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When Friends, Family or Loved Ones Just Don't Get It

When Friends, Family or Loved Ones Just Don't Get It by Danna Korn

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2006 edition of's Journal of Gluten-Sensitivity. 04/30/2010 - The gluten-free lifestyle is a big part of who we are.  So when friends, relatives, and loved ones don’t get it—I should clarify—when they seem to choose not to get it—we sometimes get a little cranky.

I know—I was reminded of how it feels when loved ones don’t choose to get it this past Thanksgiving when one of my relatives who shall remain nameless glutenized the mayo jar.  Now I realize it may seem petty to get tweaked about someone dipping a knife in a mayo jar—but it had gluten all over it, and worse yet, she did the same thing last Thanksgiving, and I threw a tizzy about it then.

Realizing the first dip alone contaminated the entire jar (of course it was the club-sized jar that is the size of a small Volkswagen), there was no point in stopping her from doing it again.  But I watched incredulously as she taunted me, dipping the knife into the jar—then onto the (gluten) bread—over, and over, and over again.  How many gobs of mayo does one need on a piece of bread?!?  I found myself seething, and my blood boiled with every dip-and-spread motion; I swear she was doing it intentionally.

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Yes, I know I should have had a squeeze bottle handy, and I even write about that in my books. My mistake, but I also write about doing the “gob drop,” which is—as the name implies—the process of taking a gob of (insert condiment here) and dropping it onto said piece of gluten.  Using a separate knife, you spread.  It’s really not that tough.

The bigger point here is that it made me wonder why, after fourteen years of going through this, she didn’t care more about our gluten-free lifestyle.  I spent about six minutes pondering this when I remembered that it’s not that she doesn’t care—maybe she does, and maybe she doesn’t.   The bigger point is that she wasn’t thinking about it at that moment—and that’s okay. 

This is our lifestyle, and we love it.  Those friends and family who do care enough to call and make sure the meal they’re serving us is gluten-free are to be cherished.  Those who make a special trip to the health food store to buy a mix and make gluten-free cookies are to be downright hailed as saints.  Even those who make a beautiful gluten-free meal and then top it with teriyaki sauce (of the gluten-containing variety) because they don’t know any better are to be adored for trying.

I write about this stuff in my books, and it surprised me a little to find myself getting miffed about such a petty thing.  I thought I had outgrown those feelings 14 years ago.  I guess my point is that we all face certain challenges from time to time, and we need to put our brightest face forward and meet those challenges with a good attitude, lest they get the best of us.

The most important thing that helps keep me on track, for what it’s worth, is to remember that the gluten-free lifestyle is the key to our health and ultimate happiness.  We’re blessed to know that a simple change in lifestyle is all it takes to be perfectly healthy—and that’s worth a lotta mayo. welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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11 Responses:

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said this on
11 May 2010 9:14:40 AM PST
I'm lucky to have a future mom-in-law who goes out of her way to make sure I have food, and even makes me my own dessert. My own family? "Guess there won't be any food for you at the Christmas party, huh?" and "I would hang myself if I had to eat your diet." That's their way of being sympathetic, I think. Just have to smile and accept that my family is clueless, not trying to be cruel. But man, they don't make it easy. I'll just keep baking yummy things and hope they see the light some day.

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said this on
11 May 2010 12:13:59 PM PST
Stephanie, it was the same with me and my family. They'll come around. It actually started with my brother's wife. It's funny, in-laws seem to be less clueless.

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said this on
11 May 2010 10:37:23 AM PST
I wish I had understanding relatives. I have to call and ask what is being served and usually must bring my own meal anyway. If I offer to bring a dish to share, usually it is 'oh no, not necessary' (from one set of relatives). I have a sister-in-law who is very nice about it and even bought me gluten-free pasta when pasta was on the menu. The other sister-in-law, when asked if the meatballs were made with bread crumbs responds "oh, just a little". I have passed out a paper with easy to understand gluten article and a list of what I can and cannot eat, how gluten effects me, etc. I asked them to simply refer to this and let me know what I can and cannot eat so I can not get sick and can choose to bring my own food. Thank goodness my husband and son and daughter are so great about it!

