how to dine out with celiac disease
Does the thought of letting someone else cook for you scare you? Afraid to dine out with celiac for fear of getting glutened? Don’t let your fear stop you from living your life.
Yes, dining out comes with a risk but you can minimize the risk if you take the proper precautions.
So where do you start?
You Deserve to Dine Out Safely
Let’s talk about mindset for a second when dining out with celiac. There’s a lot of emotions around dining out, especially with food restrictions and I think rather than confront these emotions people avoid them (ex. never eating out).
Let’s take a moment to grieve the experience dining out used to be for us…
Before celiac, dining out likely was more care-free, less stressful, and a way to connect with coworkers, friends, and loved ones.
Maybe dining out was a way of putting dinner on the table when you were just to tired to cook. Or maybe it was a way to escape the throes of life and spend a little 1:1 time with your partner.
Dining out with celiac isn’t any of that anymore (unless you’re able to find a dedicated gluten-free restaurant and then ENJOY IT!).
Dining out with celiac can feel cumbersome, emotional, bulky, frustrating, and downright impossible.
Some might even feel like they’d rather spend the time cooking at home than play 21 questions with servers.
Here’s the thing, dining out with celiac is hard and it is possible. It becomes more routine with practice and time and they only way to make it better is to get out there and learn.
Because dining out is hard but it’s also important. I say food is not just fuel a lot and this is exactly what I mean by it. You connect with people over food, you rely on restaurants during travel, and during travel you will want to try traditional cuisines.
And most importantly, dining out with celiac can bring back the ability to be more spontaneous and it might even help you find a little more normalcy…
So where do you start?
Building up Confidence in Dining Out with Celiac
I get a lot of clients that come to me who either never eat out or eat out but are too scared to ask for cross-contact precautions.
First, we live in a society that is not always accepting or understanding of people who fall outside of the social norm.
Second, we live in a society that expects people to shoulder their own burdens. We have this idea that we shouldn’t burden other people with our problems.
So when you’re diagnosed with celiac and are living a life far from the social norm, it can feel uncomfortable trying to get help from others at restaurants when society makes you feel like it’s your burden to bear.
So first things first, understand that the hospitality industry is there to serve YOU.
Meaning restaurants are there to give you a delicious experience around food so don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Secondly, build up your comfort around asking for precautions in baby steps.
- Start with doing research and calling restaurants to build up your skills around talking about celiac in an anonymous way.
- Build up to going to restaurants and ordering something small with cross-contact precautions taken.
- End with dining in with friends and family.
It’s important you work up to this especially if dining out makes you very uncomfortable or nervous. This is because just diving into dining out with celiac can be especially stressful and that stress-level might trigger the very symptoms you’re trying to avoid.
Road Map to Dining Out with Celiac
I like to describe the steps to dining out with celiac safely in 3 steps.
- Research – this includes figuring out cross-contact protocols, gluten-free menu items, and precautions you’re going to ask for.
- Advocate – this is where you put your research into action.
- Self-care – regardless of what happens, after dining out take some time to reflect and take care of yourself, especially if it was stressful.
By the way, these are steps I walk you through in detail with worksheet etc. in the cross-contact workbook.
Do Your Research
First step to dining out safely with celiac is to do your research. This means look up the restaurant you want to go to and see what options they have available (if they even have any).
I walk through my initial research process in this video but my general tips on researching restaurants for celiac-safety include:
- Look up the “restaurant name + gluten-free” or “restaurant name + allergen menu” to see if the restaurant has already selected options.
- Search google reviews, yelp, or use find me glutenfree to see what other people’s gluten-free experiences have been. Look at pictures to get a feel for how things are plated and menu items.
- Consider calling ahead and asking the restaurant staff what their cross-contact protocol is (as well as any other questions you might have about their menu). This is especially good if you have a lot of anxiety doing this in-person. They don’t know who you are and you can hang up at any time.
- Choose 1-2 options to order and make sure you’re prepared to specify the cross-contact precautions you’ll the need the staff to take (if you need help with this, I walk you through it in my cross-contact guide).
Advocate for Your Needs
This is where being prepared to order with cross-contact precautions comes in. After doing your research it’s time to put your research in action.
Depending on where you’re at this step might be intertwined with research.
This is where you are speaking with restaurant staff about your order and telling them what you need. Meaning all the research and preparation of menu items, accommodations etc. are coming into play.
I like to break this step down into 2 parts:
- Ask questions: use this time to use the research you did previously to ask questions. Verify menu items are gluten-free and confirm cross-contact protocols. Don’t shy away from asking your server questions and as mentioned above, if you need help building comfort around this, start with calling and asking questions and slowly move into asking them in-person.
- Tell them the cross-contact precautions to take: after asking questions and confirming gluten-free status, tell the server to make note of your cross-contact needs on your order slip. Ex. “Can you please make note that I have a gluten allergy and that I’d like the chicken cooked in a freshly washed pan and a baked potato baked in foil?”
Self-care is important in general, but especially if you have celiac disease.
There are a lot of draining situations, like practicing dining out, that require you to fill your cup after.
Whether it was a learning lesson and you were glutened and need to take care of yourself, or you’re wiped out from the event, it’s important you have a plan to take care of yourself after.
I usually like to set aside time to reflect and to calm down. Maybe I’ll make sure I have some ice cream or another treat ready in case I felt super restricted while dining out.
Or I’ll make a date with myself to light a candle a read a book.
Dining out with celiac is hard and it’s important you don’t burn yourself out on it because your ignoring the emotions that come up afterwards, this is ultimately, where self-care comes in.
Other Celiac Dining Out tips:
- Keep it Simple: Not a fun tip I know, but sometimes simply telling the server what you want as opposed to playing 21 questions with them is the better choice. Ask for things plain, naked, and without sauces or dressings which can have hidden gluten (unless you have an allergen menu or gluten-free menu available to read)
- Be Present: Remember why you’re dining out, it’s not all about the food.
- Try to Stay Calm: You gut is anxious first and sometimes that can trigger the very symptoms we are trying to avoid. Consider taking a few deep breaths before your meal to try to calm your nervous system. Refer to the module on stressful food events for more guidance on calming down and grounding yourself before meals.
Hopefully this was helpful, and if you have any tips of your own, share them in the comments!