When you first learn about the need to be gluten free, everything seems overwhelming. But gradually, it falls into place and becomes how you live life. Explaining this to other people can be a challenge. And you may never convince them gluten free is something different than a fad diet.
Explain you need to be gluten free for your health, and this is not a choice you get to make. List your reasons and the worst-case scenario that can happen if you continue to eat gluten. Keep it simple to understand what gluten is and how important it is that you not consume any gluten.
Easier said than done, though, right? When first going gluten free, I knew that I had to read everything I could on the subject to understand it. And it still took years to get it.
After explaining it to numerous people over the years, I have developed some great ways to help people understand, sympathize, and get on board with you and your health.
How To Explain Gluten Free In A Nutshell
There is much to overcome when talking about gluten free, especially if they come to the conversation biased against gluten free.
If you want to look a little further into the history of wheat and look at some reasons why people might have a difficult time discussing gluten free in a favorable light, I wrote this article to dig into that subject a bit. It may help to get an idea of the biases that people are approaching these ideas.
Start by explaining in the very simplest terms what gluten is. Most people have no clue what gluten is, where it comes from, or where it shows up in our diet.
You should not feel obligated to expose the medical reasons why you need to be gluten free if you do not want to. However, it may help people understand and sympathize with you.
Instead of exposing your medical history, you can talk about your story and some of the difficulties you have had to figure out what solves this problem for you. Even if the result was a diagnosis, you can leave that out and say how much better you are doing without it.
Another approach is to let them know the gory details of what happens when you accidentally eat gluten. It’s not usually necessary to talk very long on this subject before people start getting it!
It can help compare gluten to other substances that would harm people even when consumed in small amounts, such as lead in water. Doing so can help people understand how there can be small amounts in the environment that you would overlook until later when you get symptoms.
Offer to pick a restaurant when you go out together, make a meal together, or bring food to share with them. There is a perception that gluten free doesn’t taste good. But in my experience (and that of my food cart customers), that is not true.
I think that there are some things that gluten free turns out better! Check out the article I wrote on it if you are curious.
The most important thing that you can do is to show people. Show them you are serious about eating gluten free, make the decisions you need to make, and don’t waver on them. Please don’t give in to pressure to eat food with gluten because it is a special occasion.
Actions show them you are serious. If you choose to give in once, knowing you will be sick for weeks, but it seems easier than arguing with family, they will not take you seriously in the future. Stick to what you know you need to do, and eventually, your family and friends will get on board.
Explain Gluten Free Simply
The best way to explain gluten free to people who are not familiar with it is in the simplest terms possible.
If they don’t have an interest in it, they won’t have much tolerance for nuance.
“Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. It’s common in foods such as bread, pasta, pizza, and cereal. Gluten provides no essential nutrients.” – Harvard Health.
I like the explanation above from Harvard. I also love the visual description Scientific American gives. No one who needs to be gluten free should try the experiment, but it gets the idea of gluten in a very visual way.
Gluten is a protein that helps dough stick together and forms long strands that allow the dough to stretch but not break.
For visual learners, this is a great introductory video. And it is only 2 minutes 33 seconds.
If you are trying to have this conversation with a friend or family member online, the above video could be beneficial for an easy, brief explanation.
Be aware that the video does not address all the reasons to be gluten free or give a comprehensive look at gluten. But it is a great visual way to start with a simple explanation of what gluten is. Most people don’t need to know much to support you.
I usually explain that you can only find gluten in three grains: wheat, rye, and barley. It is also in any products made with these grains. Gluten is a protein in these grains that allow the bread to stretch and not fall apart. My favorite example is an image of someone tossing a pizza. Making phyllo dough is another excellent example.
No matter how you explain it, please keep it simple, keep it short, and keep it easy to understand.
Make People Understand How Important Gluten Free Is
If you are reading this article, I assume you need to be gluten free for some reason other than “hey, that sounds fun!”
Your friends and family are the ones who care about you the most. These are the people who will go to bat for you. So make sure they know how important this is.
Be honest with them about why you need to be gluten free. Whether due to a diagnosis or finding that you can control symptoms with a diet, you have a reason to be gluten free and valid!
Tell them how important it is for you to be gluten free and what they need to support you.
People respond so much better when they know what they can do instead of being given blanket statements. Ultimately it is your responsibility to maintain your diet or that of your child.
