The Language of Gluten-Free

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Eating gluten-free? Here’s what to say when talking about it isn’t easy.

We all get comments about the gluten-free diet or living with celiac disease, some not always pleasant or well informed. As you gather over the holidays with friends and family (some of whom you haven’t seen in a while), the chatter might turn to your special diet. Don’t wince when someone utters “gluten-free.” Instead, turn the conversation into an opportunity to educate and advocate.

Here are frequently heard statements and suggested replies. Keep these in your back pocket so you don’t waste time worrying about what to say.

 

They Say

You Say

“C’mon, a little gluten won’t hurt you!” or
“But it only has a little flour in it!”
“Unfortunately, a little gluten can and will hurt me. Even something as small as a crumb can prompt my immune system to flare up and cause damage. I have to be very careful to make sure I don’t have even a little.”
“What do you mean, you can’t eat these cookies? I made them for you myself!” “Thank you for thinking of me! You’re so wonderful to take the time and trouble to make me gluten-free cookies. They look delicious and I sure wish I could eat them! But I’m so sensitive that I can’t eat anything that’s not prepared a very specific way.”
“You’re just making it up” or “You’re just faking it” or
“Stop being dramatic!”
“I’ve been tested by a doctor and I have celiac disease/non-celiac gluten sensitivity. I promise I’m not doing this for attention. I have a real medical condition that’s treated with a gluten-free diet.”
“But gluten is good for you!” “Gluten is good for you if you’re like most people in the world—but I am not. A small percentage have celiac disease and more have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten actually acts like a poison in my body.”
“Didn’t they just prove it wasn’t real?” “I read that study, too. It actually didn’t say that gluten sensitivity isn’t real. It said the problem might be something called FODMAPs, which is a group of hard-to-digest foods, including gluten-containing grains. So you’d have to avoid gluten anyway.” Or “Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disease which is treated by lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. Diagnosed by blood tests, biopsy and genetic testing, it’s a very real medical condition.”

Category: I Don’t Get It

They Say

You Say

“I could never go without gluten!” “I thought that, too, until I had to change my diet or risk long-term health consequences. I never thought I could be strong enough to avoid wheat, rye, barley and things like pizza and beer—but I’ve found good substitutes.”
“I would die if I couldn’t eat gluten!” “Unfortunately, I’d be pretty close to death if I continued to eat gluten. At least I would feel like death! The gluten-free diet is actually what keeps me healthy.”
“So what DO you eat?” “That’s a really good question. I eat a lot of the same things you do, but they’re made with flour from gluten-free substitutes like rice and ancient grains like sorghum, millet or teff. I eat fruits, vegetables and meat just like everyone else.”
“Yuck! Gluten-free food doesn’t taste good.” “Gluten-free food has come so far in the past few years. I think you’d be surprised just how good it is. Many gluten-free foods taste just like their gluten-full counterparts. You can’t even tell they’re gluten-free!”
“Is it contagious?” “No, celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity is not contagious. But I do have to be careful about sharing the same food and drink, as little particles of gluten that you may have eaten can end up in my mouth and make me very sick. Same thing with kissing.”

Category: Me, Too!

They Say

You Say

“I’m trying to lose weight, too” or “Yeah, I tried that but it didn’t really do anything for me.”

 

 

 

“I’m not on a gluten-free diet to lose weight. Did you know the gluten-free diet is medically necessary for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases? While it’s not a weight-loss diet, some people drop pounds because they stop eating junk food that just happens to contain gluten. They ditch the processed products and focus on single-ingredient whole foods.”
“My best friend has that but she doesn’t eat like that anymore” or “I know someone who had that and they outgrew it.” “Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition that’s lifelong. I’ll have it my whole life and this will be my diet for the foreseeable future. As of right now, food is my only medicine. The gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease.”

 

 

Category: Gluten-Free Is No Biggie

They Say

You Say

“Every restaurant has a gluten-free menu. There are tons of gluten-free things in the grocery store. You’ve got it so easy.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Gluten-free has come so far, so quickly. It’s exciting to see gluten-free food in stores and on restaurant menus. But honestly, it’s still not very easy to avoid an ingredient that’s in so many things. Even at restaurants, many chefs and servers don’t know how to take care of people who must be completely gluten-free. Sometimes they mess up, which can make me sick. So it’s still a challenge to be strictly gluten-free—but I’m really happy there are more options than there were a few years ago.”