5 Things NOT To Say To A Celiac

I’m sure all Celiacs have heard their fair share of rude, ignorant, or just plain weird remarks. Unless they are personally affected by Celiac disease, most people are clueless as to what gluten even is. I’m used to dealing with confusion from people who are new to this whole “gluten free diet” thing and am happy to explain to anyone who is legitimately curious. Most people sincerely want to know what I can eat or what living with a special diet is like. Keep in mind that most likely nothing in the following list will genuinely offend a Celiac, but may very well make you look uncaring or uninformed. If you’re reading this post, I’m assuming you want to avoid this impression, so without further adieu, I present:

5 Things You Should Never Say To A Celiac

  • “That must STINK. I could NEVER eat like that.”
  • For anyone with Celiac disease, eating “like that” is not a choice. Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder, meaning that when a Celiac patient consumes gluten, the body attacks itself and causes damage to the digestive system. This can produce a very wide array of symptoms, and in severe undiagnosed/untreated cases, it is theoretically possible for the damage to the digestive system to lead to death due to malabsorption issues. Telling a Celiac patient that you could “never do that” would be like saying to a diabetic “Man, am I glad I don’t have to stab myself with a needle on a daily basis. That must be awful!”

  • “So can you eat a sandwich? How about cake? Pasta?”
  • Assuming that your friend with Celiac has already explained to you that they can’t have wheat, to put it bluntly, this will make you look like an idiot. It’s just common sense to realize that bread/cake/pasta is made of flour, and I would really hope that the general population knows that flour is made by grinding wheat.

  • “It’s OK, this recipe only called for half a cup of flour. You should be fine.”
  • While a person who decides to try to cut out wheat to lose weight may not have a problem with eating it in moderation, anyone on a gluten-free diet due to Celiac disease can not have ANY gluten. I’ve heard the effects of gluten to a Celiac compared to poison ivy. Obviously, a lot is bad, but a little is not something that’ll just be “ok”.

  • “Can’t you just peel the meat off the sandwich and eat that?”
  • See the answer to question #3. The fact that the meat has come in contact with bread is enough to make it inedible for a Celiac. No matter how much this should happen to frustrate or inconvenience you, we really can’t just peel the meat off the bread, or scrape the cheese off the pizza, or eat the filling out of the burrito. And besides, really?! Who wants to eat cheese off the top of a pizza for dinner? (Yes, I have been asked that exact question multiple times before.) Just because we can’t eat everything you eat doesn’t mean that we don’t eat actual meals.

  • “Well, then where CAN you eat?!” (insert heavy sigh and/or eye rolling here)
  • I understand that sometimes you may end up eating at a different restaurant than you wanted just to accommodate me, but PLEASE don’t make me feel bad for having a food allergy. Believe me, I *wish* I could eat anything and everything. It’s hard enough to have to give up some of my very favorite foods forever without having people make me feel burdensome. Thankfully, this example is just that: an example. I am blessed to have friends and family who are very understanding and are careful not to make me feel this way. I felt that I had to include this one, though, if I was going to make a thorough list of “things not to say”. Don’t make your Celiac friends feel bad for something they are helpless about.

When it comes down to it, the bottom line is that people with Celiac disease are still people. Celiac does not define us – it’s just a very small part in the picture of who we are. All we want is to live life to the fullest, just like you.

Dangerously Dark Gluten Free Brownies

These brownies are perfect for serious chocolate lovers. They’re not as sweet as typical brownies. Watch out, they’re dark! You’ll need:

2 sticks softened butter
1.5 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vnailla
3 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa
4 squares melted baking chocolate
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten free flour

Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs, butter, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy. Stir in cocoa and melted chocolate. Add flour and mix well. Pour into greased 9×13 pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool before cutting.

Eating Gluten Free When With Friends

One issue I’ve had a hard time with since going gluten free is eating when attending activities with friends. I want to be a normal, active teenager, yet not being able to eat can sometimes limit what I can or can’t participate in.

One example I’ve dealt with fairly recently is going to the bowling alley with my youth group. They had planned to leave the church at 5, eat there, and then stop by McDonald’s on the way back home for snacks/deserts. Since I knew the bowling alley would be serving cheesburgers, I planned on eating a salad at McDonald’s on the way home. However, we ended up leaving the bowling alley later than planned and had to skip McDonald’s, leaving me to go home without eating any dinner.

