Once you get your Coeliac Disease diagnosis there are more challenges than just figuring out what you can and can’t eat. For many people, the sudden thrust into a gluten free lifestyle comes with emotional complications as well. The most obvious being the WHY ME moments and anxiety that now comes with consuming food. Then you have that stress, isolation, envy, and possibly even guilt that surrounds our social lives. Grieving the loss of family tradition and known comfort foods. More than that though, there are the feelings we get from other people. Even if we, ourselves have come to terms with the changes we need to make, others can thrust us backwards. Be it through lack of understanding, judgement, or pressure. By talking about some of these emotional challenges, I hope that we can shed the discomfort and educate people that there are many ways that Coeliac Disease can affect us. Today though, I’ll focus on Food Anxiety.
The trepidation of not knowing how your food has been handled, what exactly is in it and whether or not you’re going to be suffering and causing internal damage to yourself is one that I know too well. I honestly, don’t think it ever goes away, even after 23 years diagnosed, I still suffer from food anxiety every now and then. However, I can assure you it does get easier to manage. I like to implement my C.H.E.C.K method which if you are wanting to try it out is;
C – Contact the restaurant prior to attending
H – Have a look over the menu. Familiarizing yourself with risks of contamination.
E – Enquire if there options are safe for someone with coeliac disease.
C – Confirm what you’ve already been told and your needs when at the venue.
K – Know that it is ok to leave or not eat if you have doubts about the food.
However, the anxiety doesn’t just stop there. It’s also when you fear going out because you’ll have to ask the waiter a hundred questions. Fear of what your friends or family might think as they watch you. Fear that they don’t understand.
I see so many people shut themselves off from social activities that surround food – not going to family birthdays or hanging out with friends just because they can’t feel safe eating out. Feeling like you have no choice but do this can make you feel like you are completely alone. You’re not alone though.
I always highly recommend that you don’t cut yourself off from social activity and try to eat before hand or bring food that you know is safe. This way you don’t have to feel like you’re missing out on big events and you can be comfortable that the food is safe.
Although, both of these solutions also come with new challenges. These new challenges typically stem from other people more than your own feelings. I can’t count how many times my family have told me that they are uncomfortable that I’m not eating when I really couldn’t care less. After a while though, the comments do get to me. Having people ask why you’re not eating, trying to pressure you into eating food that isn’t safe. At this point in my life it doesn’t bother me too much. However, removing yourself from these uncomfortable situations is my best piece of advice.
Learning to overcome these emotional challenges can come in a few different steps.
- Educate; whether that be yourself or those around you. Break down any stigma you might feel or face will help you become more comfortable asking questions.
- Focus on the Good; remind yourself that this is for your health and well being. Have fun experimenting with new gluten free ideas.
- Forgive yourself; we all make mistakes, don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up.
- Engage; if you feel alone, spend time with your friends, family. Talk with fellow Coeliacs like myself or Coeliac Australia.
Remember, that it’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to break down every now and then because you miss the way it was before. How you best overcome these emotional challenges will depend on you and how you live. Coeliac Disease is a diagnosis that we have to live with, but it doesn’t have to feel like a life sentence.