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said this on
11 May 2010 2:30:16 PM PST
I REALLY needed to hear this today, from your last paragraph:

"The most important thing that helps keep me on track, for what it’s worth, is to remember that the gluten-free lifestyle is the key to our health and ultimate happiness. We’re blessed to know that a simple change in lifestyle is all it takes to be perfectly healthy—and that’s worth a lotta mayo."

Thank you!

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said this on
12 May 2010 3:51:46 PM PST
Hello everyone! I have just discovered this web site and I feel a huge psychological relief about it. Finally some people who understand me!
I find it very very difficult to be understood by people, may they be friends, acquaintances or family members. They don't seem to understand the importance of it. I have the strong impression that since the symptoms of celiac disease are not immediately concretely observable (maybe if I were to start bloating like a balloon they would take it more seriously?), people tend to not take it seriously...some even gave me impression that I was just trying to make myself interesting, because by eating differently they kind of see it as me trying to be different to put myself at the center of attention. I admit that I am totally fed up with this as well as with the numerous questions to which I am subjected (now THAT is really a way to make me feel like I am at the center of attention) every single time that I say I'm a celiac. And there you go, questions, questions, questions...when all I want is to eat in peace so I can eventually socialize with tranquility. I therefore took the habit of eating most of time on my own, in order to avoid the "conference" before or during my meal. I can understand that they are curious about it, but hey, I am also saturated about it. Imagine that EVERY time you have to repeat and explain the same things over and over's exhausting and sometimes I got to the point of saying "ok, can we just change subject now" or "ok well we are not gonna spend the whole evening or lunch talking about my food allergy are we?". I am tired of this kind of attention. I am dreaming of another kind of attention: simply respect my allergy, final dot. Once I have said I can't eat gluten, why can't people simply say "ok" and let me eat in peace? I guess they think that it is a sign of "interest" towards my person to question me about it...but for me it has become a pain in the neck.
Concerning family, forget it! they will never understand! They keep on preparing food with gluten...finally it is only since 2 months that my mother has showed signs of REAL understanding, she even bought gluten-free products and she keeps them at home for when I go to visit her. This is a miracle! I nearly cried when she did this...I was so deeply touched by her gesture! I felt respected for the first time in years. And without respect as you all know, there can be no love, so...
Now the next step is coming: explain that I have to be careful about the plates, forks, knives, spoons and gluten contamination which happens through them.....another step...I bet you they are going to think that I am exaggerating and making a fuss about it, whilst all I'm doing is respecting my body and health. In the end, all this topic, is about respecting the other one.

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said this on
13 May 2010 8:50:50 PM PST
I'm sorry you've had such a rough time with it and the people around you!
Although actually, it's not a food allergy... it's an autoimmune disease.

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said this on
15 May 2010 3:22:36 PM PST
Honestly I feel like the only people who truly understand are the people that are celiacs themselves, or the spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend of one. I agree that it's a hassle however making people more aware of what the disease entails but it is is an important thing. I really believe that one day we will be understood. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but in the years to come more people will be diagnosed and the reality of this increasingly common disease will be realized. *fingers crossed* For now all we can do is be patient, spread awareness, and thank heaven that our illness (however difficult to deal with) can be controlled completely by you and the steps that you take to better your health.

P. S. Amazing article. It was great to see that I'm not the only celiac that goes through that period of resentment and reconciliation!

