Celiac.com 12/11/2013 - The most wondrous season is upon us. The family gathers to create memories and cherish each moment of the holidays. Wait…wait…what?? With family?@#$?!

Photo: CC--LadycliffWe often emerge from these gatherings planning the next appointment with our therapist. No need to guess how it'll go this year: Mom locked herself in the bedroom with a bottle of wine again. Grandma has no reservations pointing out that you're still single. Your cousin whom suffers from chronic ‘one up syndrome' is compelled to interject conversations failing to encompass their exceeding significance.  

There are circumstances and people we cannot change. Your family may not exemplify the magical fuzziness of a Thomas Kinkade painting but so what. What we can take control over is our well-being and attitude. Despite being thrust into drama comparable to a Kardashian marriage, let's focus on our diet. Managing celiac disease is exhausting enough without the added stress from the holidays. With the influx of food, there are more chances that forbidden goodies will bombard their way to the dinner plate. But don't sweat it. Consider the following tips to ease you celiac disease concerns and have one less thing to worry about this season. You'll need the energy for breaking up temper-mantrums over fantasy football scores and equipping the fire extinguisher for the first turkey fry attempt. 

  1. Eat before you arrive: Never walk into an occasion hungry. There are few worse mood killers than discovering carrot sticks are the only gluten-free item in the room. The hunger will also hinder your inhibitions, tempting to eat something you normally wouldn't.  Otherwise, you must wait to eat once the night is over. As nice as you look scowling over the abandoned vegetable tray and dragging your date out of door, I'm certain there are more enticing activities to engage in.

  2. Bring your own dish: Coordinate with the host beforehand to avoid confusion about portions. Consider bringing enough for others to try as well. Take the opportunity to share with family and loved ones. After all, you've spent the past year meticulously creating and photographing Pinterest worthy meals. Show them what those eight albums dedicated to food are all about.

  3. Help with cooking:  Cooking a gluten-free meal may seem easy enough to the uninformed individual. Although the cook has good intentions, their lack in experience with intricate details of the diet may lead to contamination. Insist upon helping even if your offer is declined. This way you can ensure the safety of the meal. Surely, any helping hand with cooking and cleaning duties will be appreciated.

  4. Label your food: It only takes one serving spoon dipped into the crunchy green bean casserole to contaminate your food. Set aside a table for a buffet clearly labeled "do not contaminate" and "gluten-free," etc., on the dishes. Better yet, don't put them out with everything else. There's a chance your food will mistakenly be eaten or contaminated within the vicinity of hungry mouths and gluten-filled goodies.

  5. Don't be afraid to say NO:   Your peachy little grandma, the one who spends the remainder of the year shuffling to the living room for afternoon soap operas has impeccably presented a homemade turkey dinner with all the fixins. Wow grandma, we didn't know you had it in you… Desserts, sides, more desserts, all made from scratch from her mother's, mother's, mother's recipes (she will then spend the next half hour monopolizing conversation regarding how easy we kids have it). None of which are gluten-free since, regardless of your various efforts, Grandma doesn't know what gluten means. The moral of the story: despite it being the super bowl of family dinners in your grandma's world, you must decline the meal. Politely of course but don't be afraid of assertion. Many people do not understand reasoning behind diet restrictions and some will never accept them. There are other ways to show Grandma she is loved and appreciated besides eating her food.

  6. When in doubt go without: It's always better to pass on a dish when the ingredients remain unclear. If you must ask yourself, "I don't know if I should eat this" and there's no way to confirm its safety, the answer is do not eat it. This is particularly difficult but worth avoiding the undoing of your well-being. You'll beat yourself up while gripping the toilet at your significant other's childhood home as their newly acquainted relative repeatedly knocks behind the door asking if you're ok.

  7. Avoid over indulging: "Well, since it's the holidays I guess it's alright to have this cupcake, a piece of pie, and chocolate cake." Special occasions are used as justification for eating things we normally wouldn't. We tend to overeat at these gatherings because food sits in front of us, not because we're hungry. Remember, 20 parts per million of gluten are permitted in gluten-free certified products. Eating multiple items compile trace amounts of gluten, posing for a likely reaction. Consider sticking to only one gluten-free product with your meal. The gluten-free biscuits, stuffing, corn bread, and apple pie all look delicious but choose one of those. Otherwise, the spandex pants of shame are ready to waddle through your food hangover tomorrow.

  8. Communicate with the host and guests: Simply informing the host and cook beforehand may prevent unwanted mishaps. There will be guests who show excitement in trying new dishes and wish to hear your sentiments regarding diet. Share your honest thoughts and opinions without coming across critical of their personal choices. Other guests may not be so willing to converse topics concerning diet or health but don't take offense. Remember, the diet is not simply a fad that you're following. Your life, health, and well-being depend on it and people need to know that.

  9. Limit your alcohol: Most parties mean food and booze. Since party food is rarely gluten-free, it's tempting to keep the wine and alcohol pouring in. Grab a glass of soda water and lime as your security blanket. You'll be surprised how efficiently this wards off needless drinks. It's easy to have one glass of wine here, one glass there, but then you're on glass number four. With little food in your stomach you will not be feeling too hot. Not to mention, the company Christmas party may not be the place for that extra glass. Your naughty elf impression may seem very original and hilarious at the time, but come Monday morning…not so much. 

  10. Mentally prepare yourself: Get your mind right. First, relax. Don't you just hate it when someone tells you to relax during a stressful situation? Truly though, getting worked up will exhaust you before the events even take place. Secondly, be prepared. There will be many tempting foods and opportunities to sabotage your diet. Be mindful and expectant of this beforehand. Lastly, think with a positive attitude. Bring the expectations down a notch and take it easy on yourself and others. Take on too much and be bothered by things outside of your control or choose to have a great holiday. (I'd go with the last choice- you deserve it).

As always, Celiac.com welcomes your comments (see below).