Some things that can be helpful to ask for from them:
- Check in before deciding on a restaurant
- If you don’t know if something is gluten free, ask
- Expect me to bring my own food to all gatherings
- Please do not be offended if I do not eat your food
- Don’t pressure me to eat things I say I can’t
- Know that I can’t take a break from this for a holiday or special occassion
Letting them know these things ahead of time can be beneficial to set expectations.
Many people think you can do a gluten free diet as it fits like a diet for weight loss. They do not understand that it needs strict adherence at all times. Communicating this expectation from the beginning helps set these boundaries.
What To Do When People Dismiss Your Need To Be Gluten Free
People don’t raise questions or doubts when someone says a particular food doesn’t agree with them unless gluten.
If someone says they are allergic to onions, they may receive it with a bit of shock, some questions, but it is readily accepted. However, when you say that you cannot do gluten, people will inevitably question whether it is true.
I haven’t seen this phenomenon with other allergies, intolerances, or medical diagnoses where people try to convince you that your doctor is wrong; you are wrong. Not eating a specific food without nutrient qualities will negatively impact your health, and you don’t need to avoid it.
Instead of getting angry, shaking them, and screaming, the only thing to do is ignore them.
Do what you need to do, and sometimes they will come around to support you in time. There is a cultural phenomenon against eating gluten free. And you won’t be able to address it single-handedly.
When it comes to eating what someone like this has provided, I would advise extra caution. If it is not extremely important to your friends or family, they may have forgotten to check an ingredient or are careless in other ways.
In rare cases, I have seen people including gluten on purpose as a way to “test” you to know if you need to be gluten free. This testing can be hazardous, and most reactions to gluten are not immediate or immediately life-threatening, so people suffer in silence.
So the best thing to do with doubters is to ignore it, provide knowledge if you want to, and exercise extreme caution.
Do I Need To Tell People My Diagnosis To Get Gluten Free?
I am a strong advocate for keeping your medical information private if you want to. You shouldn’t need to tell anyone your diagnosis to get gluten free food.
At some restaurants, they will ask if it is an “allergy.” While most people aren’t gluten free due to an anaphylactic reaction that we typically associate with allergies, these are understood words.
So you can tell people that you have an allergy instead of explaining your entire medical story, especially when it comes to restaurants and other situations where strangers need to know some medical details.
It is up to you if you want to reveal your medical information when it comes to friends and family.
Most of the time, I would tell them if they trusted them enough to call them friends and family. But that is entirely up to you. What might be more helpful is to let them know what to expect and what you need from them.
If a diagnosis is not going to help your relationship or to help them understand why you need to be gluten free, it is better not to bring it up. If you think that the diagnostic explanation would help friends and family support you, you might want to consider using it to your advantage.
Tell Them Your Story To Explain Why Gluten Free Is So Important
A better explanation than a diagnosis, I’ve found, is a story.
Tell them your story about being in pain, dealing with symptoms, and how eating gluten free has helped with those. When you relate eating a sure way to having a better quality of life, it can resonate with people.
I’m not telling them how wheat and gluten are awful and that no one should eat it. Tell your own story of how and why without suggesting that anyone else should eat gluten free or even try gluten free.
I am incredibly hesitant to tell anyone else to try eating gluten free because I’ve been doing it long enough to know the struggle that comes with it. I don’t want to be the reason anyone is struggling or be the person to blame during that time.
Tell your story, but tell it about you, not anyone else.
My son needs to be gluten free. He had medical problems as a baby that we couldn’t figure out for the longest time. Thankfully, he is now a healthy child growing beautifully with his gluten free diet.
Advocate Gluten Free For Someone Else
Whether it is a spouse, partner, child, or dependant, sometimes when you advocate for gluten free, it is for someone else.
Having done this myself, I can say that it is much easier to advocate for someone else than myself. It is much easier to say I’ll eat something knowing I’ll be sick later than to allow my child to eat it. I would never let anything harm him on purpose if I could help it.
But when talking to other people about gluten free it can be more difficult. Advocating for him, I cannot tell someone that he is in pain at a particular moment or even what all the symptoms he has experienced might be.
Keep this in mind when advocating gluten free for yourself as well. Don’t let someone else convince you to do something that you know will cause harm. Stick to what you know you need to do as you advocate for someone else in your care.
Gluten And Glitter Have A Lot In Common
Glitter is such a great tool to explain cross-contamination.
I have seen this example used so much when talking with kids about germs and how diseases spread. And it’s a perfect tool to explain cross-contamination to either adults or kids.
Imagine taking a measuring cup of flour and plopping it into a bowl. There is a little cloud of flour that happens but quickly disappears.
