Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Keep calm and carry on

Since 9/11 we have lived in a world where the possibility of a terrorist attack is always lurking in the backs of our minds. One of the goals of terrorists is to create such anxiety in people that they will lock themselves away from their day-to-day lives, that they will mistrust the actions of others, that they will be enslaved to their fears. The best way to defeat fear is to "keep calm and carry on," as the popular slogan (mistakenly) attributed to Winston Churchill points out.

While celiac disease obviously does not cause damage on the same scale as terrorism, it behaves as a terrorist in those who must cope with it on a daily basis. Some days, particularly after I've been "glutened" after eating out, I retreat to my house, vowing to cook every meal at home, to limit my social life, to sit back and feel sorry for myself. At such times I worry about travel, turn down invitations, lock myself in the bathroom, and live on bland food. I live in fear of when and where celiac will strike next.

It doesn't take me long, however--usually by the time my symptoms subside--to pluck up my courage and show celiac disease that it's not going to win. In the same way that our country has been proactive in reducing the threat of terrorist attacks, I have found a few strategies for reducing my chances of avoiding gluten. Here are a few of my best tips for safely "carrying on":

  • Don't take risks at restaurants. Ask questions of those who are preparing or serving your food. If the person seems unsure or doesn't seem to be taking you seriously, don't eat the food. If you're going to a new place, call ahead and quiz the staff before you go. If you don't get the answers you want, go somewhere else. 
  • When you cook, double check every label. If you don't recognize an ingredient, google it or use an app to check it out. One of my favorite apps is called "Is that Gluten Free?" It sorts information by category, brand, or ingredient, listing items that are safe, unsafe or questionable. It also tells you what brands have certified gluten-free products.
  • Ask your friends and family what ingredients they have used in their dishes. Most people are understanding of your issues and are willing to accommodate you. When dining in someone else's home, offer to bring a dish that is gluten-free. That way you know that you can at least eat something.
  • Plan ahead. If you are going to a banquet or party where you will have no control over the menu, eat beforehand to curb your appetite. Promise yourself a your favorite safe treat afterwards, so that you have something to look forward to.
  • Do your research when you are traveling. Use apps such as "Find Me GF" or "Gluten Free Registry" to search for safe restaurants. I've found some excellent restaurants using "Yelp" with a gluten-free filter.
  • Have a backup plan. Always carry something with you that you can eat. I love Kind bars and Larabars, and my new favorite, which I found in a Whole Foods Market in New York, is a goji granola bar from Two Moms in the Raw. (They're a bit pricey, but--oh, my sweet mother of pearl!--they are amazing!) If you are going on a long flight, you definitely need to take your own food.
  • Educate everyone around you. I've found that most people are genuinely interested in learning about how you must avoid gluten. But be patient, and don't take it personally if your friends or family members forget. I figure that they have to put up with a lot because of my issues, so I can put up with the times when they say, "Oh, my gosh! You just have to try the croissants at ..."
  • Don't isolate yourself. Talk to other people with celiac disease. Find a support group or read a few blogs. You are not alone. Other people have and are experiencing the same feelings, and they will be happy to give you advice and sympathy.
  • Depending on how the disease affects you, carry the products you use to treat your symptoms. My main issue is "The Big D," so I carry Imodium with me at all times. (If I've been having issues, I also carry a change of clothing. It's not a pretty thought picture, but it's a fact of life for many celiac sufferers, and we're being honest here.)
Whatever you do, don't let celiac disease terrorize your life. Keep calm and carry a Kind bar ...