If you’re new here … hi, my name is Casey. I was diagnosed with celiac disease around six years ago at age 17, and while living gluten-free and with an autoimmune disease feels like second-nature most days, that changes a bit during the holidays. Because as jolly and fun as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are, the holidays get a lot more complicated when you have a chronic illness and dietary restrictions.
That’s why, this year, I want to share 15 things I wish more people knew about living with celiac disease during the holidays. If you have celiac disease, I hope this list helps you feel less alone in some of the unique, chronically-not-so-awesome struggles you may have this time of year. And if you know someone with celiac disease and want to give them a magical holiday season, keeping these 15 tidbits of information in mind can definitely help.
So without adieu, let’s dive in. During the holidays, I wish more people knew:
1. I may be more anxious than usual because social events filled with unsafe, gluten-filled food are everywhere.
Though we do know how to make some delicious gluten-free Thanksgiving and party food …
2. There may be days I’m sad because I’m grieving the holiday traditions I’ve lost after going gluten-free.
Like getting to make (and eat!) famous family recipes or attend festive potlucks without a second thought.
3. I understand people won’t always be able to accommodate my gluten free diet — and I don’t expect them to!
But if I do need to bring my own food to Thanksgiving dinner or other events, please don’t make it a big deal or take offense. I’m just doing what I need to do to eat safely and still spend time with others.
4. If you do want to help me feel included and accommodate my gluten-free diet, asking first can help us both.
I can tell you about other ingredients I can’t eat, how to help prevent cross-contact and if I feel comfortable eating food prepared by others in the first place.
5. A lot of times, my stomach can go wonky on little notice, and trying new foods or eating out of my routine can contribute to that.
So please understand if I need to cancel plans, take it easy one day or decide trying foreign food isn’t worth the risk.
6. It does mean a lot when people try to include me in activities.
So if you’re game to making gluten-free Christmas cookies as a family instead of regular ones, or making Thanksgiving dinner all or mostly gluten-free, you really are a holiday miracle.
7. If we make plans to celebrate at my house and I ask people to not bring gluten, please respect that.
My house is my safe place, and my safety depends on being gluten-free. Even if you know other people with celiac disease or food allergies who “don’t mind” you bringing unsafe food into their houses, that is them and not me.
8. There are tons of fun festive activities we can do that don’t involve food at all.
From snowboarding to winter hikes to decorating Christmas cards to walking around a neighborhood famous for its lights. And I love it when friends and family don’t mind breaking up all of the more food-focused holiday events with these fun alternatives.
9. Honestly, it can get exhausting to constantly go to parties and have to explain why I’m not eating certain things or anything at all.
So if I turn down invitations, don’t take it personally. I just need a break from all the gluten sometimes!
10. Please don’t say how “lucky” I am to not be tempted by Christmas cookies or a second serving of stuffing because of my gluten-free diet.
Trust me, I’d rather be able to eat a regular snickerdoodle cookie without it causing intestinal damage.
11. Comfort food cravings are real … and there might be moments I get frustrated at not being able to eat what everyone else is.
I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the situation. But easy access to gluten-free cookies does help.
12. Gluten-free food can taste freakin’ delicious.
If I do bring gluten-free Christmas cookies or gluten-free Thanksgiving stuffing to share, it means a lot for people to have an open mind and try it.
13. If you are my significant other and want to kiss me under the mistletoe, that mouth still needs to be gluten-free.
Or at least recently cleaned of gluten.
14. It’s awkward (to say the least!) to meet people for the first time at an event where we’re all supposed to be eating and I’m not.
So having the support of friends or significant others who help downplay my “strange diet” or can jokingly say, “Bread doesn’t like her, but I do” to people I’m meeting for the first time is super helpful during holiday parties.
15. Celiac disease is only a small part of who I am, but my “special” gluten-free diet becomes more prevalent in this food-focused time of the year.
And the friends and family who keep my dietary needs in mind are the best kinds of gifts this holiday season … and all year round.
The bottom line:
This all isn’t to say the holidays aren’t a wonderful time of year for people with celiac disease or another chronic illness. They are! I still love catching up with friends and family during get-togethers, experimenting with new (gluten-free) Christmas cookie recipes and taking part in holiday traditions that don’t involve wheat.
But these past eight years of living with celiac disease have also shown me how much food really drives the holiday season … and how dietary restrictions force you to be a little creative, whether that means updating great-grandma’s famous pumpkin pie recipe or bonding with friends and family in ways that don’t involve a dinner table.
If you are reading this post and have recently been diagnosed with celiac disease:
Know there probably will be a few bumps this holiday season. But it can still be a time of bonding with loved ones and enjoying lots of delicious (gluten-free) foods.
And if you’re a friend or family member to someone with celiac disease:
Know that you can play a huge role in determining how magical this season is for your friend.
Case in point: this is a picture of my family and me making gluten-free Christmas cookies for the first time a few months after I was hospitalized after initial complications from celiac disease. What do you wish more people knew about living with celiac disease or another chronic illness during the holidays? Tell me in the comments!
A version of this article originally appeared on Casey the College Celiac