This scenario is unfortunately rather common. Either I can’t eat, or I have to ask people to make special accomodations for me, which I hate doing. The only other option is to just stay at home and avoid activites at which I might not be able to eat. This presents an uncomfortable dilemma between going hungry, feeling like I’m an inconvenience to others, or never doing anything with friends. None of these are very appealing to me, so I’ve come up with a few tips to help me deal with Celiac as an active teen.

  • See if you can eat before/after.

For example, if I know that my youth group usually goes out to eat after church on Sunday night, I may decide to eat dinner at home and then just accompany them without eating at a restaurant. Or, if I’m going to a party that lasts from 5-8, I have the option of eating dinner when I get home.

  • Bring snacks with you.

If I know I will be getting hungry while out and about, or if I’ll be eating late because I’ve decided to eat at home after an event, I often bring snacks with me to tide me over till mealtime. This is especially helpful to me because if my blood sugar starts getting low, I tend to start feeling bad. Some good snacks may include granola bars, pretzels, protein bars, fruit, and nuts (all gluten free, of course).

  • See if the place where you’ll be going has gluten free accommodations.

The summer after I went gluten free, I was very disappointed because I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to the summer camp I have been attending for years. I was very happy to learn that they would provide a special gluten free menu upon request. Don’t forget to ask the management of wherever you’re going about gluten free foods. They may very well have them.

  • Familiarize yourself with a few common fast food restaurants and their gluten free selections.

This way you will always have an idea of where and what you can eat when you’re out and about. For instance, I know off the top of my head what I can order at Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s, Braums, and McDonalds. This way I don’t have to scramble to google it if somebody should ask where we should eat.

Keeping up with activities was pretty tough when I first went gluten free, but over time I adapted and learned how to deal with it. If you’re new to this, don’t get discouraged or put too much pressure on yourself. It really is a steep learning curve. These tips are just a few general ideas I’ve come up with to help get you started. Over time, you’ll learn what works best for you and how to deal with your own unique circumstances.

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

I modified this recipe from an existing recipe I had.  I actually like it better than the original!

You will need:

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 sticks butter
3 cups Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose GF Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Combine sugars, eggs, butter, and vanilla in mixer bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix until thoroughly blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by spoonfulls onto greased baking sheets and bake 12-15 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Gluten Free Baking Tips

One thing I had a hard time with after going gluten-free was baking. I’ve always loved making cookies and brownies and baked very frequently. However, I quickly discovered that no matter how careful I tried to be, I always ended up eating some dough on accident. Even something as simple as licking batter off of my finger without thinking is enough to make me sick. So for a while, I didn’t bake at all.

Eventually I got tired of that and did a little research on gluten free baking. To my disappointment, most recipes I found seemed complicated and involved strange expensive ingredients that I had never seen at a grocery store and would need to be ordered online. Really, if you’re new to being gluten-free, who has ever heard of xantham gum?!

Eventually, after some trial and error, I picked up some simple tips that I now use to bake easy gluten-free desserts. Now that I have these, I can bake as often as I like using simple recipes. Hopefully these tips can also help you to be able to make the foods you love.

Gluten Free Baking Tips

  • Locate gluten-free flours at your grocery store. In my area, HEB has the best selection, but I can also find gluten-free flours at Walmart. I use Bob’s Red Mill flours because they are readily available.
  • Realize that in many recipes, gluten-free flours can just be substituted for regular flour. You don’t have to search for complicated recipes that are specifically gluten-free. My favorite chocolate chip cookies come from a recipe that I’d been using for years in which I simply replaced the regular wheat flour with Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour after going gluten-free.
  • Extra add-ins aren’t always necessary. Many recipes that are developed specifically for gluten-free baking call for xantham gum to improve the texture. However, I’ve found that when substituting gluten-free flours for wheat flour, it is often unnecessary. In fact, I have never used xantham gum and have always had good results. Don’t just take my word for it though; feel free to experiment. It may be that I just don’t know what I’m missing without adding xantham gum. However, just realize that you can get satisfactory, tasty results without it.
  • Experiment and discover which flours go best with which recipes. Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour contains bean flour, and can give your baked goods a bean-y taste if there is no other strong flavor to mask it. I generally use this flour only for chocolate baked goods or chocolate chip cookies. White Rice flour, used in a sugar cookie recipe that calls for powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar, will produce soft, flaky sugar cookies like you can buy at the grocery store. Brown rice flour produces an effect similar to that of whole wheat flour.
  • Play around with your recipes. Because of the differences in the densities of the flours, a recipe that calls for regular wheat flour may need slightly more or less of a gluten free flour. Use common sense here. If your cookie dough looks more like brownie batter, add more flour a little at a time until you get the right consistency. Be sure to record how much flour you ended up using for next time.Also, watch your baking times. White rice flour can tend to burn easily. Start out with the lowest recommended baking time and go up from there. Again, be sure to record any modifications for baking in the future.

