Celiac Isolation… Is It Inevitable?
Is celiac isolation inevitable? It is an issue that is not often discussed. There are almost no published studies that look at the role that celiac disease (CD) has in contributing to social isolation. We think it is time to talk about one of the most common but often silent consequences of celiac disease.
There are huge differences in how people experience celiac disease. At one end are those who do not have outward reactions to gluten and take a relaxed approach to diet management. At the other is the highly sensitive group who have very physical reactions to the slightest contact with gluten and tightly control their diet. No matter where you fall on the spectrum you have probably struggled with the social side of celiac disease.
Let’s face it any disease or condition that requires some form of diet restriction is socially challenging. Think of people with diabetes, and other food allergies, like peanut allergies. Those diets also require constant vigilance at each meal. But except for peanut exposure, thankfully, most other diet lapses are not life threatening. Even a diabetic has some leeway in food intake. Not so with celiacs. Because gluten is so prevalent, it is very difficult to control cross contamination, and exposure can add up to damage to the intestinal wall that has serious consequences.
As the need to strictly control our food intake increases, it can feel easier and safer not to attend social events. Invitations are turned down or may stop altogether. This is how isolation begins. Isolation can lead to depression another know side effect of CD.
Most social gatherings include food. Spending time with friends and family usually means sharing food, office events include food, dating includes food, and even job interviews are sometimes held over lunch. It is natural for people to meet over a meal or a snack. What isn’t natural is having diet restrictions that only apply to you. It can be a heavy burden for CD patients.
What does that mean for a celiac patient who needs to tightly control their food intake? Many limit social occasions to ones they can control. When meeting friends and family, they bring the food. With office parties, they bring their own food, with business meetings they pick a safe restaurant. It is hard work. We don’t want to inconvenience others, and we don’t want to stand out. And we don’t want to have the “I have celiac disease” conversation at every event just to fit in.
Isolation is not inevitable, but the loss of spontaneity is. The key to safety is consistent planning. Just like a boy scout, always be prepared. Evaluate every social situation beforehand. Will you be able to eat safely? How will you control your exposure? How important is it for me attend? Only you know what situations will work for you. We are suggesting that thinking about it beforehand can eliminate problems later.
We know many people with CD who travel the world and attend social events as part of their jobs. They have learned how to protect themselves successfully and so can you, being prepared is the key.
Don’t let celiac disease keep you from living your best life. Don’t let yourself become isolated from those you love and things you love to do. We urge you to find a way to stay safe that works you.
If you have found a way to manage your gluten-free life successfully help others with ideas by leaving a comment.
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