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How To Eat Gluten-Free and Not Destroy Your Social Life – Part 1

Friends on Coffee BreakThis is the 2nd post of a post series about how to get started eating gluten-free the right right way. Click to read the previous post: “Why I Love Eating Gluten-Free.”

I’d like to begin by telling you a story!

It’s a story about a problem I ran headlong into as a result of beginning to eat and live gluten-free shortly after my diagnosis at the beginning of the century, in the year 2000…

… It was not an insignificant problem and it hammered me like a blacksmith violently beating a piece of white-hot steel into involuntary submission.

And, it produced one of those “How could I have been so stupid” moments.

This “social life” problem hits most everyone (in varying degrees, of course) who must begin to eat gluten-free and almost no one realizes they need to tell you about it.

How to eat gluten-free and not destroy your relationships is a very real and significant issue for MANY newly gluten sensitive individuals… And, maybe some not-so-newly sensitive individuals.

Well, I’m going to tell you about what happened to me and explain what I should have done about it to keep it from happening to you as bad as it did to me…

… The reason it hit me so hard was because most of my social life, other than personal time and dates with the love of my life, my husband, revolved around meal times with family and friends. Sharing good food, good company and good times was and still is tremendously important to me.

But, before I jump into this article with both feet, I need to define some phrases and words that I use here…

  • Gluten-Free – Gluten-Free means that you are not eating or exposing yourself to anything which contains the gluten protein or significant parts of that molecule (technically called “fragments”).
  • Friends – The term friends includes anyone who has a friendly but personal relationship with you. I include family members specifically in this word. I also include work associates when I say friends. It would drive you and me both nuts trying to say things like “Family, Friends and Associates” every time I talk about something that applies to all three categories of relationships. You will need to adjust the meaning in your mind for how I may be using the term.
  • Gluten Intolerant/Intolerance – I include gluten sensitivity and gluten allergy in either term in addition to the terms gluten intolerant/intolerance themselves.

And, before I jump into this article with both feet… I need to say a quick word about gluten allergy. I will not in the series of articles mentioned gluten allergy again… Probably. Gluten allergy is not like gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity. It is an allergy like a bee sting or poison ivy.

Although most things that an individual does to live gluten-free will help someone who has a gluten allergy, or even a wheat allergy for that matter, it is an allergy, not an autoimmune condition. To determine for sure whether a given thing I say in this series of articles also applies to an individual with an allergy, see your physician, if that applies to you, to find out for sure.


It May Not Be Totally Under Your Control

But, first, I need to let you know that anytime there is are factors in any situation that are not under your control, you literally are at the mercy of those factors.

And, it doesn’t matter whether they are caused by “happenstance,” an uncontrollable situation that is crashing like an avalanche down the mountain side of your life toward you or another person and their decisions and actions that leaves you standing like a deer in the headlights wondering what is happening and why.

They are all out of your control… And, in those situations, you can do very little to affect the outcomes.

Even if you do all the right things, you still may not experience the outcome that you desire in the situation that you are trying to control.

So, be warned… But, like I eventually did (and, I succeeded for the most part) after I realized what had happened to me… you gotta try! And, you may be able to affect the outcome with you family and friends… Mostly because of the depth of the relationship.


My Worst Nightmare

Most people, if I asked them what the worst problem that I had to deal with after my diagnosis was would probably say something like celiac disease symptoms, life-style changes, or “getting glutened.” And, while those were very significant issues and absolutely needed to be dealt with as soon as possible and in a proper fashion, they were not what I considered to be my “biggest problem.”

My biggest problem turned out to be somewhat nightmarish because of the way my personal life was structured.

When I first started to step into my gluten-free diet and eventually my gluten-free lifestyle (they are two different things, entirely), I didn’t realize that there would be a problem with my family and friends, so I didn’t even try to do what I should have done in that regard.

It never crossed my mind that others, not in my household, were directly affected by my disease and the changes that I had to make to my life because of it. They were directly affected and I paid a significant price, so to speak, for my lack of sensitivity to their needs!

I don’t want that to happen to you.


