A year ago, I would casually kill a bread basket in 60 seconds flat, and my weekends were filled with brewery tours and brownie binges. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my lifestyle, I couldn’t escape nagging stomach pains and near-constant fatigue. After realizing gluten was the culprit, I went gluten-free and instantly felt the benefits.
Figuring out what foods to avoid and how to carefully scan labels for sneaky ingredients came easily. But even after mastering the basics, dealing with the social aspects of gluten-free living proved challenging. Many people don’t fully understand your situation, and view it (at best) as a choice or (at worst) a diet fad. And some favorite activities may seem off-limits—end-of-the-season pizza and beer night? Better think twice.
Although gluten-free living can cause anxiety and stress, it doesn’t need to run your life. Whether you’re in charge of planning a meal or you’ve been invited out with friends, here are six simple tips for keeping your dietary restrictions from dominating your social life.
When You Can Call the Food Shots
Know Where You Can Go
Find the restaurants in your area that offer gluten-free menu options, and visit them often. Traditional Mexican or Salvadorian restaurants are pretty safe bets, some Japanese restaurants offer gluten-free soy sauce, and you can usually dive face-first in to Pad Thai at your nearest Thai restaurant. Also know which establishments you can rely on for a quick, safe meal (Chipotle? Everything but the flour tortilla–just add extra guac, please). Knowing your choices keeps daily scouring of food menus to a minimum, and allows you to easily suggest options to your pals.
Suggest Events Where You Have Control
Propose settings where you can control how the food you’ll be eating is prepared, like picnics, BYOB concerts, or potlucks. Or, cut food out of the social equation altogether. While sharing a meal together can be a fun bonding experience, there are so many other ways to enrich relationships and spend meaningful time with friends. Join a book club, establish a weekly wine night at your apartment, go on coffee dates, or find an exercise buddy. You’ll keep all the fun without worrying about the stomach ache.
Avoid Food Anxiety: Bring a Snack
Give yourself peace of mind by always carrying an emergency snack in your purse. Many gluten-free gals live in constant fear of being caught hungry without food options. To avoid getting stranded in a sea of bagel chains, put trail mix in your purse and relax knowing that, no matter where you are, you’ll always have something to tide you over.
When Someone Else is Planning
Never Turn Down an Invitation out of Fear
There are times, of course, when you can’t plan the menu—birthday dinners, bachelorette parties, team picnics, to name a few. When in doubt, eat beforehand or bring some food with you. When attending a dinner party, I always offer to bring one thing I know I can eat, usually something substantial and high in protein. That way, regardless of how everything else is prepared, I will be left feeling full and satisfied.
Do Undercover Work Before Dining Out
Before going to a restaurant, check out its nutritional guide online or call during off-peak hours to ask about the menu. That way you’ll know what to order before you get there, and you won’t have to interrogate the waitress in front of a crowd. Doing a little legwork beforehand will ease the anxiety of dining out (and prevent your dining companions from getting annoyed, too!).
Every situation that involves flour does not require a public service announcement about your reasons for going gluten-free. When someone innocently offers you the bread basket, your first instinct might be a Real Housewives of New Jersey style flip-out, but in most situations a simple “no, thank you” will do. You can give your friends and co-workers details when necessary for logistics, but don’t let your food peculiarities become the focus of all group conversations. Remember, your personality consists of so much more than what you eat.
Photo courtesy of chee.hong.