Life StoryFeb/Mar 2017 Issue

We’ve Got “Allergy Issues"

Irreverent solutions to your real life allergy & sensitivity dramas

Women with eyeglasses

ILLUSTRATION © EVGENIYA PORECHENSKAYA/SHUTTERSTOCK

|Anxious Host |

Dear Issues,

As a celiac for over seven years, I’m finally getting this whole thing down. I’m someone who never cooked before I got this diagnosis but now I enjoy cooking (most of the time) and I’m proud of the gluten-free recipes I make.

I recently started feeling confident enough to have people over for dinner—but I’m not sure my friends enjoy my gluten-free food. The reaction I’m hearing is, “This is good for gluten-free,” rather than a hearty, “This is good!”

I could use a little more enthusiasm, especially since I work so hard on these meals. Maybe it’s all in my head but it’s starting to make me anxious about having people over. To be honest, I don’t want to hear negative feedback about recipes I’ve worked hard to prepare. After all, it’s not like I have a choice about this. Maybe I should just stop having people over for dinner.

Signed,

Thankless in Seattle

Dear Thankless,

There’s a lot going on here. First, I congratulate you for making meals that you love. It’s not easy to tie on the ol’ apron and take up shop in the kitchen when you never cooked a day in your life pre-diagnosis. But you’ve done it! (I wish you’d invite me over.)

Now I want to suggest something radical: Stop caring so much about your guests’ satisfaction. Of course, you should try to make them as comfortable as possible in your home. Yes, you should take their personal preferences into consideration when you plan your menu. And absolutely, you should try to put delicious food on the table. But after you’ve done all that, well, you’re done.

You can’t obsess over every little thing that’s said (or not said) around your dinner table. Even if you serve the most popular and delicious food in town, someone in your crew may not like all of it. We all have different tastes, whether we live with a restricted diet or not.

Sure, you could employ a taste tester when you try out a new donut recipe (this is my hand being raised), but why not just relax and trust your own taste buds? At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference anyway. Some people will love your gluten-free chocolate cake; others would rather have a Mrs. Fields' cookie. And there’s nothing you can do about that.

So make the foods you love, share them with those you love and don’t think twice about what’s left on anyone’s plate at the end of your dinner party.


| Still Sick |

Dear Issues,

Why am I getting sick when I’ve cut gluten and dairy out of my life? After years of thinking I had IBS, I finally got a diagnosis of celiac disease. Then through trial and error, I figured out that I can’t tolerate dairy either. So why am I still so sick when I work so hard to avoid these two things?

Signed,

Stuck in the Bathroom

Dear Stuck,

Boo! That really stinks! I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well.

A lot of celiacs have problems with dairy, so you’re in good company. You’re also in good company that you’re trying to avoid gluten and dairy and you’re still getting sick.

Take it from someone who feels your pain. It can be challenging to be absolutely, positively gluten-free and dairy-free even when you think you’re doing everything right. So what’s a dairy-sensitive celiac to do? Until someone comes up with a magic pill to make us all better, we have to do some reconnaissance work. In cases like this, the usual suspects are cross-contact and hidden sources of gluten or dairy.

It sounds like it’s time for you to check in with a savvy dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in celiac, food sensitivities and autoimmune diseases. No matter where you are on the food-issues spectrum, consulting with a knowledgeable expert is a smart idea. Get a refresher on the ins and outs of your diet to make sure there’s not something slipping through the cracks. Even those of us who have been gluten-free for years benefit from this kind of tune-up.

We’re only human and we’re going to make dietary mistakes from time to time. The only perfect way to remain gluten-free and dairy-free is to make every single meal at home using single-ingredient whole foods.

I know. I know. This “only eat whole foods at home” thing is not realistic for most of us. But when you dine out, you risk getting sick (unless the restaurant has a dedicated gluten-free, dairy-free kitchen—a rarity). So the next thing I would do is check in with the restaurants you frequent. You can call ahead and ask the following questions:

} Do they have gluten-free, dairy-free options?

} Are the gluten-free meals prepared in the same areas (cutting boards, counter, pots, pans, toasters, etc.) as the food containing gluten? Can they keep all dairy completely separate?

} Is the gluten-free food plated on the same surfaces with the food containing gluten? Can they keep all dairy separate?

} Does the staff understand about cross contamination and common dietary pitfalls, like croutons, soy sauce, creamy soups, fake crab, oats, etc.? (Do you? Refer back to “checking in with a savvy dietitian” above.)

If you’re using packaged products, a reminder: Read every label carefully and make sure the foods you buy are certified gluten-free and not manufactured alongside wheat or dairy.

After you carefully review your diet with a dietitian, I suggest you stick close to home for a while to give your body time to heal. If you’re not feeling better soon, make an appointment with your doctor to make sure there’s nothing else going on.

The occasional food problem is going to occur. But it sounds like you’re having issues way too often—and that’s not okay. Make it a priority to figure it out.

 

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