My Family and Friends Became My Enemies

Like I said, I didn’t know it was going to be a problem… never even crossed my mind… but, my social life which had previously been “flying high” was about to take a steep nose-dive.

And, I had absolutely no idea just how bad it was going to get.

As I mentioned earlier, my social life, other than time with my husband and children, was centered around sharing meal times with those I loved… both family and friends. I really didn’t have a tremendous number of friends but those that I had were, I thought, quite close.

Unfortunately, within a couple months of when I began to eat gluten-free, my previously fun, full social calendar turned into an empty box canyon where the only sound, other than the wind blowing tumbleweeds around, that I heard was the echo of my own voice.

It wasn’t quite like I had no friends but it was close to that… And, I was quite miserable because of the sudden turn of events.


This Made It Even Worse

this-made-it-even-worseEven my husband and children expressed displeasure and frustration with my new diet.

Three or four months after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I made a major mistake dealing with my household family members…  I tried to share what I now ate on a regular basis with my husband and children for our dinner one day… Substituting my gluten-free foods for the regular foods that they were used to eating.

As a result of that mistake I want to warn you to NEVER prepare a gluten-free meal to share with your household before you learn to cook gluten-free!!!

I made that mistake and it was devastating.

I hadn’t yet learned to cook gluten-free. And, in all fairness to them, it really tasted pretty bad, but, I didn’t have any choice… I had to eat it.

My husband and children hated the food I was forced to eat… And, they were not reluctant as they described what they thought of it.

It was an instant war of epic proportions.

Years later, after I had learned to cook GF properly, we talked about it and they said it tasted horrible and they were afraid I was going to make them eat that kind of food all the time.

If you want gluten free recipes, see my website http://elegantlyglutenfree.com. I have hundreds of recipes and meal plans on my website that are delicious, nutritious and fun!

It was a horrible time in my life. And, if I accomplish nothing else with this report, I want to help you avoid what I went through!

So, what happened?


Social Life… What Social Life?

Believe it or not, humans are basically pack animals like wolves or lions. Because of that, we are very sensitive to group opinion and our individual position in the group… think “Pack.”

If we weren’t “group approval oriented,” there would not be a thing called “peer pressure.”

There would not be clothing styles or social conventions.

Group jargon would not exist except maybe in technical fields.

There would be no such thing as children trying to look like, act like and talk like their friends and acquaintances.

There would be no need to conform… Ta dah, ta dah, ta dah… I suspect you understand what I’m saying.


Because of this need to conform and be a part of the group, being different is a very bad thing for most people.

The successfully conforming members of the group will instinctively shun the one who is different and the person who is different will feel rejected and like they don’t belong…

… Mostly because they are being rejected and no longer belong.

This is what happened to me and it’s what’s probably going to happen to you if you are beginning or have begun your gluten-free lifestyle journey and have not dealt with your family and friends correctly.

But, if you handle your situation appropriately, it doesn’t need to turn out like it did for me.

Most of the relationships that I lost during the early days of my gluten-free journey were successfully recovered after I learned how to deal with the human side of the gluten issues… But, in some cases it took years.

If you are gluten-free as a matter of choice, there really is no deep need to always be gluten-free. When it’s inconvenient because of relationships or situations, I, personally, would simply get off my diet as necessary to avoid the problems I’m dealing with here.

However, what do you do if you have a true medical reason to always be gluten-free?


How Can You Avoid The Rejection Because You Are Different?

Here’s what I should have done and what I believe that you should do to avoid what I ran into:

  1. Make a list of everyone that you know who actually matters to you. These would be family members, friends and maybe some work associates.

I personally would restrict the list to only individuals that I might eat with. I probably would not include business associates unless I would be having a lot of social interaction and who would have a need to know what’s going on with me.

A word of warning about the list… Do not label the list in any way that someone other than you or your spouse will recognize what it is. If you understand why, great. Otherwise, just do that because you need to do it that way.

  1. Sit down when you can get alone and write out or outline how you are going to explain to your BEST and CLOSEST friend/family member what has happened to you.
  1. Explain that you can no longer eat anything containing gluten which is in many things that we eat and is frequently not obvious and is not just bread, cakes, spaghetti or other pasta.