I hope these tips have helped you to realize that being gluten-free doesn’t mean going without foods you’re used to. By broadening your horizons and going a little out of your comfort zone, you can discover new ways to enjoy the foods you’re used to.

My Story

My name is Madison. I’m eighteen years old. I’ve been gluten free since I was sixteen.

When I was younger, probably around ten to twelve, I remember never feeling “good”. I wasn’t sure what the problem was, I just knew that I never felt good. I can remember worrying that I had some disease or cancer or something because I just never felt healthy and energetic.

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When I was thirteen, my family moved 7 hours away from where we had lived since I was seven. It was a really stressful transition for me. I had a headache every day for a couple of months, and I started getting frequent stomach aches. I was desperate to make friends, so at first I thought I was just working myself up SO much in social situations that I was making myself feel sick. It always seemed worse to me when we were out of the house.

However, as I got older, the stomach aches got more severe and frequent. I would eat a moderate amount of food, and an hour or more later would feel SO full that I couldn’t stand it. Sometimes I would be starving, but I could only eat a tiny amount of food before feeling like I had stuffed myself. I remember several occasions where I woke up in the middle of the night and was up for an hour or more because I felt like I might throw up, but I never did.

The first thing I thought of was a milk allergy. I tried first eliminating dairy, and then taking lactase pills with milk products. I thought it worked at first, but as time passed, my symptoms kept occurring at frequent random intervals. I went on and off of the non-dairy/lactase tablet thing for a while, and eventually gave it up.

Then I became convinced that it was all in my head. If I could just stop thinking about my stomach all the time, I told myself, then I wouldn’t feel it any more. I put a huge amount of mental effort into telling myself that I was OK, but that didn’t help either.

I started complaining about my stomach problems. Every day. I rarely had a day where I didn’t have a stomach ache after dinner. Finally, my mom suggested that I try a gluten free diet. I googled it, tried it for one day, and decided that it was too hard and didn’t help me, so I ditched it.

Until one day, when I was 16, I felt bad enough to have my mom take me home from school. I spent all day laying around and feeling miserable and decided to give this whole gluten-free thing another shot. I did some more research and discovered that it can take weeks or months to clear the gluten out of your system, so I planned to try it for a month and see what happened. It was right before thanksgiving.

Throughout the end of November and beginning of December, I noticed a little difference, but not too much. I was slightly disappointed that I hadn’t experienced a sudden dramatic change in health like I had read about from some other celiacs, but I decided to give it a little more time.

Near Christmas, I was invited to my youth group’s annual Christmas party. I decided to make cookies to take with me, and ended up eating some of the dough while baking. I also didn’t have any options for a gluten-free dinner, so I just scraped the filling out of a burrito and ate that. I had a horrible stomach ache for three days afterwards. This experience made me realize that I hadn’t understood how much better I had been feeling until I went back to what I’d been like a month before.

That was a year and a half ago, and I have never purposely eaten anything containing gluten since. I have not been officially diagnosed with celiac by a doctor because the test requires people to go BACK to eating gluten-containing foods for a period of time so that the doctor can examine the effects on the digestive system. Um, no thanks.

Sometimes people ask me if I’m tempted to “cheat” and take the consequences, but honestly, I never am. The symptoms of eating gluten are so severe for me that it’s a no-brainer. Not only does it cause a stomach ache, but it will actually damage my digestive tract, which will require weeks or months of healing to get back to normal. No cookie is worth that to me.

So, that’s where I’m at right now. I’ve started this blog to provide encouragement and tips to other gluten-free children and teens. Living a normal active teen’s life while maintaining a gluten free diet presents many unique challenges, but over the last eighteen months, I’ve accumulated some tips and tricks that help me to be a “normal” kid. Hopefully I can use these to help some others out along my journey.