Explaining the Gluten-Free Diet to Loved Ones

While the holiday season should be an uplifting time of year, you may be dreading what your family has to say about your gluten-free diet. Sure, some loved ones support your dietary requirements, but others just don’t get it. In fact, some can be downright rude. How do you cope?

1. Educate

Because some people think of the gluten-free diet as merely the latest trend in weight loss, it’s easy for them to assume that’s all going gluten free is—a fad. If your loved ones are willing to listen with an open mind, try educating them. Spout some solid facts in response to any rude comment. For example:

  • When someone with celiac eats gluten, the body will attack the intestinal villi in the small intestine, which renders the person incapable of absorbing nutrients from food.
  • According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, the gluten-free diet holds similar significance for those with celiac as insulin does for people with diabetes.

Depending on how long you’ve been gluten free, you’ve probably had a family member tell you that it’s OK to eat a small piece of pie or other gluten-filled item. Of course this comment probably makes you want to scream, but try to keep in mind that it probably comes from a good place. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is gently explain that even a small amount of gluten is harmful.

2. Find an advocate

Let’s face it—there’s almost always going to be that one family member who just doesn’t get it. However, hearing how serious celiac and gluten intolerance are from a third party may help. This could be someone else on the gluten-free diet for health reasons or even a medical professional who can outline the serious consequences that eating gluten can have for those with celiac or gluten sensitivity.

3. Avoid using the word “diet”

Even though following a gluten-free diet is the only way to heal the effects of celiac in the small intestine, the word “diet” may turn your family off from hearing the whole story. Instead, tell them you simply can’t eat gluten because doing so triggers your immune system to destroy the part of the small intestine that absorbs vital nutrients, which can lead to serious illness.

4. Stand your ground

No matter how your loved ones react, don’t back down. Never let someone convince you—or, worse, guilt you—into tasting the dessert he or she made. Avoid cross-contamination from gluten-containing foods, a more likely risk during family get-togethers. To ensure you have something safe to eat, bring along a gluten-free dish or two (or more) and let everyone indulge. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, feed ’em!

Heather Burdo is a health content writer from New York. Visit her at heatherburdo.com.

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