When I was first diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, I was so relieved to find a solution to my digestive problems and exhaustion that the exchange for a radical diet upheaval seemed okay. I didn’t really miss gluten if all the forgetfulness, irritability, and fatigue went away. The new diet I was on seemed like a fun challenge, and not an insurmountable obstacle. While the relief certainly remains, this “honeymoon” period of my gluten-intolerance has certainly subsided. There are times I just want to pack a sandwich for lunch or grab a bagel on the way to work. Sometimes I just don’t want to preface my restaurant order with “I have a couple of dietary restrictions…”
A 2011 psychological study examined just these issues associated with Celiac’s Disease. The study surveyed 146 people suffering from Celiac’s Disease in England, analyzing the impact of the disease on both the dietary habits and quality of life for the participants. Interestingly, while those surveyed reported feeling in very good physical and emotional health, many reported anxiety, frustration, and mild depression about their disease. These feelings were reactions to social and leisure activity exclusion, as well as having difficulty finding gluten-free foods. These feelings were further impacted by a reported embarrassment about order gluten-free food, or a need to inquire after the kitchen conditions of a restaurant.
I can certainly attest to feeling this way about my gluten sensitivity. Although my friends and family are incredibly supportive of my dietary restrictions, I always feel a certain amount of responsibility when I’m asked, “Are you sure you can find something to eat?” when we’re choosing a restaurant. The social outings are not as effortless as they once were for me. Grabbing a slice of pizza and a beer is a no-go, and that can be incredibly frustrating.
It can begin to seem unfortunate that so much of our social culture is tied to food. We are continually meeting people for meals or drinks and every party has food. We can’t avoid it. What we can do, however, is creatively think about gluten-free foods. While we might not always have a bag of gluten-free pretzels on hand, finding fruits, vegetables, meats, and beans that are naturally gluten-free can keep us feeling social without forcing our dietary restrictions on company. Although finding ways to keep ourselves social in a gluten-filled world can seem daunting at times, focusing on the positives, like staying in good physical and emotional health, is the key to a fulfilling gluten-free life.