Handling the Holidays with Celiac Disease
The holidays are full of long days with family, good food, and for people with celiac disease, they are often full of anxiety. Worry creeps in, “will I be able to eat anything?” you wonder. Will Aunt Martha be offended again when I remind her I can’t eat gluten?
Whether you’re newly diagnosed or a few years in, hopefully, this guide to handling the holidays with celiac disease will be helpful. If you need more guidance, I dedicated an ENTIRE week in the 10-Week Celiac Disease Wellness Journal to helping you navigate the holidays.
What to say when…
I honestly can say handling people’s comments about my needs is my biggest stressor when it comes to handling the holidays with celiac disease. From reminding people that this is a real condition to educating people that I can’t just take a bite, it can be overwhelming. Here are some tips on what to say or do when you hear the following:
“Oh, just take a bite! I worked so hard on this ______”
- “I’m working hard on avoiding gluten for health reasons, so I’ll have to pass, thanks for understanding”
- “No thanks, I’m pretty full”
- “That looks lovely, thanks so much for spending so much time on making it for us. I’d love to try it but unfortunately, even one bite will make me sick”
- If they are really stuck on you trying it, remove yourself. I always like to pull that “I have to use the restroom” move.
Remember, your health comes before politeness.
“Oh please, it barely touched!”
- “I have to take cross-contact like that seriously for health reasons”
- “Even a small crumb can trigger my immune system, so I’ll have to pass”
- “Don’t worry about it, I’ll pass” or “No thank you”
“But _____ who is gluten-free ate it!”
- “That’s fine, I’m not going to though”
- “Just because it was safe for them, doesn’t mean it’s safe for me. People with celiac (or NCGS) have varying needs. I still can’t have this.”
- “Good for them, I’ll pass though”
“You don’t have Celiac” or “You made that disease up”
- “Actually, celiac disease is a real disease that many people have *pull up a website on celiac disease*, I can send you some info on it if you’d like!”
- “My feelings are hurt when you don’t support me or my needs around my diagnosis”
- Remove yourself from the situation.
“When are you going to grow out of it?”
- “There is no cure for Celiac Disease. Celiac disease is a life-long autoimmune disease that can’t be grown out of. It’s not like allergies, I have to be gluten-free for life.”
- “This is a lifelong need of mine that I need your support on.”
- “I’ll be gluten-free for the rest of my life, it’s not a fad diet.”
(and so many other options of response)
“Aren’t people with celiac disease supposed to be skinny?”
- “People diagnosed with Celiac Disease come in all shapes, sizes, and skin colors. My weight does not indicate the credibility of my diagnosis.”
- “People respond to small intestinal damage and healing in a variety of ways. My weight says nothing about my health or my medical history.”
- “My weight does not define my health”
- “What a rude thing to say to me!”
You do not have to maintain any conversations surrounding your weight if you do not want to. If you do continue with these discussions, feel free to refer to my post about celiac disease and weight gain in conversations you might have.
“Stop being so picky”
- “I’m not being picky, I am on a medically necessary gluten-free diet because I have celiac disease. Believe me, I wish I could have ____”
- “Please do not mistake my medical needs as choices”
- “Please respect my dietary needs – but if you can’t, I’ll remind you that they are NONE of your business”
I also want to say, no one should or can make you eat anything you don’t want to eat. You’re allowed to be picky and gluten-free (if you are a picky eater).
Closing thoughts on responding to peoples comments about Celiac Disease and your needs:
I’d also say if you’re newly diagnosed or plan to be around new people, expect to answer a lot of questions. Celiac disease often isn’t well-known and people genuinely don’t understand it. If you feel uncomfortable in situations, you are allowed to remove yourself (again, I love pulling the “I need to use the restroom” escape plan).
Another option is to simply ignore people who are continually unsupportive. Sometimes it’s best simply to draw that boundary for the sake of your mental health and your enjoyment of the holidays.
Disclaimer: the above responses are quick responses I thought of and use when hearing these claims made. This, of course, is not an all-inclusive list of how to respond to these situations. Ultimately, you get to decide what the best way to respond is.
On Being a Guest during the Holidays with Celiac Disease
I wrote a whole blog post last year giving tips on how to enjoy events as a guest safely during the holiday season. It’s a quick read and might be worth checking out if you need to prepare yourself more for being a guest. On top of the tips I provided there, here are a few more!
Serve Yourself First!
Whether you made the decision to bring your own dishes to share or if there are gluten-free options on the table, ask/advocate to go first. Communicate with other guests (or better yet, the host) that you need to go first in order to limit cross-contact and stay safe.
While you are serving yourself first, serve yourself extra just in case you want seconds. This will allow you to not have to worry about any cross-contact that might happen between when you served yourself and others.
If you don’t know, say no!
If you don’t know if something is safe, spare yourself the trouble and don’t eat it. My general rule of thumb is to stay on the side of caution. Google is your friend but sometimes you just can determine if a drink or ingredient is safe. Alternatively – you might not know if a food, in general, is safe depending on how it was prepared. If you don’t know, say no.
(If you’re looking to see what drinks are safe for you, check out this page!)
On Hosting During the Holidays with Celiac Disease
I wrote a post on my top tips for gluten-free hosting during the holiday season that I encourage you to check out if you’re hosting someone who is GF this year. In addition to that post, here are a few tips to get you started:
Ask your GF guests about their needs (and do your best to meet them).
Everyone living gluten-free has different needs and levels of comfort and care. For example, some people might be comfortable with you preparing them safe food (but if you choose to do this, please do your research to prevent cross-contact – my best tip is to treat gluten like it’s raw meat when preparing food) others might politely reject your food.
Which leads me into my next tip which is:
Don’t be offended if someone living gluten-free doesn’t eat your GF food (or if they bring their own food).
Handling the holidays with celiac disease can be stressful, even if you took a ton of precautions when preparing their food, someone with celiac just might not want to risk it. Or they might have witnessed cross-contact, (learn more about cross-contact here) or just simply not feel comfortable with eating it. Respect their decision – it’s hard living GF. Know that they aren’t doing it out of malice, they are doing it to protect their health.
General Survival Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Celiac Disease
Get comfortable with politely saying “no” when you don’t know if something is safe. You are your best advocate and “no thank you” is key tool during this season.
Don’t get all “preachy” about eating gluten-free. It can be easy to think everyone should go gluten-free – and just like your diet is your own business, everyone else’s diet is THEIR own business.
Remember what the holidays are about. Focus on your loved ones and don’t let your dietary restrictions prevent you from enjoying them.
What are your tips for surviving that holiday season? Leave a comment below, and like this post, if you found is helpful!