Going Gluten-FreeDecember 13, 2011

'Tis the Season for Feasting: How Do You Say "No, Thank You"?

So you ate before you left the house. You brought a safe dish for the potluck. You packed an allergy-friendly snack in your pocket or bag. You may have talked to the host ahead of time about the menu ingredients and even arrived a bit early to help and to unobtrusively check out the kitchen for cross contamination. There's one more thing you have to do before party time: Practice saying no.

That’s right. We've all run into food-pushers who just won't take “no” for an answer. At best, the comments you’ll hear are caring, friendly, genuinely curious. At worst, they’re fulsome, manipulative, even intrusive:

“What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you eat Mary’s cake? It’s divine.”

“Come on. Just one bite can’t hurt.”

“There’s nothing in it that would hurt you.”

“But I made it just for you.”

“I went to so much trouble.”

“I don’t know about you but I couldn’t live without [fill in the blank].”

“Try it. It won’t kill you.”

Practice what you can say. Suggestion: Start with a firm but courteous “No, thank you.” If that doesn't work, a little stronger: “Thanks, still no. It will make me ill.” One good answer to “Come on! It won't kill you” is “Actually, it might. At the very least, it will make me sick for days–maybe a week. It isn't worth it.”

Frankly, I’m all for using every opportunity as a teaching experience. It’s an open door to spreading the word and raising awareness about food sensitivities and food allergies. The more we talk about it, the better it is for everyone.

But what do you think? How do you handle these social situations?

Comments (14)

I've been GF for almost 20 years... before there was even a clinical diagnosis called Celiac Desease or Wheat/Gluten Intolerance. I've noticed a big change in society once celebrities climbed on the band wagon. It's easier to talk about with most people because the problem is front page news plus there are more of us out there with digestive issues.

The people who are the hardest can be family and the yearly family gatherings. In our family there is usually the same menue with the same people providing the dish, year after year. I have offered to make the same "family favorite" only a GF version but I get turned down. Two trains of thought seem to persist... 1. It's more expensive for you to make (which in a lot of cases it's means substituting a canned soup or mix). 2. It won't taste the same. When I bring food, I get kind of sneaky. I'll bring a GF dish or dessert and won't tell anyone it's GF. I'll skip what I brought or try to be the last one in line, so others won't know what I'm eating. When they try my dish, I ask them what they thought. Nine times out of ten, they are surprised at the taste & the difference in the substitutions I made.

I'm a teacher by trade, so I love educating others. There have been people who have thanked me for the information I provided them because they have either been plagued by a food issue or know of someone with a digestive issue.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve and we're off to a house party where I'm not sure I'll be okay with the foods. We are taking some homemade dishes for the spread...Sushi (safe), Asiago Spinach Dip with Tortillas (safe) and possibly some GF cut-out cookies (which no one knew were GF at the family Christmas gatherings!) I'll be fine with these nibbles until the bell tolls 12. Happy New Years to all and hang in there!!!

Posted by: Maria S | December 30, 2011 2:36 PM    Report this comment

I have been eating a non gluten diet for a few years now. At first, I found it very difficult, since there are a lot of things (canned soup, for example) that have gluten in them. So, a nurse told me, "if you think it doesn't make any difference, try it (gluten)." So, I did and that was the last time I ever tried it again. Basically, it made me so tired, I slept for a few days. Fortunately, my daughter (21 at the time) was there and took care of me. People seem to be polite enough to me. And if there are things that I can't have on the menu, then I just decline, eating a dinner of just salad with no croutons, for example, or just the baked potato and cooked vegetable. And I almost always skip dessert, since most desserts have gluten (apple pie, anyone?). So, I just have one question: what is the difference between having celiac and being gluten intolerant or having an allergy to gluten? When I was a child, I tested that I was allergic to wheat. Is that gluten intolerance? Or celiac?

Posted by: Kathy P | December 17, 2011 9:00 PM    Report this comment

I guess I've been lucky, have not run into a level of insensitivty like the food-pushers quoted above lately. When I first had to go back on my GF diet a few years ago, my husband held out the hope that I'd "be back on a normal diet" some day. I explained to him and found articles to back me up why I could not and should never have left my GF diet... I tell people going off the diet nearly killed me (true) and that I'm just not the suicidal type. Usually at a party I try to joke a bit, "________ (usually someone who's real thin!) can have my portion!" The people I work with are really great - if they want to bring in/order foods I can't eat they respect my disability - I've told them, don't worry about me. I'm better off either ordering Buffalo wings or doing without it...

Posted by: Deborah R | December 16, 2011 4:26 PM    Report this comment

There still seem to be lots of people who don't 'believe in' food intolerances. Our church family has 12 people who are at least gluten intolerant and 1 of whom is a confirmed celiac. We have been dealing with this for years, but there are still people who don't seem to understand why we have a separate table at potlucks for 'safe' foods to avoid cross-contamination (which everyone is welcome to eat from) , or why they are re-directed to the 'other' dessert table until we are sure that all the GF people have had their dessert. (unfortunately the GF families go to extra lengths to make special foods, and everything is always homemade - which makes it particularly attractive).

Sometimes am surprised at someone who turns down a scoop of delicious chili because they know it's gluten free - as if somehow it's not going to be as good as the 'regular' kind. We chuckle because we know that the main difference is that the GF version was probably made completely from scratch, while the other one has some processed or pre-packaged ingredients.

