If you have Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you have learned the importance of knowing what you are ingesting. You have endured being “glutened” and you try hard to avoid that. So you ask a lot of questions about ingredients and preparation, and sometimes, you just bring your own gluten-free food to gatherings.
Standing up for your health takes time and attention – especially when you find yourself in social situations out of the comfort zone of your own kitchen. Dinner parties with friends, the social event of the season, going out to dinner, a corporate event or taking a vacation can create clean-eating hurdles. And worse…social awkwardness.
There are often stigmas and judgments about people’s dietary choices. Many people don’t want or don’t know how to cater to picky eaters. Help them (and yourself) by practicing a few etiquette dos and don’ts.
DO plan in advance
When dining out at a restaurants while following a gluten-free diet, be sure to check menus online beforehand or call (during less-busy times) to ask about their gluten-free options. Ask about the ingredients in sauces and condiments. A good rule of thumb is to omit sauces or ask for them on the side. Look at their regular menu and choose items that they may already have to easily modify a meal so it works for you. Offer them a solution: I can’t eat X and Y, but A and B would be a great meal for me. Thank you.
For events, alert the planner to your special needs. Call or email the caterer or conference center weeks before the event; most will know how to offer yummy, nutritious meals for those with dietary restrictions. At the time of the event, don’t forget to tell your server that you are the guest who is getting the special meal.
If you are planning to travel, use Google or TripAdvisor to locate hotels and restaurants that can accommodate gluten-free needs. Other tips for gluten-free travel include looking for hotels with refrigerators and microwaves, stocking up at a local grocery store, and bringing along gluten-free snacks or shake powders to fill in.
DO inform your host about your allergy’s severity
Make sure your host is aware of the degree of your intolerance. How sensitive are you to cross-contamination? Ease your host’s mind; either let them know it won’t be too big a deal if a piece of bread touches your entrée, or that cross-contamination poses a real health risk to you.
DO have a good attitude and be gracious
What you eat when away from home is always in your control. Choose wisely. And if your allergies are extreme and you can’t handle cross-contamination, bring your own food and utensils. But make sure that you are pleasant about it. Thank your host/server, and share that you appreciate their extra attention and attentiveness. And a little extra tip to your waiter is an extra nice gesture.
DON’T assume people know what is or isn’t gluten-free
Be super-knowledgeable about what you can and can’t eat. Don’t expect the chef or server to know whether faro or freekah are gluten-free (both are not). If you aren’t sure, don’t order it. Carry a reference card of the foods you must avoid to give to servers to help them help you. If in a foreign county, ask a concierge or local to write the words to identify “allergy,” “wheat,” etc.
DON’T share the details
If you’ve completely eliminated gluten from your diet, you have your reasons for doing so. You don’t need to tell your host or wait staff about them. Most people honestly don’t care WHY you choose to eat this way so don’t share the intimate details of your bowel movements, flatulence, rashes or other grossness. You can just say, “I don’t eat gluten because of digestion issues.”
DON’T get on your soapbox
You have prioritized your health and you feel better for it. Don’t try to make everyone else go gluten-free too. Simply help others help you maintain your choice. Only share with people if they ask, and even if they do, be brief.
And lastly, DON’T miss out on social time because you are too stressed about your food situation. You are in charge of your health! Stand your ground and do what you need to stay healthy and feeling good.