Tag Archives: food allergies

How To Make the Most of Celiac Awareness Month!

30 Apr

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This year I am taking Celiac Awareness Month a little more personally than years past! In March, I went to the Digestive Disease National Coalition and met with Senators to discuss Resolution 550 that officially makes May  National Celiac Awareness Month.

When talking with the Senate staff I explained that making May Celiac Awareness Month gives members of the gluten free community a great jumping off point for awareness campaigns and projects. For example, the Gluten Intolerance Group implements their Chef-To-Plate program every May that gets restaurants to display information about the gluten free diet at their establishments. NFCA’s Fuel the Family program will share family stories from the gluten free blogosphere, daily gluten free product spotlights and will be promoting a Wear Green Day! The Celiac Disease Foundation has their annual Gluten Free EXPO on the 4th and 5th of May in Pasadena, California.

We don’t need to leave all the work to the nonprofits though! There are plenty of small projects and actions you can take to promote Celiac awareness during the month of May.

I want to practice what I preach by using May as a jumping off point for my awareness efforts. Any increase in awareness, no matter how small, can make a big difference in the lives of people living gluten free. How many times have you been at a restaurant when the waiter happened to know all about the gluten free diet and cross-contamination because he knew someone who knew someone? Although there is no instant gratification when it comes to promoting awareness, our collective work really does make a difference!

I know we are all busy; however, below is a list of ideas that won’t take up too much of your time but can still help you promote awareness.  Items on this list should be able to fit into the busiest of schedules. For example, I am a first year teacher at a turnaround school in the DC Region, I am taking the MCAT on May 11 and I am applying to medical school in June but I will be doing the items on the list with asterisks* next to them.

1. **Facebook Banner – if you are a member of  any type of group that hosts events I am sure you have been asked to change your profile picture or banner to promote events.  When I was an undergraduate, my professional sorority used to make it a “sister-requirement” to change our profile pictures during Rush.  This is a simple yet super effective way to promote awareness and it only takes a few seconds! You can design your own banner or picture to display or go to this website for some pre-made banners promoting awareness!

On that note, remember to Like CC Gluten Freed on Facebook!

For the entire month of May, I am changing my banner to:

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2. **Buy a few Gluten Free shirts and wear them every Monday for the month of May (or any day, I just liked the alliteration) Here are some of the shirts I bought for May 2013. If you want to go the extra mile, buy some GF swag for family members too! I know it seems excessive but I really did order all of these items…there aren’t many perks to being gluten free, at least we have cute clothes!

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I also have the Gluten Freek shirt from Mariposa Bakery in Oakland, California amongst many others.

3. **Pinterest Challenge – I am going to post one picture to Pinterest every day for the month of May that will promote awareness.  This is my goal for Celiac Awareness Month.  I will keep you all posted with my updates!

4. Twitter – Commit to tweeting about gluten free experiences during the month of may. You can post about restaurants you go to, foods you make, people you meet, anything just keep the posts coming!

5. Blog – Last May Gluten Dude updated his blog every single day for the month of May.  This is way too big a time commitment for me but if you can do it then more power to you! It is great for boosting your creativity. In order to get ideas to write about you might end up doing some research and learn something new yourself!

6. Donate – Worried about the time commitment? The quickest way, though not cheapest, way to celebrate Celiac Awareness Month is to donate to your favorite GF nonprofit. National Foundation For Celiac Awareness, Gluten Intolerance Group and Celiac Disease Foundation are some of my favorites. They do great work to promote awareness across the country!

7. Make a basket for a friend – Reconnect with members of the gluten free community by sending them a basket! Maybe you met someone at the last gluten free expo you attended or maybe you exchanged business cards with a random gluten free person you met last week or maybe you attended a gluten free support group meeting a year ago and  still have some contacts. Follow up with these connections and send a little GF goodie basket!

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8. Go to an event – Check out this website that lists gluten free events going on around the country. Find one near you. You can also check out websites that list Celiac and/or gluten free support groups. Attend a meeting!  You can also go to http://www.meetup.com and find a MeetUp group in your area that connects gluten free locals.

9. Bake GF cupcakes for your coworkers – What better way to explain about the gluten free diet than by giving people delicious treats? This is a great way to get your coworkers to be more supportive of your lifestyle. If you can, make the frosting Green. Here is a great recipe for Tiramisu cupcakes.  Here is a review of a great GF all-purpose flour so you can convert fun recipes you find online.

