Explaining Celiac Disease to Others (Especially In Resaturants)

Melina Young Health Guide
  • Technically? No. Celiac disease is not a wheat "allergy" or even a gluten "allergy" for that matter. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation:


    "Celiac Disease is not a food allergy - it is an autoimmune disease. Food allergies, including wheat allergy, are conditions that people can sometimes grow out of. This is not the case with Celiac Disease."


    What does this mean for you? As you probably know already, if you have Celiac Disease, you can never have gluten again - even in small doses. This can be a pain sometimes, especially when eating out because people don't understand how sensitive you are.

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    Do people understand what that means? Unfortunately, I find that when I tell people (waiters and waitresses) that I have celiac disease or an autoimmune disease from digesting gluten...they look at me with glassy, confused eyes. So, I provide them the information in a way they can process, even if it isn't exactly correct. When I say "I have an incredibly strong wheat/gluten allergy" people understand what I am saying. If you say "incredibly strong allergy" most waitstaff think "anaphylactic shock" which makes them think "I could get in trouble if I serve this person incorrectly and they need an ambulance." Sadly, many people (most waitstaff are trained though) don't know what "gluten" is - where everyone knows what "wheat" is (hopefully).


    I have friends with Celiac that try to be absolutely correct in the way they explain their disease. Honestly, and I know this is hard to hear, but the waitress doesn't care what it means. They don't care how you feel about it. They don't care about the difference between an allergy and autoimmune disease. They care that you get your food in a way that means they will not get fired. This is a basic stakeholder analysis (which I use in my work of marketing/public relations/communications all the time) - tell people things in the way they need to hear it.


    I have never had a problem with cross-contamination at a restaurant, but I have many friends who have. I attribute it to telling people what they need to hear to do their job (of keeping me healthy) in the best way possible, instead of telling them the dictionary definition so they don't really understand.


    Have you encountered this since you have been diagnosed with celiac?

Published On: July 11, 2011