How to Be Gluten-Free and Still Have a Social Life

I know I usually post recipes on Mondays, but since I’m on Phase One for a while I’m not making any of my decadent comfort food favorites for a few weeks. Phase One has brought my allergies down to practically nothing–seriously, I can breathe!–but it isn’t the most exciting, food-wise. So I thought I would take this opportunity to address a facet of the gluten-free lifestyle that is often overlooked on blogs and in gf-books: How to be gluten-free without alienating your friends and family.

All too often our social lives revolve around eating or drinking. You meet friends out for dinner, are invited to parties with buffet tables laden with goodies, bring a dish to your church potluck, grab drinks and appetizers with your co-workers at happy hour, or double-date for brunch. So when you go gluten-free, these once fun outings turn into a slow and specific form of torture. Your friends want to go to a fun new martini bar or hit up a brunch spot that specializes in delicious-looking pancakes, and, while they are catching up, you suddenly can’t think about anything except snatching that doughnut off of your bff’s plate and devouring it whole–which wouldn’t be good for your stomach or your friendship. These situations can be very tricky to navigate. Here are my tips for socialzing sans gluten:

  1. Eat before you go out. I try to always eat something filling before a night out, so that I can order a small salad if there are no other gf options, and not be starving.
  2. Always keep some emergency food in your purse or car. Gf-granola or protein bars are perfect to have on hand. That way, I’m so much less likely to give into a craving and eat something that will make me sick.
  3. Call Ahead. If you know where you are going, call ahead and ask questions about the menu and how they prepare their food up front. Let the restaurant or bar know when you’ll be coming in so that they can take any measures they need in the kitchen to ensure you don’t get sick.
  4. Volunteer to coordinate nights out. That way, you can pick the restaurant and ensure you can actually eat dinner!
  5. Volunteer to be the designated driver. It can be tough to find a gf alcoholic drink option. While wine, rum, and tequila are generally safe (but always check your labels before imbibing!), gin, vodka, and cider can be harder to safely consume, and beer is out. When in doubt, volunteer to drive so no one can pressure you to drink something that may make you sick. It will also keep you from giving in and having a G&T when you know it’s a no-no.
  6. Invite everyone over to your place and treat your friends to awesome gf-food. This is a great way to get your friends excited about your new lifestyle. After all, who can criticize the lack of gluten when they are eating something gf and yummy?
  7. Don’t be embarressed. This is the hardest one for me. It’s tough to be the picky person who has to ask a bunch of questions before you can take a single bit, but the sooner you get over it, the sooner your friends will.

Speaking of your friends, not everyone will be on board when you first announce your lifestyle change. A big lifestyle change can cause some tension, especially if you spend a lot of time with your buds. Changing your life automatically will mean changes in theirs if you are attached at the hip. High school and college are particularly tough times to go gluten-free, since socializing often means coffee shops, diners, frat parties, and cheap restaurants–none of which are known for being gf friendly. Chances are your friends will fall into one of these categories:

  1. The Enabler–the Enabler will not be pleased about your lifestyle change. She may pretend to be on-board, but her true colors will show through the first time she wants to go out to eat somewhere with no options for you. This can be a case of immaturity, someone who is jealous that you haven the willpower to embrace a new, healthier lifestyle, or someone who just dislikes change, but it happens far more often than you might expect. After all, you’d assume that all of your friends would be thrilled that you found a way to be healthier, right? Wrong. This friend will encourage you to cheat on your new diet at every opportunity and will probably eat your old favorites in front of you, even knowing that you are struggling. She may make fun of what you’re eating or make comments about how gross those kale chips look. The best thing to do is ignore her and not rise to her bait. If she persists and is really snarky, you may need to have a heart-to-heart talk with her or schedule dinner with other friends until she comes around to the idea. Usually, though, this friend will come around and eventually be supportive (if prone to eye-rolling) in the end.
  2. The Doubting Thomas–this friend will be openly doubtful of your new diet and all of it’s benefits. They will probably label you a “hippie” or “hipster” when you suggest an organic, vegetarian taco place, and laugh at you when you ask the waiter too many questions. The best approach is to sit this person down and have a heart to heart ASAP. If they can’t get on board, learn to ignore this person’s mean comments or find a new dinner companion!
  3. The Unintentional Betrayer–this friend will be super gung-ho and ask tons of questions about your new diet. She’ll be encouraging and thoughtful and probably invite you over for dinner, all gf, of course. But, as much as she thinks she gets the whole gf thing, she doesn’t and chances are you will go home sick to your stomach. The best option with this friend is to plan nights out. She’ll be happy to let you pick the restaurant and split a gf-entree with you, just avoid letting her cook for you. Even numerous explanations won’t help because she thinks she understands and nothing you can say will get through.
  4. The On-Board Cheerleader–this friend is a one in a million. Not only will she ask thoughtful questions and be encouraging and supportive of your new lifestyle, she’ll do her own research and scout out yummy gf products and restaurants for you to try. She is thoughtful, meticulous, and not likely to accidentally poison you. Spend extra time with her!

The more cheerleaders you have in your life, the luckier you are, but it can still be difficult. Just remember that your true friends will come around and be supportive (even if it make take them a little while to adjust), so give them some time. If that doesn’t work, you can always try making them gf cookies, since those will get just about anyone on-board with the gluten-free way!

2 thoughts on “How to Be Gluten-Free and Still Have a Social Life

  1. I think the best thing about all of this is that we have four on-board cheerleaders. Having support definitely makes it a lot easier.

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