Don’t know what to say?

Here is a list of some common foods and other things that most people don’t realize often contain gluten that you can talk about:

  • Soups
  • Broths
  • Chili
  • Stew
  • Gravy
  • Canned beans
  • Biscuits
  • Crackers
  • Chips, especially with flavored coatings
  • Cookies
  • Candy
  • Nuts
  • Pie Crust and/or Pie Filling
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Seasoning mixtures, like some Creole seasonings
  • Sauces, like some soy sauce
  • Breading
  • Makeup
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medicines
  • Paste and glues that children or adults may use for crafts
  • Play-doh™ and similar substances
  • Finger Paints

Plus, thousands more.

  1. This would be a good time to talk about your symptoms and how sick you become when you eat something that contains gluten and how much better you feel when you avoid all gluten.
  1. Talk about how much you value and treasure your relationship with your friend or family member. And, talk about how you want to continue doing things together. But, you will need to stop eating/drinking/doing ___________ (fill in the blank as appropriate). You still want to go out or visit with them. But you will need to be extremely careful not to get contaminated.
  1. Discuss how you don’t want to be a problem. And, when you eat with your friend, if it’s at their home, you will need to bring your own food, containers and eating implements… maybe even plates and beverage containers like cups and glasses.
  1. And, some of your favorite places to share a meal may become off-limits to you because the restaurant is “gluteny.” If your friend is someone that you frequently eat out with this can be a hard one.
  1. Explain that what you are avoiding in C, D and E is something you may not have heard about yet.

That something is called “cross-contamination.”

You can find out more about cross-contamination and related issues in my 1st or 3rd books. You can buy a copy of either book in the “Pat’s Books” section of the Elegantly, Gluten-Free website.

Cross-contamination is when you touch something that contains gluten with an eating implement, plate, pot, pan, food storage container, etc. or your hands or whatever else might have touched the material containing gluten (gluten is everywhere in our society).

Cross-contamination can occur by simply touching any surface which has been contaminated by gluten… such as clothing, tables, chairs, beds and other furniture. Children and babies are almost always contaminated or via versa (i.e. you) if the child or baby has gluten issues. I frequently and carefully wash my hands and my face (near my mouth), if appropriate, after I’ve touched children or infants.

Whatever did the touching is now contaminated with gluten.

It’s an especially knotty problem with field crops like, for example, oats, dried beans and peas. They don’t naturally contain gluten, but they are often planted next to or in fields which previously contained wheat, barley or rye (the 3 major gluten producing grains) or their hybrids.

Or, which were harvested using tools and equipment, storage or transportation facilities that previously were used to harvest, store or transport the 3 gluten-producing grains… and the list goes on…

Although I’ve never been contaminated by it myself, my husband, Al, has read articles that said it’s sometimes even in the ink that they use to print the inserts that they put into food packages or on the food packages themselves.

Also, it can be on your clothing and tables, chairs, high-chairs in restaurants, any surface… anywhere, even on your children and especially on your pets.

  1. Learn what you wrote in 2) above. You don’t need to memorize it. But, it’s important to know it well enough so you can deliver it naturally, without notes. A discrete, easily concealed rough outline might make it easier to deliver.

And, you will need to modify what you wrote for each person that you talk to about your new dietary needs.

  1. Contact and meet with each of the people on your list privately and discuss your situation with them.

Do not be dramatic or secretive about it. Just tell them that something has happened in your life and you want to share it with them privately with no distractions… in other words, you want to have quality time with them to explain what has happened.

Remember to modify what you tell them based upon the individual and your relationship with them.

Who you tell what probably should be a combination of the intimacy of your relationship and what they can personally handle… You will need to consciously decide what you can say to each person on your list. I can’t help you there other than with vague generalities.

  1. Ask them if you can count on them to stay friends with you and to continue to spend time with you doing ______________ (fill in the blank as appropriate).

Everyone will probably say yes.

But, only your true friends will actually do it.

The next part of this article is about what you will need to do to help what you do in this article to work. Surprisingly enough, it is called “How To Eat Gluten-Free and Not Destroy Your Social Life – Part 2. Click the link to go there right now!”