An edited version of this post was featured on The Mighty in January 2018.
Going out for a nice meal with your friends, family or co-workers is something that many people look forward to. What can be better than enjoying a few laughs over a delicious meal with the people you are closest with? I can tell you, not much.
This simple and fun outing for many, can be a dreaded, fear-filled, anxiety driven experience for others. If you do not have any food allergies, sensitivities or food related diseases such as Celiac Disease or Crohn’s Disease then fortunately for you, you cannot relate.
As someone with Celiac Disease, I think I speak for the free-from community when I say that going out to eat is something I try to avoid at all costs. Now, I am not saying that it is something that we shouldn’t do at all – because what kind of life would we be living if we didn’t get to have a somewhat normal ‘dining out experience?’ However, these outings undeniably require a lot more thought and preparation. The good thing is that over time you will develop a list of safe places to eat which will make this process easier.
I have my infamous list of safe places to eat. It is a very small list, but nonetheless, it is a list and thankfully most of the places on it are within 15 minutes of me. However, when I am in an unfamiliar location (usually when I am on vacation) my list isn’t there to guide me. Sure, a chain like California Pizza Kitchen is on my list (because they have a certified gluten free menu), but it is not the easiest restaurant to locate in some areas. I have to rely on websites like Find Me Gluten Free & other bloggers to help me find a “Celiac Safe” place to eat. Even then, I am anxious as to which place I should actually pick for fear I will get “glutened.”
My anxiety stems from the fear of the unknown. By unknown I mean the kitchen and food prep procedures. With gluten free diets being such a “fad” (oh how I despise when people refer to it as such) a lot of restaurants have jumped on the GF bandwagon to cash in on this newfound opportunity. What these restaurants fail to realize is that a shared cooking space is grounds for cross-contamination which is every Celiac’s nightmare. Not to mention, many restaurants do not realize that when you put a gluten free food like french fries into a fryer where you just fried chicken fingers, the fries are now covered in gluten (I have been glutened by fries multiple times after being told they are “safe”).
Call me crazy, but I am actually terrified of gluten. I know that just one accidental slip up from either myself or a restaurant will cause me to lose a week of “normal life” as I will be so sick I can’t even leave my bed. I think you would be anxious too every time you went out somewhere new knowing that your future (literally) depended on it.
Now I know all of this seems just so over the top dramatic, but it is not. The reality of this situation is that the majority of people are uninformed of just how important eating gluten free is to a majority of the population. Especially with the influx of “fake news” about how going gluten free is bad for you (who even comes up with this stuff anyway?) and the amount of people following the diet to “be healthier” it is no surprise that some servers get confused or do not take my situation seriously. However, I can only continue to do my due diligence of spreading awareness and hope that more restaurants join the allergy-friendly club and implement strict procedures and training to make sure everyone that chooses to dine in their establishment eats anxiety free.
The bottom line here is this:
Do I go out to eat? Yes. Do I enjoy going out to eat? Yes. Do I have an extremely high level of anxiety when going out? YES. Do I let that stop me from living my life? NO!