When it comes to navigating the holidays gluten free and dairy free, one of the biggest issues is talking to your friends and family about your needs.
It’s important to be able to communicate your new diet with people you’ll be spending time with, so that you feel included, have something to eat at family or group gatherings, and to give you confidence to stick with this diet and lifestyle for the long-term.
But it can be tricky for people to understand food intolerances or any sort of dietary restrictions if they don’t deal with them themselves. I know this first hand, because it took me about 3 years to get my mom to understand what gluten-free meant she asked me probably two dozen times what gluten was, and why exactly I was avoiding it.
Instead of getting frustrated, I just kept at it – reminding her what I had been saying, and eventually we came to find out she is both gluten and dairy intolerant as well. Go figure.
It’s normal to be overwhelmed with the idea of talking about what’s going on with you, especially if you aren’t super comfortable sharing your health – or if you don’t feel like you really have a full handle on it yet either.
Take it from me – it’s better to just talk about it, get it out in the open, than to completely pretend like it doesn’t exist. That very first holiday season I went gluten and dairy-free, I can’t tell you how many times I just acted like I was fine eating what was served at holiday events, then feeling sick for days afterwards. It wasn’t worth it.
(For the details on that holiday and more tips on navigating the holidays, sign up for my free holiday class here)
So what can you say to family or friends about your dietary needs? How do you broach the topic when it comes to favorite family dishes? Or family members giving you a hard time about skipping an item on the holiday table?
In this post, I want to dive in to specific scenarios of what to say to family and friends, so you feel confident navigating these social settings that feel a little tricky.
Ready? Let’s get to it!
Talk to your family or friends ahead of time
Whoever is hosting the meal, get in touch with them beforehand and chat about what’s going on with you. Share your new diet with them, then ask to what level they’d be willing to accommodate you.
In some cases, they might be willing to revamp the whole menu. But in my experience where just about everyone in my family is avoiding one food or another for different reasons, you might have to get more creative.
So here’s what I’d say:
“Hey (first name), I don’t know if we’ve chatted lately, but I just recently found out that I’m intolerant to both gluten and dairy. I’ve been learning a lot about food intolerances and how my body feels its best, so I’ve been avoiding these foods for the last (insert how long). I can’t tell you how much better I feel, but I wanted to chat about our upcoming holiday dinner. I don’t expect you to change the whole menu, but is there a way that we can make this work for me and everyone else who’s coming? “
In my experience, I almost always just offer to bring a dish to the meal so that I know I will have at least one thing that is safe. I usually double up on that – and bring something healthy too (something that’s almost always lacking from my family’s get-togethers).
“I was thinking about experimenting with a gluten and dairy-free version of (recipe you want to bring). Would it be okay with you if I contribute that dish – with enough to share with everyone?”
I don’t know what your family or friends are like, but my family is ALWAYS happy to have someone else lighten the load of a holiday meal.
Offer to help make substitutions for the family favorites
The second year I was gluten and dairy-free, I was so darn determined to stick with my diet that I avoided some of my favorite dishes, because I knew they had gluten or dairy in them.
I got so much flack for skipping my Grandma’s sweet potato casserole – because everyone KNOWS how much I love it. And I had to answer so many questions about why I wasn’t eating it.
Not only that, but my Grandma was heartbroken I’d skipped it that year. The next holiday that came around, she made sure to pull me aside and go through the recipe together. We swapped out the flour for a gluten-free blend and the butter for vegan butter. The next holiday dinner, I was able to eat it just as I always had, and no one else knew the difference. It was a win-win all around.
So here’s what I’d say so you don’t have to go without your favorite dishes like I did:
“Hey Grandma, you know how much I love your sweet potato casserole that you make every year for Thanksgiving? What do you think about making a version that we could all enjoy – one without gluten or dairy? I can help you find substitutions for the different ingredients and even help you make it, if you’d like.”
And worst case scenario, she says no. Ask her for the recipe, and make yourself a version at home that you can enjoy using ingredients that won’t make you feel sick.
Handling family members who don’t get it
For the first few years of eating differently than everyone in my family, I got a lot of crap from my brother-in-law about being difficult and needing different options than everyone else. He didn’t understand just why I needed different versions of foods and why it would be such a big deal if I just ate what everyone else ate.
I’d get comments like:
“Oh my gosh, are you going to eat ANYTHING??”
“Why aren’t you eating (insert any buttery dish here)??”
And every time, I’d just keep coming back to the facts. I’d always respond calmly and say things like:
“You can say something like, yeah, even though I love Grandma’s sweet potato casserole, I’m going to skip out this time because I just found out that I’m intolerant to gluten and dairy and that dish has both of them. I’m really not trying to be a buzzkill. I just don’t want to regret eating something that will make me sick later. Maybe next time I can help adjust the recipes so we can all have some or all enjoy it.
And of course, the family members or friends who want to press it farther and can’t just leave it alone I usually will:
- Completely ignore them and bring up a new topic entirely to take the focus off me
- Make myself a part of the joke (I’m usually okay about things like this – if you are, use laughter to get through this tricky conversation)
- Give my honest opinion about what it’s like to feel terrible for days after eating bread or butter, and then switch the topic back to the person who’s talking – people LOVE to talk about themselves in my experience.
Alright, we’ve covered a lot in this post today. I hope that as Thanksgiving is coming up, you feel empowered to talk confidently about your food intolerances. These are just a few tricky social situations I’ve found myself in and know how to navigate now, so I hope you can learn from my experiences here.
Wishing you an awesome holiday season ahead!
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