FeaturesApr/May 2013 Issue

We’ve Got “Issues”: Ignore the Office Snark

Irreverent solutions to your real life allergy drama.

[Updated: May 19, 2015]

Dear Issues,
I’ve been living gluten-free and dairy/casein-free for the last five years and I feel a million times better. I’m lucky to have supportive friends and family in my journey to optimum health—mostly, that is. Since I’ve never been given an “official” diagnosis, people who first meet me (and if I’m being honest, some people I’ve known for years) tend to be skeptical that I really have something wrong with me. This is most frustrating at work when I’m having lunch with colleagues or potential clients. I get the feeling people think I’m either making it up or jumping on a bandwagon.
How can I defend myself without always coming off as defensive? Because the truth is, I am a little defensive and a lot irritated by the skepticism.
Signed, The Real Deal

Dear Real,

Let’s face it. Restrictive diets have become the hottest thing since Dr. Atkins advocated eating a T-bone for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You just happen to be forgoing the gluten and dairy at the trendiest time in history. You can either keep explaining yourself to people who don’t get it or you can be secure in the knowledge that you’re doing the right thing for your health and ignore the attitude. That’s right, just like when your big brother called you “Stinky,” ignore it.

One way to become confident instead of feeling attacked is to have the food conversation with your doctor if you haven’t already. You should be in intense discussions with your doc anyway, because you don’t want to avoid cheese and crackers when there might be something else going on inside your body. Once you’ve confirmed what you seem to already know–gluten and dairy are the enemy–feel secure in knowing that you’re taking care of yourself and acting responsibly. Who cares what anyone else thinks, especially the office snark? Jeez, what a jerk.

With this in mind, try not to make your dietary restrictions your identity. When you’re out at a business lunch, search the menu for friendly looking items. Then quietly double-check with your server. If that still gets too much attention, start spilling the gossip on any illicit office romances. No one will remember what you’re eating.

Dear Issues,
After too many doctors to count and a grueling elimination diet, I realize that I have a problem with garlic—in addition to being a celiac. I’m strictly gluten free but I get so violently ill after eating anything with garlic—cooked or raw—that even the smallest amount results in (at least) 24 hours of feverish pain. While I’m thrilled to have narrowed it down, now I have to go out in public. Specifically, on dates, parties and other places where it will be wildly embarrassing not only to out myself as being allergic to two things that are in almost everything but to live in fear of a surprise reaction. It’s bad enough being gluten-intolerant—and now this! What. The. Heck.
Signed, Disgusted

Dear Disgusted,

As someone who lived in fear of angry bowels while engaging in intimate acts, I feel for you. While it may be tempting to hole up inside your gluten-free, garlic-free kitchen, you will want to enjoy social activities just like normal people.

For a quick second, let’s look at the bright side of your super-annoying situation. First of all, congratulations on the fact that you will never have garlic breath! Also, you’ve identified the two things that can knock you out for an evening, so if gluten or that pungent root sneaks onto your tongue, you have the benefit of knowing that you have exactly 15 minutes to make your exit. Good job on figuring that out!

Here are three ways to prepare for a night out, so you can start accepting invitations without fear:

1. Be ready with awesome suggestions. You are now the gluten-free, garlic-free Zagat’s expert of your neighborhood…or you’d better be. Be the first person to throw down the safe restaurant suggestion and you can enjoy your evening without these pesky GI issues.

2. Be a spy in the house of love. What if your date decides on the latest hot spot and insists you agree? If you don’t want to do the whole drill with the wait staff while simultaneously trying to make a fab first impression, do your homework before the big night out. Call the restaurant ahead of time and get the scoop on what dishes are made without your poisons.

3. Eat first. Ugh, I know. But you don’t want to be distracted by your rumbling stomach when you should be thinking about how to make your move on that hottie. If you must eat in front of someone at an un-friendly venue, bring along some gluten-free energy bars and munch away. You can always claim to be carb-loading because of that half-marathon you’re running the next morning. This way, your weird eating habits come off as totally sexy.

April Peveteaux (glutenismybitch.wordpress.com) is the author of Gluten Is My Bitch: Rants, Recipes & Ridiculousness for the Gluten-Free.

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