Going Gluten-FreeFebruary 8, 2011

Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat Gluten

There are many faces of friendship and love. Living Without receives an amazing number of requests from readers who want to help a loved one:

“My friend's daughter was just diagnosed with celiac disease and I want to bake her a birthday cake.”

“My husband can’t eat dairy or eggs and he really misses bagels.”

“My niece needs a First Communion cake.”

“My friend reads only Spanish. Where can I get recipes for her?” [Go to www.translate.google.com and paste in http://www.livingwithout.com.]

Caring comes in all shapes and sizes. When someone extends herself or himself to meet our special dietary needs, it’s a gesture of true friendship. Love can touch the stomach every bit as powerfully as it can touch the heart.

I came across this essay written by food editor Beth Hillson. Although Beth wrote it way back in 2002, it contains a powerful lesson that stands the test of time and bears repeating. I want to share it with you on this week before Valentine’s Day.  

“Help! I’m losing all my friends! They think I’m strange because of this crazy gluten-free diet,” wailed a young woman who was just diagnosed with celiac disease. My son, also a celiac, has expressed a similar sentiment. He’d rather starve than eat a hamburger without the roll in front of his friends, or raise an objection when his friends select gluten-filled party food. He’d go hungry before he would mention what he can’t eat.

The truth be known, a lot of us worry more about what people think than about what’s good for us to eat.

Let’s get real. I can understand the social stigma of attending a formal event in cut-off shorts or posing for a photo with spinach in your teeth. But we’re talking about health here. If you look at the proverbial glass as half full instead of half empty, there’s something special about a special diet. Socially, it can be an ice breaker. It makes for great conversation. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to make others aware that we don’t all eat alike.

People respect a person for taking good care of themselves. They’ll take good care of you, too.

When I met my husband, it was love at first bite. On our second date, he cooked me a complete gluten-free meal. The pièce de résistance was dessert. He found a recipe for thumbprint cookies in the local newspaper and adapted the cookies using rice and almond flour. The moment I sank my teeth into those cookies, I knew he was a keeper!

After all these years, the memory of that dinner brings back tender memories of the early weeks of our relationship. Most of all, I’m reminded of what it means to have good friends who go the extra mile. It’s the kind of support that makes it easier to stay on a restrictive diet, the kind that makes a person feel special, not strange.

Are you ashamed to speak up about your special dietary needs? My advice to the young lady was this: “If your friends think badly of you because you can’t eat certain foods, get some new friends!”

Comments (5)

My 11 year old daughter was diagnosed when she was 2. Since then our Christmas, Thanksgiving and any other special meals have always been gluten free and delicious. It doesn't matter if it is just our family of 5 or 25 of us going to my parents house, my mom always makes the meal gluten free and everyone raves about the food. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience, things will get better.

Posted by: Tina M | February 10, 2011 5:47 PM    Report this comment

I'm a volunteer ESL tutor and twice a year we have a potluck lunch. I've never found a way to explain celiac diet restrictions to students with limited understanding of English. I always bring something I can eat to any potluck, but it must hurt the students' feelings when I eat my own food and not even a taste of the yummy-looking ethnic foods they've prepared.

Posted by: Marie Turner | February 10, 2011 4:37 PM    Report this comment

I feel all of the pain expressed here, and then some! I was diagnosed with Celiac Sprue Disease just 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. My daughter was hosting the meal this year. She and her husband are both physicians, and so, are more savvy than most about the intricacies of a gluten-free diet. Or so they thought. The ensuing angst, expressed in E-Mails and on Facebook (thanks for "outing" me, Kate!!!), over converting traditional Thanksgiving dishes for gluten-free versions, all amidst my protests to do nothing special for me, caused me to want to stay home for the Holiday, and send my regrets with my husband. My husband was completely supportive of my desire to be alone -- he understands that I am going through a 'grieving' process -- but my kids and grands would have none of it. I went, and, with the exception of the turkey and ham, both of which my husband smoked, everything was awful. Christmas loomed oppressively near! I live in a small town, where gluten-free foods are available only on-line, and restaurant owners are completely clueless. Worse, my job puts me in the public eye, and public meals are a near-daily part of my life. I am constantly faced with the dilemna of consuming an offending food, or hurting some well-intentioned person's feelings for not eating their prized recipe. I am constantly cajoled with, "Oh, come on! A little won't hurt!! Just have a bite!" I'll admit: I haven't quite figured this out, myself.

Posted by: Sarahbelle | February 10, 2011 11:49 AM    Report this comment

I agree that it's a little uncomfortable questioning your host about what is being served. I had one instance where I had explained my food sensitivities and offered to bring something to the dinner party that I could eat. The hostess didn't seem to want me to bring anything, knowing that my day was very busy. She told me what she was serving: chicken (ok, I can have that) Pasta (no, sorry) salad (no lettuce, I said) Rice (yes, I can eat rice) and we didn't get to the vegatable. I said I could just eat the chicken and rice and it would be fine, don't worry. After arriving and settling on an orange juice for my drink (sorry, no alchohol or soda) we sat at the dining table, while her granddaughter "waitresses" brought out the salad and placed them in front of each of the guests. There were mushrooms on the salad (which I can eat) and I thought "ok, I'll just eat those." However, there were ramen noodles sprinkled all over, so I had to scrape them off the mushrooms, all the while thinking that everyone is noticing me do this. Then the pasta dish came out and I passed on that. Now the hostess is starting to feel really bad that I'm not eating anything. When it was time for the main course to come out, I thought "OK, chicken and rice - I can make my hostess feel better because I can eat something." Well, the chicken was covered in cheese (!!) and bread crumbs, the rice was "rice pilaf"(orzo) and the vegatable was green beans (high on my list of no's!!) I didn't know what to do and was so hungry at this point, that I just took a small portion of the rice pilaf (and suffered for 3 days after!) The host couple felt so bad that I wasn't able to eat the prepared meal that they insisted on taking us out to dinner on another day to make up for it! How do you explain that it's also difficult to go out to eat at restaurants when you have 40 foods you are sensitive to?? I know they mean well, but it is such a challenge.

Posted by: Annette W | February 10, 2011 10:32 AM    Report this comment

I admit that at first I felt uncomfortable asking for special foods in restaurants and questioning friends about their carefully prepared dinners and then having to say I couldn't eat any of it. They then feel really bad and want to pull frozen steaks out and defrost them etc. etc. Its awkward. But over the last year and a half (I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in May 2009), its become part of me and I feel so great physically compared to before that it just doesn't matter. As the article says, its your health, and there is very little more important than that.

Posted by: Barbara R | February 10, 2011 8:46 AM    Report this comment

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