Life StoryJune/July 2014 Issue

We Have "Issues": Paranoid About My Popovers

Irreverent solutions to your real-life allergy drama.

Photo by Oksana Charla

Dear Issues,

My friends dine together frequently—birthdays, holidays, dinner parties—and I always bring gluten-free bread or dessert since I’m gluten-sensitive. I think I’m a pretty good baker and my friends always say how great my stuff is. But I wonder if they’re just being nice. I’d much rather be eating normal food so certainly they would, too. It’s occurred to me that everyone is gagging behind my back.

Paranoid About My Popovers

Dear Popovers,

Paranoid? No. Self-conscious about your food issues during food-focused events? Absolutely. Which is totally normal. It’s rare that those of us with food restrictions leave home without some level of anxiety about what we’ll be eating and what people might think. As the girl who comes to every party with casserole in hand, I feel your pain.

If your friends are always complimenting your g-free contributions, you have wonderful friends. Clearly. Whether or not it’s how they truly feel is irrelevant—they’re polite enough to gush. No good will come of you hooking them up to a lie detector test and asking them how much they love xanthan gum.

If you want to feel more confident, show up next time with a delicious dish that’s naturally gluten-free. That way you don’t have to worry about passing muster with a substitute. Take nachos as an awesome example. Ply people with enough fresh guacamole and they may forget gluten ever existed.


Dear Issues,

My 12-year-old daughter was just diagnosed with celiac disease, which coincides with puberty. I honestly don’t know how to deal with two such emotionally loaded issues at the same time and I worry that my daughter doesn’t either. How can we get through this tumultuous time without the aid of donuts?

Tween Mom

Dear Mom,

Buckle your seatbelt and take a deep breath. The next few years will probably be a roller coaster.

First, let’s tackle the easy stuff: your home. Make your kitchen a safe space. If you haven’t already, get rid of any gluten in your house. If that’s not possible, designate one spot for any foods containing gluten. The same goes for pots, pans, toasters, serving utensils and the refrigerator. Enlist the help of the entire family by explaining the seriousness of your daughter’s disease and demanding compliance. This is no joke.

The point is to make your daughter safe both physically and emotionally. She needs to know that she can let her guard down somewhere—and that somewhere should be her own home. Tweens and teens often feel like aliens walking around in the world. Make home friendly, familiar and most of all, safe.

The harder issue is when your child is out of the house, meaning out of your control. You can’t keep your kid on lockdown. The most terrifying part of having a child with food issues is the places where kids hang out. Here are three top danger zones: After-school snacking via the vending machine, school road trips (sports and extracurricular activities), and school lunch.

Navigating these gluten-filled obstacles while trying to fit in is so not-cool. But like they say on Schoolhouse Rock, knowledge is power. Study those vending machines and find out what is gluten-free (e.g, Cheetos, soda). Allow her to occasionally indulge in typical teen crap food as long as it’s gluten-free. Yes, we know that celiacs should be eating the healthiest foods at all times. But she needs to feel “normal” every now and then and this is a way to allow her some freedom.

The same goes for the fast-food joints where teens take over after school and while traveling to out-of-town extracurricular activities. Research what is safe at every fast food joint along the route. Try a practice run so she won’t feel weird her first time at the register.

Put the same diligence into her school lunches. Ideally, you’ll be packing a lunch for her but if her crowd always buys, find out if she can eat safely at school. Remind the staff that she has celiac disease and can become gravely ill if gluten even touches the plate she’s given on the line. (Look into getting a 504 plan at her school.) If it’s not possible for her to eat at school safely, work with your daughter to find a compromise. Which is what you want to do in every situation: Manage her disease without making her stick out like a sore thumb.

In all these scenarios, your child will require backup. Tweens and teens are famous for being hungry and gluten-free options won’t always be available. Pack a daily snack bag with gluten-free crackers and fruit so she can grab a quick bite whenever she needs it. Investigate a support group (local or online), one that has tween members. Finding one or two friends who have similar dietary needs can go a long way.

A note here about mom (and dad) doing all the work. While you’re ensuring your child’s safety, include her every step of the way. Empowering her to make smart decisions will give her the long-term skills to navigate her disease in every situation. Which is something all teens need in order to make it through puberty alive and (relatively) happy.

Remember, Mom—your child will slip. The focus then should be getting her healthy again and teaching her how to take care of herself. After all, college is just around the corner. And there’s no way she’s going to let you pack her lunch then.

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