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10. **Get friends and family involved  – The best way to really understand what it is like to live with Celiac Disease is to actually try being gluten free for a day.  Have a friend or family member order gluten free while dining out for a week even if they aren’t celiac.  When I first started to show signs that I was struggling with being gluten free, my uncle decided to try being gluten free to see what the problem was.  It then became clear to him how challenging it truly is. Cross-contamination issues, awareness issues, dining out, social problems that arise because of being gluten free are all among the list of challenges that people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance face. These issues are pretty invisible to the average Joe, so get your family or friends informed by teaching them how to live gluten free, even if just for a week. The only way to truly get it is to live it.

Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

-CC

The Gluten Free Professional: the gluten free diet and your career

20 Apr

Can being gluten free affect you professionally? The answer may surprise you!  The importance of networking is lost on few careers. From working your way up from server to management to making partner at a law firm, networking with colleagues and others in the biz, can play a big part in your professional success.  Where does networking happen? Where do most social encounters happen…while eating!  Food is social to the point where its purpose is probably more about connecting with others than it is about nutrition.  Come on, birthday cake has very low nutritional value yet has great cultural value. The role of food is social and, when you take that into the workplace, it becomes professional.

Let’s go through a few of the potentially problematic gluten free scenarios you may face in your professional life:

Meetings

The most common place you may find yourself in an awkward GF situation is during regular meetings or conferences at work. Of course, it depends on where you work and how meetings are run, but I am picturing a conference room with a big oval table and chairs squished really close together so all of your coworkers can fit.  Instead of a vase of flowers as a centerpiece you will see a box of donuts, a plate of danishes, or a stack of half-sandwiches from a local deli.  What should you do in these situations?

If you have been with the same job for a while most of your coworkers probably know that you are gluten free (why the lack of GF options then, I don’t know. Baby-steps, people!).   You have a few options:

Option 1: Bring a snack

This is my favorite of the three options for several reasons. It is a happy medium between not drawing too much unwanted attention with a big outside lunch while also not feeling deprived or left out.  Keep snack bars or chips in your desk drawer and bring them to the meeting.  Simple solution to what sometimes feels like a huge problem.

Option 2: Abstain

Plenty of people in your office will probably not partake in the provided refreshments.  Maybe you had a late or large breakfast. Maybe you don’t like whatever is provided. Maybe you have dinner plans later and don’t want to spoil your appetite. Maybe you are on a diet. There are plenty of reasons that people don’t eat food that has been set out before them, not just because it has gluten in it. Don’t feel pressured to partake but also don’t feel pressured to explain yourself.  You don’t have to justify not eating the food!  It is not outside the realm of normal to abstain, so don’t stress about it.

Option 3: Bring lunch

There is nothing wrong with bringing lunch from the outside world into a meeting if everyone is going to be eating anyways. This is my least favorite of the three options, though, mainly because of convenience.  You may not have time to run out of the office and get food before the meeting. Another issue is that bringing a big outside lunch draws a lot of attention to you and your food.  It will smell different, look different and be packaged differently.  I get plenty of attention from being GF and, in a setting like this, I do not want that attention.

The benefits of bringing in your own lunch are that you won’t be hungry and you get to eat with your coworkers! If you do choose this option, do so with pride (OWN IT!).  You don’t have to feel victimized because you can’t eat the deli sandwiches provided. Your lunch is probably fresher and more delicious anyways! Instead of focusing on what you cannot have, focus on the fact that your lunch is something that you chose and enjoy it.

Networking

This situation may be a little trickier than a conference room full of donuts.  If your job requires networking with clients, prospective employees, getting to know your executive team or your boss then you will likely find yourself in the position of dining out!  There are some steps you can take to reduce the GF stress you may feel building in you as you think about giving the gluten speech in front of your boss or prospective client!

Strategy 1: Control the Environment

Try suggesting a restaurant that you know is safe or a restaurant that you frequent (maybe the wait-staff knows you and your GF needs already).  I like to suggest a few diverse options in the hopes that the person in question will choose from my provided list!  If this fails, then move to Strategy 2.

Strategy 2: Benign Deception

Whenever I really don’t want to be a spectacle while ordering I engage in benign deception.  I know this may seem over-the-top but sometimes (often, actually) I just don’t feel like putting myself on display while ordering!  I will excuse myself from the table and say that I am going to wash up or use the restroom. In actuality, I am tracking down the hostess or server to discus GF options BEFORE she/he comes to take our order.  If I can’t find the server assigned to my table I ask the hostess for help.  I explain that I am gluten free and really don’t want to have to ask questions and put on a show in front of the person I am eating with. In my experience, the hostess usually gets it. Make sure you are transparent and honest though otherwise it comes off as really odd that you are going so far out of your way to put in an order!

Here are some potential questions you can ask:

  1. Can you ask the chef which items are gluten free on the menu?
  2. What modifications do I need to make to make ____________________ gluten free?
  3. Do you know which items are gluten free off the top of your head or can you grab someone who does?

