When you hear the word "Christmas," what images pop into your head? Snowy days filled with family and hot cacao? Holiday songs playing from every radio station? What about Christmas shopping? Whether you're keeping presents simple this year or battled Black Friday crowds to score the best deals, your to-do list probably has one or two gifts you still need to buy.
When it comes to the celiac in your life, finding gluten free gift shouldn't be a problem. After all, who wouldn't want a box of delicious goodies - like a free tote full of Namaste Foods products - waiting under their tree? However, as Ellen at My Uncommon Everyday reminded me last week, some of the best presents can't be bought.
Here are eight (gluten free) Christmas gifts that every celiac wants but money can't buy!
1. Universal understanding of what "no cross contamination" really means.
It's amazing how two little words - "gluten free" - can have so many different meanings, especially in the restaurant world. When people first learn about my diet, they love pointing out restaurants with "gluten free" menus. Until, at least, I explain that "gluten free" and "celiac safe" and two very different concepts thanks to the difference in cross contamination. As my ex-boyfriend once eloquently said: "A gluten free menu that isn't safe for celiacs? Well, that's stupid!"
As any celiac can probably attest, "no cross contamination" is equally misunderstood. For some, that means using clean plates and ingredients - but forgetting to change out the cookware. For others, it's pizza that doesn't contain any gluten...but is baked in the same flour-caked oven.
Sure, I want world peace just as much as the next girl. But world understanding of cross contamination? That sounds pretty awesome too!
2. Less preconceived judgments about "gluten free" girls (and guys).
Speaking of restaurants...have you ever had a waiter ask if you're just "gluten free" or "celiac" when you place a GF order? Partially thanks to the gluten free fad, 2016 was rife with horror stories of celiacs not being taken seriously.
At the same time, one of the most common questions when people learn about my celiac swag is: "What can you even eat?" Amazingly enough, a lot of things. Pizza on homemade crust. Granola that my roommates lovingly refer to as "Casey crack." Basically anything can be "celiac-ized" with the right amount of determination, time and TLC.
So let's make the "skinny white witch" gluten free stereotype one of the 2016 trends that dies when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's.
3. More friends and family who (at least pretend to) "get it."
Unless you have celiac disease, you probably can't totally "get" what living with it is like. But does that mean I don't appreciate when others try to empathize with my situation? Heck no!
I'm hoping that 2017 will feature more people like my folks and little sis, who enjoy gluten free holiday dinners so I can eat with zero worry. More friends like Chris, who, after meeting me and learning about my celiac, went on a gluten free diet for three days to know what it was like. (Getting random texts like: "Is meatloaf gluten free? What about French fries?" was just an added bonus). More roommates who understand why our kitchen really needs to be a crumb-free zone...and who don't mind test-tasting some of my crazy recipes!
As I've written before, it's easy to feel alone with celiac disease during the holidays. But sometimes a smile (in between bites of gluten-filled Christmas cookies) from a friend can bring back some Christmas cheer.
4. More responsible and user-friendly product labeling protocol.
Raise you hand if you've ever felt victimized by food labels (and leave a comment if you recognize the movie where part of that line is from!). The fact is, we need to read food labels to, well, live. And when products don't include enough or the right information, we're the ones who'll be holding our stomachs later.
2016 has had its share of labeling and/or manufacturing mistakes. (Cheerios, I'm talking about you.) Previous years have also included baby steps toward progress, like the FDA's 20-ppm-of-gluten-or-less requirements for foods labeled "gluten free." My takeaway? A bit of Christmas magic - especially in the form of more clear and easily read food labels - surely wouldn't hurt!
5. Better medical training about diagnosing and treating celiac disease.
Despite all of the speed bumps in my celiac journey, I know I'm one of the lucky ones. Because I had a doctor who wouldn't cross her t's just once but twice, I was diagnosed with celiac disease less than one year after my symptoms began. The average time it takes for someone to receive a correct celiac diagnosis? Six to ten years.
Celiac disease doesn't just need to be tested for more; doctors also need to be more educated about the treatments available. I've heard horror stories about doctors who didn't even know what celiac was or thought a "little gluten wouldn't hurt." In my own experience, I've even stunned specialists by not healing like "normal" celiacs usually do.
At least from my (totally medically unqualified) perspective, not every celiac case is the same. People heal at different rates, need slightly different diets (beyond just the required gluten free diet) and face different symptoms and struggles related to celiac disease. Doctors need to recognize these differences and learn more about treating all celiac disease, not just cases that are by-the-book. (And if doctors can do this while rocking a smile and good sense of humor, even better!)
6. More tolerance - within and outside the celiac community - for what diet works for each person.
Have you ever told someone about your celiac diagnosis only for them to say, "My cousin had that and is cured thanks to *insert some religious miracle, magic pill or diet here.*"? Comments like this used to make me mad but, for better or for worse, they've become relatively normal after three plus years.
Outsiders aren't just the only ones pushing their "perfect treatment" at celiacs, though. Even the gluten free community can struggle with tolerance or advice-free empathy - especially on the topic of diet. For some, following a strict autoimmune Paleo lifestyle is their saving grace for celiac symptoms. For others (like me), processed gluten free foods are all part of a healthy diet.
While I'll never condone celiacs who "cheat" and ingest gluten (it may taste good, but it's still celiac suicide, guys!), I do try to realize that every celiac thrives on a different diet. Low fodmap, dairy filled or free, Paleo or vegan - if it works for you, that's awesome. Keep doing it and even spread the word so others can try the same approach. Just don't make me feel like it's the "only way" celiacs can or should live.
7. Less unanswered questions about celiac disease.
I can't deny that we've come a long way since celiac disease first earned its name from Artaeus of Cappadocia. Heck, I can buy a (celiac safe) gluten free cheeseburger and fries if that's what I'm really craving!
But 2016 is still ending with plenty of unanswered questions, like:
- What really triggers celiac disease?
- Does gluten intolerance exist - or will the medical community at least agree on one answer?
- How does celiac disease really work and why do its symptoms vary so greatly?
- What screening protocol should be adopted to accurately diagnose celiacs as quickly as possible?
It's unlikely that Santa will have all of these answers hidden in his big, red bag this year...but that shouldn't stop a celiac from wishing, right?
8. More love.
The gift I want most for Christmas this year is more love - and not just the typical "peace on Earth" kind. I want more love for myself...including the celiac part of my identity that I sometimes hate for making me look three months pregnant, turning dating into a tooth-brushing competition or over-complicating the simple act of feeding myself.
I also want more intentional and concrete love for the people who've supported me every step along the way. For the parents who slept by me in the hospital. For the bloggers who inspired me to share - and keep sharing - my own story. For the online and offline friends who have proved time and again that I'm worthy of love, however "complicated" my diet may be.
I won't lie and say that I don't have a single piece of new technology, gluten free goodie bag or item of clothing on my Christmas wish list. Like most people, at least a little shopping will play a role in my holiday season.
However, I can say that I'm looking forward to non-material gifts - like seeing my family, playing in the Colorado snow and sleeping in - the most this Christmas. And if any of these celiac wishes come true too?
That would just be the star on top of the tree (or the icing on the Gingerbread man)!
Can you relate to any of these items on my celiac gift list? What is your top non-material Christmas wish this year? Tell me below!