten Free) to help you find GF friendly restaurants. Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter to substitute an ingredient to make something gluten-free. You are paying for the meal and deserve to eat something that does not induce symptoms and damage your health. The more requests a restaurant has for gluten-free food, the more it raises demand and increases awareness. Similarly, always thank restaurants that put the effort into being a gluten-free establishment. Everyone needs a little encouragement!
Making your health a priority is something to be proud of and confident about. By planning ahead and through experience, it is very possible to live a gluten-free life that is not full of socially awkward moments. For those of you gracefully living a gluten-free life, please share any tips you may have with the rest of us!