Whether you have just started a gluten free diet or have been on it for a while you may have noticed sometimes It can feel a bit lonely. There has been links between celiac disease and a feelings of isolation(1) . That being said a gluten free diet doesn't have to be a negative burden. A little bit of prep and the right attitude can go a long way on improving your social life. Many if not all social events revolve around food so when you can't eat there are some new challenges, but nothing a few tips and tricks can't solve.
When you first go gluten free it's going to seem really easy to avoid situations. Avoiding trips, dinner invites and other social gatherings can seem tempting. Suddenly going out is a lot more work then it was before. Whether it means planning out which restaurant is safe or pre making all your own meals. After some time and practice though it really does get easier, you start to become a better cook and get better at dining out gluten free. Remember that even though you have restrictions it's so important for your happiness to make that extra effort to join in. If others make comments or judge you unfairly try not to let it effect you. (I know easier said then done).
I'll be the first to admit that a celiac diagnosis has made my life challenging at times. Especially when I was first diagnosed I felt very isolated. Being so ill before my diagnosis my social life had sadly already dissipated to almost nothing. As I was recovering I found myself still avoiding social events. Why? I didn't want to be seen as different. I didn't want to be the weird one who brought her own food. I made it a bigger deal in my head then it had to be. What I didn't realize is that most people don't care and the ones who do shouldn't bother me. I'm a pretty sensitive person so maybe others on the gluten free diet never let it get in the way but statistics say that for many it does.
Eating Out (carefully)
This a tricky one. When someone else is preparing your food it presents special challenges to those on a gluten free diet. Eating out at restaurants is a bit of a risky move, but there are several steps you can take to eat out successfully. Sometimes if the restaurant isn't accommodating it's still nice to go and just visit with friends and family and not eat.
Tips for eating out successfully:
Call ahead- Call ahead to make sure the restaurant can properly accommodate your gluten free diet.
Avoid Busy Eating Times- By avoiding the busy times the staff will be able to give you extra attention and the kitchen staff will have more time to carefully prepare the meal.
Ask the right questions- Ask how and where the meal is prepared. If there is any chance for cross contamination and how they prevent it from happening.
Using dining cards- Having a card with what you can and cannot eat along with where to pay attention to cross contamination can be super helpful for the chef. Also if there is any language barrier then having a card in their language describing your gluten free diet can be helpful.
*If you're getting sick frequently or are just getting the hang of a gluten free diet then avoiding eating out may be best for now.
Find others who understand
Finding friends or a support group for those on a gluten free diet can feel so good. There is just another level of understanding that can really make you feel at ease when you talk to someone who knows what it's like. Finding that connection and friendship can help you really feel less alone. If their aren't any support groups in your city or town there are many places online to get support. Also you can make your own! Post on social media and see if there are other gluten freers in your area. I'm sure there are others where you live on a gluten free diet who would love the chance to make a connection.
Prepare Meals and bring them
When my family or friends have dinners i'll make a meal before and eat it while everyone else eats. I really resisted doing this at first because it felt like a really weird thing to do. When actually i've found that it makes me and the others eating more comfortable. I usually get a few questions but for the most part people get it. It can also help you from sadly drooling over all the delicious food everyone else is eating!
Surround yourself with supportive people
Having supportive friends and family that easily accept and adapt to your gluten free diet is ideal. Sometimes though others won't understand your new diet. A poll done by the Canadian Celiac Association showed that even after 5 years an surprising 40 percent still had trouble with family members or friends thinking “just a little” gluten wouldn’t be harmful. It's all about finding a balance between standing up for yourself and realizing that sometimes people might just not get it. Finding and spending time with friends and family members who do get it can make gluten free socializing easier.
Step out of your comfort zone
The first few times you bring your own meal somewhere or eat out it feels scary. It's new territory when you have a food restriction. I still find myself sometimes worrying right before I go out to eat or to an event where I don't know a lot of people. Usually it goes really well and people are very accommodating. It can be easy to want to stay home and eat gluten free snacks and watch netflix but stepping outside of your comfort zone and being social is important for your happiness.
Plan Plan Plan!
Planning a trip? Do you research. Find out if any local hotels have kitchenettes or safe gluten free restaurants. Going out for dinner? Call and ask if they can accommodate someone with a serious food restriction if not go with a few snacks and socialize. Invited to a dinner? Make your own food and bring it. Always have snacks on hand for when all else fails and you have nothing to eat. It takes some extra effort but once it becomes
Host Get Togethers
Having friends and family over to your place where you do all the cooking is the best of both worlds. What you're eating is safe plus you get to socialize with everyone is a totally comfortable environment. Make it a regular thing like a once or more a month. This way you stay social and it becomes a fun thing for friends and family.
Being on any restrictive diet can make socializing different then before. Different may mean a little more effort or planning ahead but it's certainly worth it! How do you stay social on a gluten free diet?