Georgia Hartley
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said this on
17 May 2010 8:08:11 PM PST
Big sigh. Yes, far too many people cannot comprehend how even just that little bit of gluten is misery for us. Too many times I've seen them go cross-eyed at my explanations. I even had one friend suggest that I should keep eating gluten to "numb" my system out so that I wouldn't react so strongly by the accidental exposures. : This person is even a health professional and understands the importance of digestive health but is unwilling to even address her own gluten issues. For most people that gluten addiction is so strong that it is a terrifying thing to even contemplate being gluten-free for them, add on top of that their fears of losing the convenience of eating anything and everything. Personally I am grateful I learned about gluten and Celiac. It's made my life and the life of my clients so much better.

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said this on
19 May 2010 9:32:52 PM PST
Great article.. I wish my family understood what gluten is a little bit better. And my friends... It's hard being in high school (boarding school, at that) and having everyone legitimately think you have an eating disorder because you can never eat any of the school meals. And this is *after* you've gone to the dining staff numerous times and explained your problem to them, but they still don't take into consideration that everything they're serving has gluten in it. Once at a dinner I got annoyed because I ordered something that sounded gluten-free and it turned out to be breaded, and my friend next to me rolled her eyes and said "Come on, just eat it one time. It's not gonna kill you." I have one friend who took a huge interest in Celiac and asked for information on it, so I told her it's an autoimmune disorder and her response was "oh my gosh, your intestines have AIDS?!" Another friend positively flipped out at me, insisting that I'm starving myself and she's going to report me for anorexia if I don't start "eating" again (and I'll have you know, I probably have a healthier appetite than she does.)

Fortunately my parents are very understanding of my condition, because they each have their own dietary restrictions and are avid label-readers to begin with. Extended family is a different story... none of them know what gluten is or what it's in. It's conversations with these people that often go like this...

"so.. you have this celia thing? celic? what is it called?"
"yes.. celiac."
"Right, and you can't have gluten? you're allergic?"
"it's not an allergy, so no, not exactly, but yeah I can't have gluten."
"and... that's it?"
"What do you mean?"
"just gluten? well that's not so bad!"

This person then usually wants a rather specific explanation of what gluten is in, typically butting in with disbelief that I can't eat donuts or pizza or something, and not understanding, no matter how I explain it, how gluten would find its way into candy or soup. I'm also growing quite accustomed to the generic look of disbelief and annoyance when a family member hosting dinner discovers that they have to accommodate for dietary restrictions. After a half-hearted attempt, it almost always fails and I miss yet another meal (or at least most of one).

My personal favourite, though, is when your well-meaning but carb-loving friends load up on bread, pizza, biscuits, you-name-it and eat it all right in front of you, moaning in ecstasy as they go on about how they "wish you could have some too! it's wonderful!"

Perhaps a day will come when the world is educated properly about Celiac, and those of us who have it will finally be at peace. Until then, I'm glad I'm not the only one in a nightmare.

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said this on
22 Jun 2010 10:40:00 AM PST
What? Don't any of you still have relatives who try to talk "sense" into you and not even believe you have food allergies?? (I can't stay off gluten long enough to test, and I can't afford the genetic test I just heard about). I'm trying to find discussions like the personality I'm dealing with, where one sister still thinks I'm just looking for attention. How absurd, I know. As if one would choose such an undignified and annoying health problem as food allergies/celiac disease to get attention, but that's how she acts. This despite her own daughter having life-threatening allergies. She believes hives and asthma, but not digestive problems and skin rashes. She was the first one to argue with me; as a child I announced that I shouldn't eat peanuts because they gave me headaches. She laughed at me. She's the same to this day. I could be mean to her about her overweight problem, but I keep my mouth shut. If only she could do the same.

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said this on
30 Jul 2011 7:12:03 AM PST
I have a wonderful mother-in-law too, Stephanie, who even though she is Italian and was brought up on bread, pasta and pizza really goes out of her way to make food for me which is totally gluten free. She searches for recipes, she researches celiac disease to see what I can and cannot have and I love her for it. It was quite funny when I shared dinner with my (future) father -in-law for the first time though and his son (my husband) was explaining that I could not eat pasta or bread of theirs. He looked at me incredulous and said.."no pasta or bread..but how do you live?"

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