You roll your eyes as you ask the worker at Chipotle to change their gloves, you playfully push away the beer that’s been shoved near your mouth, you frequently follow careful orders at restaurants with a self-deprecating rendition of the refrain from Beyonce’s “Diva.” You may–like me–even see yourself waving a hand and insisting, “I’m really not hungry,” rather than explaining against a friend’s urgings to “just get a salad” in a possible danger zone. We may do these things to lessen the seriousness of the diagnosis we’ve received, to “fit in” to the non-gf crowd, or to avoid killing the mood with technical, medical jargon or gastrointestinal gruesomeness.
I know we’ve all been there, but it’s important to recognize that a) a quick explanation of your diagnosis is not a burden to the people you’re with b) if they don’t want to hear it or diminish your diagnosis to nothing more than that of a “monthly pass soul-cycler” (not sure how that relates to food but I’ve gotten it), they’re not worth your time anyway, and c) It’s important to embrace your CD diagnosis not only for your own self-confidence, but also for your safety & the safety of your fellow celiac gfs.
That eye roll at Chipotle or the flirtatious giggle that masks your strong aversion to an approaching, foaming red cup may succeed in making your friends subject to one less, painless ten-second explanation, but it could also cause those prepping your food to be less careful in avoiding gluten. The man on the barstool next to you–trust me on this–would rather grab you an alternative drink and keep schmoozing you by the bar, than have a sloshed beer result in your quick exit from the scene.
So, what’s the best way to approach these explanations to ensure your safety, but also allow you to remain calm, collected, and comfortable in any social setting? First, I rely heavily on pregame research. I use internet sources such as findmeglutenfree.com and nobread.com (great for my coastal city gfs) to read reviews by other celiacs about their experiences so that I’m prepped before I go out. Don’t forget to check the restaurant sites either, especially those for chains, because some even provide allergen information for their menu items right on their own websites!
Now, although research can be very helpful in reducing pre-meal anxiety, this is not always an option. If your friend’s picked a restaurant that doesn’t have reviews or your normie gf is taking you on a surprise date, it’s still very possible to have an incredible, stress-free night out! In these situations, clear communication is major key…And I’ve found that it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it.
When ordering at a restaurant, I always inform the waiter of my celiac disease diagnosis, adding in the words “gluten allergy” just to make sure that they fully understand. By using the specific medical terminology, this conveys the seriousness of our condition in just a few words, while telling a food staff about an allergy will also trigger careful procedures from trainings for dealing with more common allergens like nuts.
What happens if the waiter gives you a blank stare? Have a few extra phrases in your back pocket. Without getting into the nitty, gritty details, I will say that “any contact of my food with gluten during preparation will make me very sick.” This is straightforward and to-the-point. Again, if the waiter seems unsure, it is worth either passing on prepared foods, asking for the chef, or ordering something with minimal preparation (i.e. no frying or grilling).
Waiter cut you off midway through your sentence with a “ya, ya we’ve dealt with that”? While it could be easiest just to accept his word, this can be the most dangerous! Make sure that he understands that you’re telling him to do more than just hold the side of sourdough.
While the chatty gfs among us may be comfortable having a dialogue with the staff, there are options for those of us who are quieter, newer to the diagnosis, or for any of us in those situations in which you really would rather not draw even the most minimal attention to yourself. Feeling shy on a blind date? Trying to seal a deal with a judgmental client? Even just unsure of your waiter’s comprehension? There’s a solution for that! Many websites have developed “restaurant cards” which communicate the basics of celiac disease and food prep protocol. I’ve found great, free versions at glutenfreeeasy.com, but there are numerous sites (& apps) that provide the same service. All you have to do is hand the waiter your gluten free easy restaurant card and ask him to bring it to the kitchen staff when he informs them of your order. These even come in various languages, so that gfs are honeymoon ready…
With your informative, direct catchphrases and backup restaurant cards, dining out will no longer be a source of anxiety. Yes, certainly, we have to be careful when eating out, but that doesn’t mean we should hole ourselves up in our kitchen for days on end… As long as your willing to speak up and/or carry a restaurant card for when the going gets tough, you’ll be dining out on the daily.
Have specific questions, stories, or comments about eating out? Leave me a message & I’ll get back to you before your next night out!
(Stay tuned for next week’s post in the beginner’s guide “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting,” a guide to dealing with a surprise glutening.)