When you’re diagnosed with coeliac disease, suddenly food becomes a massive part of your life. You’ve suddenly gone from eating anything without a care in the world, to obsessively checking the allergen box and ingredients lists. It’s a steep learning curve, you pretty much can’t eat anything you ate before diagnosis – except the fresh food and veg. I bought some beansprouts the other week from my local Sainsbury’s ‘made in an environment that handles wheat’… oh. No stir fry for me then. I seem to have reactions to the smallest amount of gluten. From crumbs on my keyboard at work (left by someone else, not by me) to someone making me a cuppa and putting the spoon down on a surface. It seems to slowly take over your life and you fear everything.
And all that is before we even get to discussing dining out. Dining out for me and probably every coeliac can be a very stressful experience – can be? Wait, no I mean, it is. I never look forward to it, in fact, I actually dread it when someone says I’ve booked us a table for so and so’s birthday meal. Yay, can’t wait.
But, if you plan and prepare, dining out can be a whole lot less stressful. So if you’re newly diagnosed or you’re a seasoned coeliac looking for new tips, read on!
Always take backup food
This goes without saying. There’s nothing more stressful than arriving at a restaurant and not feeling confident about eating the food in front of you. Take the stress away from your night out and take some food with you. Then, if you change your mind about eating at the restaurant you won’t sit there hungry.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out for a meal with my boyfriend, Ross, – to coeliac-accredited restaurants, too, by the way – where my Nima device has come back with ‘gluten detected’! Then I feel so awkward telling the staff and Ross then inhales his food, so I can go home and eat.
The best foods to take to restaurants are foods you don’t need to cook – obviously. You could take pot noodle-style foods where you can just ask the waiting staff to add hot water. Or, for minimum fuss just take a packet of sealed crackers and a selection of little cheeses. Keep them in a cool bag and you’re good to go.
Don’t be shy about asking questions
You’ll probably be well-versed when it comes to discussing your food preparation requirements over the phone before you turn up at any restaurant – after all, spontaneity has long-gone for us coeliacs! But it can be an altogether different story when you get there and you have to ask the same questions – just to check it’s safe for you to eat.
I hate feeling as though I’m making an unnecessary fuss, but after being ‘glutened’ a few times recently, these incidents just reinforce to me just how important it is to double check everything in restaurants, even if you feel like the waiting staff have started to hate you! At the end of the day, it’s your health and you can get very ill – not just short-term but long-term damage to your intestines, too. So try and put those thoughts to one side and be as thorough as possible. Ask all your questions and make sure you’re satisfied. If you’re not? Time to whip out that cool bag you made earlier, Blue Peter-style!
Don’t not go out
You can get stuck in the habit of not going out to eat, which is understandable, I’m exactly the same. But don’t become a hermit! Even if you don’t eat when you’re out if you’ve eaten beforehand or take your own food, make that effort to go out and join in. I’m not invited out for meals with family and friends as much because I don’t eat and it can leave you feeling a bit left out. Explain to people that you will still come, maybe if they were to pick a restaurant you could eat at, or leave the research down to you. Whatever the solution is, make sure your friends and family know why you don’t eat out as often but that you’re still happy to come along and have a coffee instead of the meal.
You don’t realise how much your life revolves around food until you’re diagnosed with something food-related such as coeliac disease or lactose intolerance. When it’s someone’s birthday or you’re all celebrating a promotion or whatever the occasion, why not do something else? You don’t have to celebrate with a meal. Maybe just suggest a few drinks or something different like a day out. Don’t exclude yourself!
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