With another summer sadly coming to an end, schools starting, maybe new jobs on the horizon, the season of awkward introductions begins again. It was always the worst thing to me, walking into that new classroom, new environment, with new faces and then told to introduce yourself (those horrid first day "games" to remember everyone's name that ended up turning into first week games). Those introductions never work and I won't remember your name, even when you tie it to a color, what you did this summer, or your favorite sport.
Besides the awkward introduction of, "Hello, my name is ...", there will also be the need to tell your new peers/coworkers that you have Celiac Disease or some other food allergy. You may not need to divulge this the first day, but when someone brings in cupcakes, or asks you to join them for a lunch break at Panera Bread, you may need to reveal this important bit of info.
I hold off on telling anyone I have Celiac Disease until I absolutely have to. For example, in one of my classes last semester, half-way through the course, my professor wanted each of us to take a cracker and do this mindfulness experiment while eating it. Well, I couldn't take that gluten-filled cracker and mindfully eat it...or I would be sick. Thus, "Hello, I have Celiac Disease", had to happen.
You may feel awkward when these situations arise, you may want to not even say it, but it's nothing to be ashamed of and you need to stick up for you Celiac rights. The term "gluten-free" has such a terrible rep now since most people how eat "gluten-free" do so from choice and as a follower. But when you have Celiac, being gluten-free is not a choice but a medical necessity. Even though some people will never totally grasp the concept or understand, claiming, "One bite won't hurt you!", you can take some steps in introducing yourself as a Celiac a little easier for everyone.
1. Do NOT say simply that you are gluten-free. Say you have Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease that requires you to have a strict diet, free from gluten.
2. If asked WHAT Celiac Disease is, tell them it is an autoimmune disease where when you ingest even the slightest crumb of the protein gluten, it will create severe damage in the body and make you severely ill. And an autoimmune disease means your body attacks itself and there is not cure but to be free from gluten for life. Yes, you face difficult situations and it can be hard at times, but your diet and lifestyle is essential for you health and you know how to properly navigate a gluten-filled world safely.
3. When asked what you CAN eat, tell them foods that are free from gluten and cross contamination. These include whole fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, gluten-free whole grains, and processed foods manufactured to be gluten-free in a gluten-safe environment. Even though that are many things you can't eat, the variety you can is astonishing.
4. If OFFERED a gluten-containing food or beverage, politely decline. A simple "No thank you", usually works, but if someone is persistent, either change the conversation or accept the offering and then wait until you can give it to a friend or someone who can eat it. (You might also want to check out this post on food allergy and Celiac bullying).
5. Make sure you always have SAFE FOOD on hand in case you are asked to go out to lunch (or do a weird eating experiment) where you know there are no safe options. This way you don't have to ditch possible friendships and being part of the community. Also keep a list in mind of safe places you can eat in case you're asked to choose!
Here's the last thing to keep in mind though. Just because you have Celiac Disease, it DOES NOT define who you are, what you can do, your potential or the opportunities and experiences you can take. Just like an medical illness or disease, it's about what you make of it. You can have your disease act as a big red arrow and throw a self-pity-party when the topic arises, or you can embrace it, declare it, and move on. You have Celiac Disease, but you are also YOU! Celiac is only one tiny part of the amazing person you are! Introduce yourself HOW YOU want to be known!
So tell me:
+ If you have Celiac Disease, how do you introduce yourself when the need to reveal comes up?
+ I know I'm not alone in hating those "first-day-of-class" name games! Did you hate them as much as me?
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