Posted by: Catherine K | December 16, 2011 11:49 AM    Report this comment

I've been GF, SF and CF for 2 years now. I think that the biggest shock to the system, and the ones that your physician cannot prepare you for (unless they happen to be a Celiac or intolerant/allergic, too) is the social stigma that comes with living without.

Having acknowledged that it is socially difficult to have intolerances, it's absolutely ridiculous for anyone you consider a friend or family member to balk at your not eating something that will make you ill. I have had people ask whether or not I ever "have open meals", or say things like "isn't there a pill you can take for that?". It's a chance to educate people, send them to a resource like Celiac.com or the National Celiac Foundation, and politely shake your head. If the people you spend the holidays with don't want to hear it, you've got some waaaay bigger issues to deal with, in my opinion.

I bring all of my own food (with extra to share) to every work function, to meals with my fiance's family, etc. I am vegan, and so are most of my friends, so they really understand my intolerance. They are all interested in trying whatever I make - it's lovely! My family is very supportive - one of my sisters is also gluten intolerant. My colleagues understand that I can't eat from unsecured kitchens (I'm very sensitive to trace amounts and when I accidentally ingest serious gluten, I can't stop vomiting) - but it did take some uncomfortable birthday celebrations in the office to get to this point.

Let's face it. Most people haven't the slightest idea what they are actually eating in a typical meal - in terms of ingredients. Celiacs and intolerants have lots of explaining to do. We can't expect that everyone will even know what the term 'gluten' really refers to.

Posted by: emsimm | December 15, 2011 9:41 PM    Report this comment

This is my first holiday season having wheat, soy, peanut and egg intolerances. I have been trying to be in control of things by having Thanksgiving and Christmas at my home in order to know what I am eating and to try and encourage everyone that allergy free meals are just as delicious once your know when and where to substitute foods. At first, everyone was leery of my diet until they ate dinner and found out how great things can still taste. One thing I have ran into is the confusion with food intolerances versus food allergies. People know that food allergies can kill you where as they seem to think that food intolerances are not as serious. Yet if I eat the wrong thing, I can be sick for a week and be miserable so it's not worth it to me. I am avoiding the Christmas dinner at work as I have found the 2 times I have eaten out, I end up sick no matter how careful I am. People at work keep asking me "What will happen to you if you just come and eat anyway?" which I found surprising and uncomforable. I just say I will get very sick and leave it at that. I guess I could use this as a time to educate people on food tolerences but I get tired of going into the whole story every time. Sometimes I just say its food allergies since that is something people have heard of and understand.

Posted by: Nicola R | December 15, 2011 5:18 PM    Report this comment

This happens in some situations, but not others. It seems to depend on how much exposure the person has had to food intollerances and allergies. I try not to say that I am allergic if I can avoid it - and it is often an opportunity to educate.

The last time someone this happened a friend was commenting that she was sure it wouldb e OK if I had a little soy sauce on my rice, I told her that I would would feel the effects for a month if I did. That ended it, but in this case I am not sure that she is 'convinced'.

Posted by: Catherine K | December 15, 2011 3:41 PM    Report this comment

I find being very specific about the result I experience helps. For example, "The last time I accidentally ate something that had gluten, I had a migraine for 9 days. I just don't take any chances." Even the pushiest person can't keep pushing after that explanation.

Posted by: DJ | December 15, 2011 2:03 PM    Report this comment

I've had a friend tell me "just try a little bit." So and so has the same thing you do and it didn't hurt her.

Posted by: Judy S | December 15, 2011 12:21 PM    Report this comment

I dont have people push food on me. I tell them I will be sick for a week and this does physically cause problems. i also have suggested that they look at what they eat if they dont feel up to par or have allegries.. People are starting to understand its not a diet.. That is what I run into and then I tell them what happens if I eat gluten.. its educating people.. if you educate one then its a ripple effect..

Connie Signs of Celiac.com...

Posted by: Connie C | December 15, 2011 11:05 AM    Report this comment

I have people push food at me ALL THE TIME. As the pastor of a large church, I deal with potlucks, funeral receptions, and other eating opportunites regularly. People do try to be hospitable, but they just don't understand that if a casserole did not specifically call for "flour" it does not automatically mean it is safe for me to eat. Thanks for a great article and helpful suggestions. The next time someone says to me "One bite won't kill you," I'll know exactly how to respond.

Posted by: Kim O | December 15, 2011 10:39 AM    Report this comment

Actually this scenero isn't way out there. People do do this. Not as common as it was just a year ago but some people do not understand. Since its my 5 year year old I am speaking for its easy. Flat out I will not allow her to become sick for weeks and possibly end up in the hospital to save someone's feelings. I am polite but if any one pushes they are being rude and selfish so I then don't care if they are upset.

Posted by: gypsybootsie | December 15, 2011 8:48 AM    Report this comment

You've really never had anyone say those things to you? This is basically a daily occurrence for me. Great article!

Posted by: mar79 | December 15, 2011 8:45 AM    Report this comment

Well seeing as how I could go to the hospital if I eat something I'ma llergic to, I just say, "No thanks, I'm very allergic to _______." It works every time. I have never had anyone "push" food on me after I tell them I am allergic; the scenario you paint seems ridiculous.

Posted by: promethemoth | December 14, 2011 11:05 PM    Report this comment

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