We’ve Got Issues: February/March 2019

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Irreverent solutions to your real life allergy & sensitivity dramas.

Non-Compliant Teen

Dear Issues,
I’ve run out of ideas on how to keep my gluten-intolerant 14-year-old son from sneaking gluten when he’s out of my sight. Even though we’ve been a gluten-free household for six years—ever since he was diagnosed—and we’ve been consistent about communicating his diet to friends’ parents, summer camp, school and family, he still will eat cupcakes at parties and pizza any time it’s available. Inevitably he gets sick and admits to sneaking gluten.

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We’ve grounded him from screens, we’ve made him get out of bed and go to school or church or whatever commitment he has even when he’s gotten sick, and we’ve begged him to be safe. None of this is working! What can I do, short of following him to every single event in his life?

Signed,
Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,
Someone wise once said to me (I believe this was GF&M food editor Beth Hillson, BTW) that you’re only as strict on your gluten-free diet as the consequences are severe. Those of us who get knocked out of life for long periods of time and face increased risks of cancer are much less likely to sneak a bite of pie at Thanksgiving. But if you get a stomachache and can still get up and go to school in the morning, that piece of pizza is going to be easier to swallow.

Take this logic and add in a ravenous, hormone-fueled teenager with a brain that is not even close to being fully developed—and you’re going to find a kid stuffing himself with burritos when you’re not looking. (Note: Not every kid. I know plenty of celiac kids who are hard-core about their diet.) As a parent, there are some things you can do to help curb his appetite for gluten, but ultimately the decision to cheat on his diet will be his in the moment.

Keep your house stocked with tasty gluten-free food and he’ll be less likely to go out foraging. Apart from that, the best line of defense at this stage is education. While you can preach the gluten-free gospel to your son all day long, sometimes kids will only listen to an outside authority. (I know. This drives me crazy, too. Why do I have all of this life experience if not to tell my kids what’s up?) Make an appointment with a nutritionist to go over the rules, consequences and, most important, the options of things he CAN eat. We all need a refresher, and a teenager who has one of those brains that is firing all of the time is in special need of being reminded of best practices.

Then have him have a talk with his pediatrician or GI doctor to emphasize the risks to his long-term health. It’s like scaring him straight—but outside of a prison.

As a mom of a pre-teen, I feel your pain. But as a former teenager who lived on Taco Bell well into my post-college years, I assure you that we all grow up and start to take care of ourselves. You’ve given him the tools, the information and the love. It will soak in. Someday.

Dating Again

Dear Issues,
I’m recently divorced and also have celiac disease. Which means I’m even more terrified about dating than I would be without being gluten-free. I was diagnosed during my first marriage, so I’ve never had to date as a celiac. I’m afraid I’ll turn people off before we even get to know each other. How, and when, do I tell a person I’m dating that I have celiac?

Signed,
Solo Eater

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Dear Solo,
Dating is never easy and you’ve got the double whammy of jumping back in post-divorce AND dealing with a food issue. It may seem daunting right now, but once you’ve got a few dates under your belt, you’ll relax about the big G-free reveal. Because, Solo, we all have something. And whatever the quirk, it doesn’t have any bearing on our attractiveness to another person and our attraction to that same person. Being celiac does not define us; it just means we have to be more careful about what we eat.

I say this knowing all about the eye-rolling reaction we sometimes receive. Which is probably what you’re worried about. I’d like to say that anyone who rolls their eyes when you ask a waiter about gluten-free options and protocols is not the right person for you.

We are all complicated creatures. A date who may balk at hearing you’re gluten-free could be afraid of many things: Embarrassment at asking for and receiving special treatment, not knowing how to be safe around you, or a curtailing of their favorite meals. All these things (and any other concerns you or your date may have) should be part of the conversation when you explain you have celiac disease and cannot have gluten under any circumstances. Not exactly light banter on a first date.

The easiest way to postpone the conversation early on is to make plans to do something that does not involve food. A hike, a trip to a museum, a movie where you can check on the popcorn safety before you get there are all good ways to get to know someone before you have to navigate a restaurant.

But food is something that bonds people together, so “the talk” will need to happen sooner rather than later. The key is to assume a positive reaction when you explain you eat a little differently than your date might. Explain it, reassure the person that you know how to take care of yourself and move on to other topics.

A reminder here that your health is the priority, not someone else’s comfort about your condition. Bonus: Keeping yourself gluten-free and symptom-free lets you get out there into the dating pool more often. Wishing you health, happiness and lots of romance!

April Peveteaux is author of Gluten Is My B*tch: Rants, Recipes and Ridiculousness for the Gluten-Free (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), The Gluten Free Cheat Sheet (Penguin Group) and Bake Sales Are My B*tch (Rodale).