Today marks my 7th gluten free anniversary, meaning I’ve made it another year around the gluten free sun without combusting or fainting from lack of gluten consumption. That’s right; if you need to be gluten free you can survive, I promise. For me, at least, I feel like it gets easier year after year. More products become available on the market, these products become safer with the passing of more regulations, and the community itself becomes more vocal about our wants and needs.
That last piece, the one about discussing our disease, is one of the most essential to me as a social worker. Without being open and vocal about our disease we can’t expect understanding, consideration, or change. One theme this year has been the importance of educating others, and myself, about what it means to have Celiac Disease for just those reasons. Many locations give way to situations that are perfect for educating others, and I want to tell you about seven of them:
1. The Office: Office parties are one obvious way you can educate others. Rather than the simple ‘oh no thank you’, which probably results in a comment about whether you are on a diet, explain that your Celiac Disease prevents you from partaking in Jessica’s weekly bagel Friday offerings. If someone catches you using your hand to wash your mug rather than the office sponge and points out there is a sponge explain cross contamination to them. I’ve written about handling a gluten free life style in an office environment in the past, so read on here.
2. The Doctors Office: Our doctor, hopefully, knows our deepest darkest medical diagnoses so being open with your doctor is a given. It can help others though if you share what you’ve learned about Celiac Diseases since you last visited, or encourage your doctor to get trained in the needs (and other related medical conditions) of patients with Celiac Disease.
3. The Gym: Despite our better judgement if we talk to strangers when we are working out at the gym (or yoga studio, Pure Barre class etc.) diets often come up. We may be asked how we eat to maintain weight/drop weight/build muscle mass/etc., specific dietary supplements might be suggested to us, or we might be told how a gluten free diet helped the guy with the top weight on the leg press come in first in his last Ironman competition. Kindly use this opportunity to explain that the gluten free diet does not enhance athletic performance but is medically necessary for those of us with Celiac Disease, Not Celiac Gluten Sensitivity and other disorders.
4. The Dinner Table: Obviously when we’re around food Celiac Disease will come up, and while being with family or friends mid meal and having the topic come up might be uncomfortable it is a great place to dispel myths such as ‘being able to have just a little’ by discussing how it takes only 1/8th of a teaspoon to trigger a reaction, or suggest testing to your ailing family members. It is also the perfect place to showcase your favorite gluten free recipes that speak to how easy and delicious gluten free can be.
5. Online: Many of us feel the comfort of being a bit more of an ‘oversharer’ online, so let’s use that to educate. Participate in Celiac Disease Awareness month social media campaigns, or even make it a point to share infographics, articles, gluten free recipes, posts from your favorite bloggers or other information about Celiac Disease on your personal pages whenever you feel like it.
6. The Kitchen: If you are like me and my group of friends almost everything gathering ends up with almost everyone hanging out in the kitchen even if nothing is being cooked or eaten. Pair that with the fact that some people learn best by being shown and you have the perfect opportunity to introduce gluten free ingredients to folks. Get them involved in the cooking process, explain why you are using corn starch to thicken a sauce rather than flour, or for that matter educate them why you have an entire shelf dedicated to flours.
7. The Dining Establishment: I used to be the one who used the phrase ‘gluten allergen’ as a veiled threat when I ate out to be taken more seriously. That was until my husband suggested that perhaps if the Celiac Disease community referenced Celiac Disease as our reason for eating medically gluten free more frequently as a whole the Disease might end up being taken as seriously as an allergy. So, when you order say you have Celiac Disease and explain what it is in simple terms. That restaurant, bar, catering hall staff may remember what you said and be able to help the next person with Celiac Disease easier, or know to ask if that is why the gluten free bun is being ordered. You can also educate about the options that are out there to get restaurants trained in gluten free serving, and of course if there are mistakes always handle them respectfully.
The bottom line? Keep yourself educated about Celiac Disease and speak up about it when you feel comfortable. 1 out of every 100 of us has the disease so it should be a known condition, and the more we speak about it the more we help that process along and ultimately improve the lives of everyone with Celiac Disease and living gluten free. There are so many opportunities and places to educate others, as well as ourselves.