Social butterflies with celiacs can still thrive though, especially if they learn from the experiences and mistakes of others. I hope to add my knowledge to this bracket, listing five of the biggest lessons I've figured out these last two months. I hope they will help make someone's adjustment period even better than mine.
1. First, ALWAYS have a snack with you. My car is stuffed with enough rice cakes and energy bars to feed a hobo for a month but at least I know food is always on hand.
This can be annoying at times. When I went to meet a group of incoming PLNU freshman at the beach, my mom and I packed a small cooler full of fruit, sandwiches, and other snacks. My cheeks flushed bright red when I dragged it into one of the girl's houses and she said, "Oh wow. Um that's a whole, um cooler."
It sucked singling myself out by bringing my own food, but not eating dinner because of my GF diet would have been even worse. At least then I could munch on a sandwich and strawberries while everyone ate their burgers, compared to starving alone.
2. Secondly, don't eat food with gluten! This may seem like a simple, obvious tip but when you are surrounded by temptations, it can be hard to resist that one bite of heaven.
This Saturday I attended my first birthday party since diagnosis. When I arrived and saw the picnic table weighed down by goodies, I knew this was going to be hard. Two (the party was for a pair of twins) types of cake, one cookies and cream and the other snickers. Ice cream cake. And pizza. Not to mention all of the other party favors I spied from my peripheral vision.
Besides the delicious food, temptation also occurs in the form of awkwardness. I mentioned it in the tip before, but what's hardest about being gluten free is being different. And in the teenage years where conformity is rampant, this is exactly what most kids try to avoid.
At the birthday party, for example, after we sang Happy Birthday, I had to step out of line and watch my friends cut their own large slices of cake. The discrepancy was even more obvious after the serving: I looked like a health nut with a few grapes rolling around my plate while my friends gorged on sweets. Talk about torture.
In the end though, I had an awesome time with my friends. They were actually more concerned about my food struggles than I was. And in the big picture, what is a couple slices (or a plateful, more likely) of cake when I have an amazing group of friends by my side?
As I always tell myself, that isn't a piece of chocolate cake. It's a bomb waiting to detonate in your intestines. And people aren't going to be impressed with your dancing moves if you are feeling cruddy from those cookies anyway. When in doubt, eat before going to an event. Less appetite = less temptation.
3. On a similar note, don't be embarrassed to deny food or ask for clarification. It's not our fault that gluten destroys our stomach lining, just like it's not my fault that I need help reaching items on the top shelf. We deal with the deck we are given.
Since I was diagnosed a week before prom (with graduation activities still to come), I've eaten out with my friends multiple times. Sometimes I just hate it. I hate how I'm always glued to my phone, looking up the restaurant's gluten free options and reviews online. I hate having to ask the waiter a million questions about contamination while my friends already finished their one sentence orders of "a burger and fries."
But since I refuse to give up social eating with my friends, these are the steps I must take in order to not pay the price later. If you go the right places, you may even meet people in the same situation as you. My waiter at Outback Steakhouse (which has awesome GF options I'll blog about later) told me right away that his best friend was just diagnosed with celiacs at 40. If you ever feel alone with celiacs, just go to a GF friendly restaurant.
4. Internet. Use it. If you are newly diagnosed, the Internet is a great source of information about celiacs disease so you can better understand your body and know how to explain it to others.
What I use it for more, though, is looking up the GF options of every restaurant before I visit whenever possible. You can wait and ask your server when you sit down, but they may be uninformed or busy. Entering with a game plan or list of possibilities lessens the chance of ordering something with gluten or having nothing to eat.
I've eaten out with friends before, but this Thursday was new for me because I entered Chicken Pie Diner with the goal to actually eat. Not sneak in my own lunch, not pick at lettuce while waiting for my friends and I to hop off to our next activity.
Thanks to the Internet (and a phone call to the manager), I knew my options and felt safe ordering food. The salad was mediocre but the feeling of not being glutened after eating at a proper restaurant? Delicious.
5. Finally, surround yourself with support. I'm so grateful for my kick-butt family and awesomely understanding friends who have helped me adjust to a life with celiac disease and gluten free. Love you guys - I couldn't do any of this without you!
What are some of your tips? Who are you grateful for? Comment below!