Once I figure out what I can order I go back to my table.  When the server comes I can put in an order as smoothly as my non-GF lunch date!

Strategy 3: Order Simply

If you don’t want to implement Strategy 1 or 2 here is another alternative: order simply.  Once you have been gluten free for a while you start to get good at deciphering menus and figuring out what is likely to be gluten free. This is risky!! Not telling your server that you are gluten free can get you into trouble sometimes so use this strategy with care. I might order a salad and specify no croutons, bread or dressing (even if croutons aren’t listed in the description on the menu, say it anyways!). The last thing you want to do is send a dish back in front of a prospective client because you forgot to mention an important detail about what you wanted eg no croutons!

Happy Hours

Happy Hours are pretty common places for coworkers to socialize after work but can sometimes be tricky if you are gluten free.  Most bar food is horrible for the gluten free diet because the menu items are usually fried in contaminated oil (wings, French fries, calamari etc).  Avoid food at happy hour unless you have talked to the wait-staff or cook beforehand.  Since you are not eating make sure you limit your alcohol intake! You don’t want to be that coworker. Beer is super common at Happy Hours, especially because there are great deals on pitchers.  Take pride in not drinking the beer otherwise you are going to feel bummed out and excluded. You don’t have to tell people it is because you are gluten free if you don’t want to. Some people don’t like beer anyways! You can always go for a glass of wine or a mixed drink. Consult GF resources to make sure your drink of choice is gluten free. I keep things simple and order a glass of wine.  Avoid any weird mixed drinks unless the bartender is willing to tell you the ingredients. Check out Triumph Dining’s list of gluten free alcoholic beverages. 

The thing to remember about happy hour is that people are happy to be there! Work is over and I promise you that no one cares what you are eating or drinking so long as you are having a good time!

Holiday party/Retirement Party/Celebrations

A work party is no different than any other holiday event or dinner party you may have gone to in the past. Don’t overthink it! Use the same strategies you use for other parties. You can check out my posts on how to survive Easter dinner parties  for some tips.

One bit of advice: just bring something! Again, you don’t have to make everything about gluten. You can control the narrative so that you do not feel like a victim of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. Bring a dish to be nice/polite/for fun or to show off your cooking or baking skills.  You can bake these awesome Tiramisu cupcakes or bring this savory quinoa dish that will be sure to impress!  If you bring a dish you earn brownie points with the host and it guarantees that you have something to munch on during the party.

Traveling

Some jobs require traveling and this can make finding GF food challenging.  You will be in unfamiliar territory and may be traveling with a team from work.  Download the Find Me Gluten Free application on your smartphone before you head out to your travel destination. This app takes your GPS location and gives you a list of restaurants with GF options near you. You can easily make suggestions on where to dine to your work team. Tell them there is a Chipotle about a mile down the road and they will probably be impressed how well you know your way around the area!

If traveling alone you have more flexibility and the app should be enough to help you find food options. If you are having issues because the people you are traveling with want to go out for pizza remember you can probably order a salad but more importantly, if you are traveling with these people, you should probably just explain the gluten thing! You may be surprised how understanding they can be.  If a conflict arises you will have to just talk it out. Hopefully all parties involved will be professional about where to dine considering it is a work trip anyways and not a vacation!

If traveling, make sure you pack snacks to have on the road.  Pack protein bars or you can always buy Kind bars at Starbucks! Here is a post on traveling gluten free by air!

Being gluten free in the professional world may be an extra challenge but, let’s be honest, being gluten free makes almost all food-related situations more challenging. Why would work be the exception? It isn’t fair but we can make the best of every situation by being prepared and having a positive attitude.  Remember that you can control the narrative. A lot of people experience negative feelings like being victimized, excluded or simply anxious over situations that may arise but we can take steps to change that frame of mind.  By being proactive we can turn negative situations into positive ones like bringing cupcakes to the next work function. Yes you have to put in some extra work but you get to eat cupcakes and your coworkers will enjoy them too!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and, come Monday, get ready to be gluten free professionally!

-CC

Gluten Free New Year’s Resolution 2013

30 Dec

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This is my second, and now annual, Celiac/gluten-free New Year’s Resolution post on CC Gluten Freed. The gluten free diet is so much more than a diet. In fact, I usually describe myself as “being gluten free” as opposed to following a gluten free diet. Semantics, yes, but an important point none-the-less. Being gluten free means adapting a whole new relationship to food, something that shapes our every day lives, holidays and traditions. Considering how complicated and challenging being gluten free can be, it seems appropriate to make our New Year’s Resolutions at least related to improving our health and gluten free lifestyle.

