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19 Things You'll Probably Experience If You Have Celiac Disease or Food Allergies

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In honor of Celiac Awareness Month and Food Allergy Awareness Month, I thought now would be a perfect time to share a post about what living with celiac disease and food allergies is really like, day-to-day. Unless you have celiac disease or dietary restrictions, it can be hard to imagine some of the more unique adaptations we need to make in our everyday lives, from regularly explaining our food choices to almost crying tears of joy when we find a new, safe product or restaurant.

If you are living with celiac disease or dietary restrictions, I hope this list makes you feel less alone and encourages you to keep advocating for your diet, your health and your overall wellbeing. And if you don’t have celiac disease or food allergies but know someone who does, I hope this post gives you greater insight into some of the unique moments your friend or family member has probably experienced.

So without any further adieu, let’s explore 19 things that only happen if you’re living with celiac disease or dietary restrictions.

1. When you travel, at least half your suitcase is taken up by food.

I’ll admit, packing my food is one thing I haven’t missed during the coronavirus pandemic.

2. You spend 10 minutes explaining why you’re not eating or are eating something different at nearly every social event you go to.

AKA, evvvvery pizza party I ever went to in college.

3. You’ve gone to a restaurant for the company, not the food.

Sometimes, that means eating before or after a meal out with friends, when you just order a drink. Or sometimes that means bringing your own food (if the restaurant allows it).

4. You’ve had someone tell you that your “special” meal looks even better than theirs.

…or you’ve surprised someone with just how delicious your “special” food can really be. Like these gluten-free and paleo brownies.

5. You feel worried when your allergy-friendly plate arrives from the restaurant kitchen and it looks suspiciously normal.

*pokes bun* “Are you sure this is gluten-free? It looks so… fluffy.”

Even though it can feel awkward, I always recommend confirming with the chef/kitchen your food is safe before you eat it if you’re uncertain. Mistakes can happen, so better safe than sick!

6. You regularly eat foods other people can’t even pronounce.

Like quinoa, acai or buckwheat (which strangely doesn’t contain wheat).

7. Your food almost always receives extra comments from others.

Including, but not limited to, commentary like:

“Well, that’s… unique.”
“And that really tastes good?”
“I’d die if I couldn’t eat gluten.”
“What is that? And that?”
“Are you sure you can eat that?”
“Rice is gluten-free?”

8. You own at least one piece of clothing, one bag or accessory that boasts an allergy-friendly saying.

Or maybe this is just me? But I doubt it.

9. You hold up lines at airport security, restaurants and grocery stores (using all the coupons, ‘cause forestry restrictions aren’t cheap) because of your special dietary needs.

Especially in the beginning, you’ll probably feel awkward or embarrassed or even guilty. But it does get easier, and your health matters just as much as being “polite.”

10. You’ve cried because you just really freaking wish you could eat *insert medically off-limit food here*

Me with tortillas shortly after I was diagnosed.

11. You’ve almost cried (at least!) over finding a new food you love or a restaurant that’s safe.

12. You’ve had waiters confuse your dietary restrictions with being “vegan, “vegetarian” or “low fat.”

“You need a gluten-free meal? No problem — we have plenty of things made without milk!”

13. Some people know you as the “gluten-free” or “nut-free” or “*insert allergy here* free” person.

And, yeah, our conditions are a big part of our lives — but they aren’t our whole identity.

14. You feel extra loved when friends or family surprise you with a safe meal or keep you in mind while making dinner plans.

15. You have your own “special” side of the pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

To prevent cross-contact between your food and allergens — and to make sure no one else eats your special food.

16. You’ve had to advocate for yourself and your “special diet” to stay safe.

17.  Some people haven’t understood your needs — and those “people” can include friends and family.

Like I shared in this post about being called “high maintenance” or an “exaggerator.” 

18. Food sometimes feels scary, especially early into a diagnosis.

19. Over time, you learn you are more than your diagnosis and that it doesn’t have to keep you from living your best life.

If you’re struggling right now, know that in my experience, living with celiac disease or dietary restrictions can and will get better. Keep pushing, keep leaning on your friends and family for support, and know that there is a huge celiac and food allergy community out there to support you as well.

The Takeaway for Celiac Awareness Month and Food Allergy Awareness Month

It’s been almost seven years since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced all 19 of the moments I’ve listed above. Some of those moments have been extremely challenging; others have made me feel grateful for the ways celiac disease has positively changed my life.
At the end of the day, celiac disease affects my life in positive and negative ways — and I’m sure many people in the same situation or a similar one can relate. I hope this list shows that as many challenges as dietary restrictions might cause in your everyday life, many positives can also pop up along the way.

Which of these experiences do you relate to most? Or is there one that many people with celiac disease or dietary restrictions probably experience that I didn’t mention?

This post first appeared at Casey the College Celiac.

Originally published: May 17, 2020
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