What happens is that it is now airborne. It can stay in the air for longer than expected, even days.
Now imagine taking that cup and putting glitter in there instead. Plop it into that bowl from above so that a little cloud of glitter happens. It will quickly dissipate as well.
Anyone that has been around glitter knows it doesn’t go away. That glitter will be showing up for years in that room. On the floor, on people, on random things.
The same goes for gluten. Only gluten is smaller than glitter, isn’t shiny, and no one ever sees it later. But it can make people sick later.
This explanation is perfect if you explain why you can’t be in the house when they are cooking using flour.
Compare Gluten To Things They Know Are Dangerous To Explain How Important It Is To Be Gluten Free
Just like the glitter analogy, likening gluten to other things can help people understand.
By this point, you have let them know that you can’t eat gluten; you can’t have gluten even in small doses. But sometimes, it is still hard to explain.
I like explanations of lead in water, arsenic in food, and things like that.
“If someone made a cake and used arsenic in it instead of flour, would you want to use the same bowl to make food for your family?”
Most people have no idea what it is like to have something that nourishes most people and makes them sick.
They don’t see pictures of the exact substance that makes them sick used as a literal symbol of health. Not only on food packaging but any health-related documents.
Using these analogies can help people understand where you are coming from a little bit better. It may seem extreme to some people, and eating a bowl of gluten won’t do what eating a bowl of arsenic would do, but it helps change their perspective.
Of course, no one wants lead or arsenic in their food, kitchen, or anywhere around their families. And getting a glimpse of what it is like can help keep you or a loved one safe.
Explain What Gluten Can Do To People With Different Diagnoses
Even if you don’t want to reveal what your diagnosis is, you can discuss all the ways that gluten impacts people.
There is evidence that Celiac Disease has been around since humans started cultivating wheat. Gluten intolerance has the symptoms of Celiac Disease without the intestinal damage of it. They benefit just as much from symptom relief as someone with Celiac Disease.
Other autoimmune diseases being gluten free can help control. Such as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Hashimotos. Some doctors will suggest gluten free to people with arthritis or other inflammatory conditions to see if it helps them manage pain.
Some neurodiverse people have noted it is helping with their ability to concentrate and be more themselves. Even those not neurodiverse have mentioned a release of “brain fog” when they eat gluten free.
The above shouldn’t be said to anyone as a way of convincing them to try a gluten free diet themselves, but to show the variety of symptoms gluten can cause, and a gluten free diet can help treat.
There is still some disagreement in the medical community on how effective a gluten free diet is to treat some of these syndromes, but people notice that this diet helps them feel better. And if not eating a particular food helps them feel better, why shouldn’t they continue that?
Share Your Food
There is this encompassing idea about how gluten free food tastes
If anything, I’d say it was texture more than taste because gluten has no flavor. I used to use the hashtag #GlutenHasNoFlavorButThisDoes when I ran my food cart.
I would do things like smoked pork shoulder with a dry rub to make pulled pork. Make my barbeque sauce from fresh, whole ingredients. And put it on top of macaroni and cheese I made from scratch and cooked the noodles in a duck broth we made fresh daily.
Most of my customers weren’t even gluten free. They just came because we made great food.
When I say that I can do anything I want with flavor and keep it gluten free, I mean it!
I think that offering and sharing gluten free food is a way to help people see what gluten free food is. It is not, as the perception of gluten free would say, cardboard. If it has no flavor, it is because no one added any flavor.
Sharing gluten free food is a great way to show them. Pretzels are one thing I honestly believe is better gluten free than gluten.
Because gluten wants to make things stretchy, making anything crispy is more complicated. If you’re interested in reading more about that, check out this article on six ways gluten free flour is better than wheat flour.
So take your favorite gluten free meals or snacks with you and offer to share. It’s the best way to show people that the perceptions out there about gluten free food are wrong.
Insist On Gluten Free And Don’t Waver
The best thing you can do to convince people you need to be gluten free is to eat gluten free consistently and in front of them.
Tell them you need to be gluten free in whatever way feels the most authentic to you. But after you have told them, show them.
Don’t hide being gluten free; show up gluten free.
Come to any social events and eat with them. Bring your gluten free food you know is safe, so you are not risking yourself. But insist on your food. Insist on being gluten free. And keep showing up.
Eventually, even the people that question whether you need to be gluten free will accept it as fact.
Put your foot down and be stubborn when it comes to your diet. Repetition is the only way to show people how serious you are. And it’s what you need to do anyway.