Celiac disease affects approximately one in every 133 people in the United States, according to the Nemours Foundation. More than just a food intolerance, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the body mounts an immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
This immune response can cause varying symptoms and health issues including digestive damage, issues with growth, and poor bone health, among other things. Unfortunately, many celiac patients find that most people really don’t understand their disease or how serious it can be.
If you have celiac disease and feel that family and friends are not taking you seriously, it is important to speak up. Most people can be very welcoming and will try to help you as much as they can.
Try to get over the embarrassment
There is no reason to be embarrassed about having celiac disease. It is a real condition — not a fad. If you are having a hard time communicating with your friends and family, waiting is only going to make it harder and lead to more misunderstandings.
For those closest to you, it can be useful to provide them with resources that can help them to better understand your condition. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel — just check out the resources available on the Celiac Disease Foundation website.
Bring your own food — but do so politely
Look, sometimes it is going to be necessary to bring your own food or to bring alternatives to the food available in social situations — and that’s OK. Just be sure to do so in a manner that doesn’t insult the chef or host. If at all possible, explain your situation ahead of time so that they are not blindsided.
There will always be naysayers
Not everyone is going to jump on the bandwagon and begin helping you find gluten-free foods. In fact, some may do the opposite and offer you foods containing gluten because they don’t believe that celiac disease is real, as was the case of a friend of mine. Someone purposely fed their child something that contained gluten just because that person didn’t believe celiac disease was a real condition. These people can be frustrating, but they can also be dangerous to your health. It may be time to consider if someone like that is worth spending any mealtimes with. If close friends or family hold these attitudes, perhaps try finding non-food activities to do with those people instead.
The bottom line is that celiac disease is a real condition that can be very serious if the person does not adhere to the gluten-free diet. Only you can decide who is going to be a positive influence in your life with celiac disease and who isn’t. Never be afraid to put your health, or your child’s health, first.
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.