While the holidays tend to fill most of the world’s population with joy, it literally sends chills down the spines of someone who has Celiac Disease. It’s that time of year where people gather together and enjoy large quantities of food. But if you are a Celiac, like me, it’s the one time of year you are desperately trying not to get sick, and I don’t just mean from the cold and flu either. I mean getting “glutenated”.
“Glutenated” is the term Celiacs use when they get wheat or gluten in their system. People with Celiac Disease have to stick to a strict gluten-free diet in order to stay happy and healthy. It's a serious incurable autoimmune disorder. Even the tiniest breadcrumb or baking with a pan that previously had flour in it can make us deathly ill resulting in a trip to the emergency room. Unlike many other allergies, the effects of getting “glutenated” can last weeks. So one can only imagine how many anxiety-inducing situations Celiacs are faced with during the holiday season. In order to help out those who are struggling or newly diagnosed, I’ve come up with my own Tips to Survive the Holidays with Celiac Disease.
1. Plan, Plan, Plan, PLAN! I have OCD so this part comes naturally, but for others, they get to the holidays and all hell breaks loose. In order for you to stay healthy, you need to figure out your holiday game plan. If you are traveling, make sure you check out local dining spots and call ahead. Figure out early on if you are going to need to pack snacks and check for restrictions if flying out of the country. If you are heading over to people’s houses, make sure you have a food plan ready and a hostess gift. If you are planning on hosting the holidays yourself, then you better start pulling your favorite recipes and preparing your grocery lists. Some gluten-free ingredients may become extremely difficult to find as you get closer to the actual holiday day. Resulting in multiple trips to different stores to get all the items you need, so having extra time is absolutely key.
2. Eat Ahead of Your Event. The holidays mean lots of parties, dinners, and functions. Unfortunately, most work functions, parties, or even events don’t have a lot of safe gluten-free options. More recently event venues are flat out stating “no outside food allowed”. So for the most part, I’ve started to adopt the “eat before you leave and everything later is bonus” attitude. Too many times have I found myself in a position where I haven’t eaten in hours and completely nauseated to my core. All because we thought there might be something there for me to eat but it turns out it was completely unsafe. If you eat before you go somewhere, you don’t have to worry about being hungry for a couple hours.
3. Always Pack Snacks. Unfortunately, this rule isn’t just for the holidays. It’s a celiac life survival tip. You never know where or when you will get stuck and be forced to starve like stated before. I’ve seriously become a squirrel at this point about my snacks. I’ve got snacks in my car, snacks in my bag, snacks at work, and snacks stashed at my parents and at grandmas. I’m at a point where I have to check my pockets of jackets for food then for change before throwing them in the laundry. But at the end of the day, no one likes a Grinch so make sure you pack your snacks to prevent Hangry from setting in.
4. Appreciate the people who say, “Oh well let me make you something!” or “But I want to make sure you eat.” I love the people in my life who go out of their way to include me in events by making sure there is something for me. BUT most kitchens aren’t gluten free so making things in them aren’t usually safe. While the ingredients themselves are gluten-free the chance of cross-contamination is high. If a friend is adamant about having something there for me, I usually offer them two options. a) That I bring something we can easily heat up in the same dish or b) Give them a list of pre-made things I already enjoy. At the end of the day, love these people. They really do care about your safety and love you enough to demand that you are included for the holidays.
5. Get Tough When You Hear, “Try this” or “One Bite Won’t Kill You” If your grandma is anything like mine “Oh you gotta try this” is usually uttered within the first 5 minutes of me walking in her house. I also happened to marry into a large Italian family who loves to eat. You must have strength. Celiac Disease can ONLY be cured with a strict gluten-free diet. Do not cave at any point unless you are 100% sure you won’t be paying for it later. My husband always tries to be calm when people start being rude with, “I’m sorry you’re not the one who has to go the ER then deal with her being a mess and the exorcist level puking for the next three weeks if she eats that.” It's not pretty at all but it’s the unfortunate truth in my case.
6. Be Prepared To Either Enjoy The Conversation Or Bring Your Own Meal When You Sit Down. There are just some events that you won’t be able to avoid. It’s usually that one meal with other people for the holidays where you will have no options. As my dad always said, “The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You.” Don’t even start blaming your hostess or making her jump through hoops for you. YOU and ONLY YOU know what’s best for you to eat. That’s why Tip #1 always comes in handy. Some family meals that I know aren’t safe, I just sit and enjoy the conversations. Other family meals, I get to eat bits and pieces that I know. Which brings me to my next tip…
7. Host the Holidays At Your House. The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last five years is that if you want to feel completely safe and have no anxiety over eating, DO IT YOURSELF! I personally love entertaining and cooking, so this is never a problem. Andy and I spent years going from house to house to house trying to appease everyone. By the end of the day, I would be so sick from not eating or be glutenated. It wasn’t until we got married that we adopted the “Gluten Free High Holidays” ideal and frankly my family loves it. My mom doesn’t have to worry about mixing up spoons or using the wrong pan. Plus I literally get to make everything I could ever want and eat it until I burst. It also allows others to bring dishes they may want without having to get your entire kitchen contaminated.
8. Order Everything Early. If you aren’t one of those Martha Steward bad-asses of the gluten-free cooking world. It’s totally okay. Neither I am, I’m still learning! But there are plenty of companies you can order your entire holiday meal or baking mixes from like William Sonoma. Even gluten-free bakeries like San Francisco staple, Mariposa Bakery offers to mail of their amazing pies. BUT all of that takes time, preparation, and you have to get them before they sell out. Do your pre-planning and figure out when everything has to be ordered by in order to get there on the correct day. Nobody wants to miss Pumpkin Pie because it was still with the postman.
9. Be Ready To Teach. There is always that one family member who either has to go completely off about gluten-free eating or spews incorrect facts. I used to ignore them, now I use the opportunity to educate people. While I’m glad that gluten-free is helping people’s certain ailments disappear but this is how I HAVE to live my life. Every day. 24/7. It could even be my future children’s lives. Celiacs will never suddenly be able to eat that piece of bread you just ate after telling the waiter that you have an allergy to gluten. It’s situations like this that are making it harder for Celiacs to thrive. So the Celiac community only gets better if we educate more people. Family and friends must understand, yes that restaurant may have gluten-free options but it’s not safe for me. It’s awesome to watch them have that eye-opening reaction and say “well then why do they offer it?” It’s opening the door to conversations that need to be had.
10. Reach Out To The Celiac Community. You are not alone this holiday season! Some days it can be completely overwhelming and tough to navigate all the various sourced information on the internet. But there are a lot of awesome online communities, expos, talented chefs, and local meetups for Celiacs! You just have to put yourself out there and try. This is a great way to meet other Celiacs and maybe get some insights into new products or places to eat. If you need any recommendations, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Do you have a favorite holiday tip that you would love to share? Let me know! I would love to add it to this list! I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season.