Stand Up for Yourself!
I’m a type A personality who says whatever I’m thinking (within social norms, of course) and I’m fairly outspoken about living a gluten-free lifestyle. I’m often asked, “How do you get your point across?” or “How do you go out to restaurants and tell people you are gluten-free and stay safe?” My response is usually, “Just stand up for yourself.”
Unfortunately, there are many doubters, much misinformation and a lot of confusion about celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and the gluten-free lifestyle. Same goes for food allergies. It’s often up to us to tell people exactly what it is and how they can help us stay safe. However, I’ve met far too many people who are shy, nervous and don’t like to make a big deal about their food issues. Here are three pointers to help you get out of your comfort zone and stand up for yourself.
1. Be the most informed person in the room. In order to stand up for yourself, you have to know enough truth that nothing can knock you down. If you can fight back with science and educate with facts, nothing can stand in your way. Did someone tell you that gluten-free is just a fad and that you’re making it up? Talk to them about autoimmune disorders and the increased risk of cancer for untreated celiac disease. Do you have a server who has no idea what gluten is (since he just offered you the bread basket after you told him about your celiac disease)? Take a minute and explain that gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and contaminated oats and that it can hide in all sorts of foods and sauces. Tell him that you will get incredibly ill and have an autoimmune reaction if you have even a crumb of gluten. Then ask for the manager and chef to complete your order - or run if they all have no idea about a gluten-free diet.
Here’s the problem: How do you get informed with an ever-changing library full of information about celiac, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and food allergies?
- Subscribe to a publication like Gluten Free & More for the most up-to-date articles on living with special dietary needs.
- Attend gluten-free and food allergy conferences and expos (available across the country, like the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest) to visit with new vendors, meet and share information with others and hear experts talk about the subject.
- Read the most recent research in books like Gluten Freedom by Dr. Alessio Fasano and learn from one of the foremost doctors in gluten disorders.
2. Realize you are the only one in charge of your health and safety. Unfortunately, the entire world isn’t as educated as you are about your own health, your own body and your medical condition. This means that only you can truly be in charge of your own health. If you don’t feel comfortable dining at a restaurant or don’t feel comfortable eating something made in a sketchy environment, you are the only one to make that decision. You are in charge of your own health and safety and ultimately your own compliance to your special diet.
As an aside, the stricter you are on the gluten-free diet when dining out, the easier it is for the celiac community as a whole. For example, if you tell your server, “Oh, it’s okay if I have a little bit,” then he or she will think the next person who claims to be gluten free can also eat a little bit without harm. This has happened to me multiple times when dining out. So for the sake of the community, please stay safe and stay healthy.
3. Put on your big girl pants. Or your big boy pants. Whatever works for you. You’ve got to muster all of the courage and strength that you have when it comes to your safety. You’ve got to be the strongest, most confident version of yourself. Remember when Clark Kent turned into Superman and Diana Prince turned into Wonder Woman? You’ve got to think of yourself as unleashing your gluten-free or food-allergy superpowers and turn into a person who doesn’t take guff from anyone!
By empowering yourself as a superhero and arming yourself with knowledge, you can succeed in any situation, knowing you are standing up for yourself, as well as the entire special-diet community.