When you are first learning how to go gluten-free, there is so much to learn. It seems like every food out there has gluten in it. It’s everywhere! The safest way to avoid getting glutened is to cook all of your own meals without letting anyone else touch your food. That way, you don’t have to rely on other people, who may or may not know what they’re doing, and who definitely do not have to deal with your consequences.
The problem with this approach is that it cuts you off from the rest of society. It seems like any time people gather together, food comes out–and when you can’t eat that food, the whole situation can become uncomfortable. Between feelings of not being wanted or cared about, and the jealousy of watching everyone else eat something delicious that you can’t have, social situations quickly become no fun.
So then, the person new to being gluten-free must make the calculation: do I want to give up socializing or do I want to give up eating safe food? It’s a horrible choice to make, to the point where a lot of people would rather live with the consequences and feel sick all the time, rather than giving up being around people. While that is understandable, it’s not very good for you.
But the other approach is not very good for you either. Cutting yourself off from social activities takes a toll on your mental health. Food is where the people are, and since you are a people, you will be much happier if you can find a way to have food alongside all of the other people.
The trick is to find the balance between the two. And guess what? You CAN have your [gluten-free] cake and eat it too [with friends].
What we so frequently forget while we’re in the middle of all the Feels about not being able to eat is that we were invited! Your family members who begged you to come to dinner love you and want to spend time with you. Your friends want to hang out and enjoy being with you. Your boss really does want you at that meeting. And unless any of them have been through a similar situation, where certain foods were off limits to them for medical reasons, they don’t understand what you’re going through. The closest they can imagine is that you’re on a diet–except that you’re not on a diet and one little cheat really will hurt.
So what do you do? How do you reconcile the idea that they want you there, but they cannot feed you, even though they feed everyone else?
Well, there are a couple of options. A toolbox, if you will. And each option will work in some situations but may not be a perfect fit for all of them.
🍔 Start with talking to your people: your family, your friends, your employer, etc. Let them know that you have a medical condition that bars you from eating some things, and invite them to help you find solutions to different situations. You never know, maybe they’ve been through something similar and have more resources available than you realize.
🍟 When food comes up in a social setting (“Hey, let’s go grab a bite together!”) see if you can guide the conversation. Most of the time when a group is deciding to eat out, it’s so that the entire group can enjoy a meal together. But if you don’t speak up, they won’t necessarily know (or remember) your issues. They are probably too busy thinking about their own issues. Speak up and offer solutions that are safe for you.
🥘 If the group has already settled on a restaurant without your input (or in spite of it?), call ahead and ask them what accommodations they can provide for you. And ask to speak to the manager or the chef; the person answering the phone frequently doesn’t know about the ingredients or safety measures they use in the kitchen.
🌮 If people are unable (or unwilling) to provide safe options for you, make sure you have yourself covered anyway. Some folks like to bring their own food. Some folks will eat before and/or after and just not worry about food in the moment. Either way, make sure you’re eating something that you LOVE so that you can relish what you eat as much as everyone else at the table.
🍕 If you have exhausted all of these options, and none of them are available, you may get stuck with plain rice and steamed veggies with no sauce, or a salad with no dressing. But those times will be rare and far between.
It’s difficult to remember sometimes that there is a difference between socializing and eating–the two are so intimately linked together in our society. But they ARE separate activities, and the faster that you can learn to hold them apart in your mind, the faster you will be able to step out of your home and start enjoying your social circles again.
Stay strong and keep reading your labels!
Has there ever been a time when you have felt left out? What did you do about it?