Last year I had a slue of NYRs all about improving my gluten free lifestyle. You can check out last year’s list here but in summary, I decided to:

1. Be (even more) gluten free – this means making smart, safe choices at restaurants like getting a salad instead of french fries due to risk of cross contamination.

2. Become informed — I vowed to start following GF blogs so that I can stay current on what other GF advocates are up to.

3. Get techy — there are many phone apps out there that make being gluten free much simpler. I decided to start using those applications including, my favorite, Find Me Gluten Free, an app that takes your GPS location and gives you a list of GFF (gluten free friendly) places nearby.

I wrote a follow-up last June about how I was doing with my NYRs and, I swear this to be true, I was pretty good about staying committed. In years past my new year convictions have always been more like token resolutions. “I will go to the gym every day!” or “I will eat salad at every single meal!” Though enthused, I never seemed to follow through with my generic resolutions. The problem? Conviction. I did not take the time to hash out the reasons why the resolutions were meaningful to me and, not surprisingly, they fell to the way side as the year started getting busy and hectic. I am proud to announce that for 2012 I successfully adopted all of my GF-NYRs and improved my gluten free life as a result.

My resolution this year is much simpler than my complex list of 2012 gluten free NYRs. This year has to do with defense and preparedness. The ability to absorb nutrients is often more limited in someone with Celiac Disease compared to the average Joe. Here’s why: the gluten free diet only works by completly eliminating gluten, not by merely limiting it. Many newly diagnosed believe that a low gluten diet will have close to the same benefits as being exclusively gluten free and that, my friends, is a misconception. When people think of a “diet’ they typically think of weight loss and we all know that if we limit our caloric intake we will lose weight. The more calories we restrict, the more weight that will be lost. Disclaimer: this is an over simplification of metabolism and weight loss but, in simplest terms, the relationship between caloric intake and weight loss is directly proportional whereas the relationship between nutrient absorption and gluten intake is more complicated and convoluted. Even trace amounts of gluten can trigger the production of counterproductive antibodies that will damage your small intestine. My point is that if you kind of diet, you will kind of lose weight whereas if you are kind of gluten free you will not be kind of symptom free, you will remain in the pain and state of malnutrition that originally provided hints for your diagnosis.

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Even compulsive Celiacs like myself (I say that in the most endearing way possible) cannot completely avoid gluten due to cross-contamination and accidents that will inevitably occur despite your best efforts. How can we prepare our bodies for such encounters? What can we do to compensate for the fact that we may not be absorbing nutrients as efficiently as a none Celiac?

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My NYR for 2013 is to take a daily vitamin, religiously, strictly and obligatorily. We have all heard doctors, moms and the like push us to take a daily vitamin but how many of you actually do it every day? I am super health conscious and still happily skip swallowing the disgusting smelling pellet of nutrients frequently. As a Celiac, I need all the nutrition I can get. If I don’t pay close attention to my diet, I cannot guarantee that I am getting all of the vitamins and minerals I need on a daily basis, deplting my body’s supplies and holding myself back from better health.

This year, starting January 1,2013 I will be taking my daily vitamin every morning, even if it is an unpleasant way to start the day. I have decided on taking Multi Vites Gummies. The benefit is that it is labeled as gluten free and the taste and texture of the vitamin but it does not have iron which means I will need to go the extra mile and buy an iron supplement as well. I advise not skipping out on the iron. Iron is essential to your body running properly, it is found in every cell of your body, helps with oxygenation and, if you don’t have enough iron in your body, you may experience fatigue.

Make sure the vitamin you pick is labeled gluten free!! I read through the ingredients on a gummy vitamin made by One-A-Day and concluded it was GF only to find that the allergen label said Contains Wheat! There are so many odd ingredients in vitamins that we may not recognize a potentially gluten containing ingredient so go for something with a GF label!

You may think I am being too picky, I mean come on, it is just a vitamin! Keep in mind that this is something that will start off my day for the next 365 days. The decision is not a small one! What I decide to take will impact my year and potentially my health. I want to make sure I make an informed decision.

If you are really interested in supplements and daily vitamins, another great choice for a Celiac is Fish Oil/omega 3s. The fish oil supplements work to combat inflammation in the body. Celiacs is an inflammatory condition: the antibodies we generate in response to consuming gluten cause a lot of inflammation in the body (thus the arthritis many experience prior to diagnose).

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I know it may not be enjoyable to have a regime of pills every morning but think of it this way: we have a disease where the treatment is not a pill cocktail but rather a diet. Even though being gluten free is challenging we are very lucky not to have to deal with side effects and financial expenses associated with prescription medications like the price of seeing the doctor to get your prescription followed by the actual price of the medication. As far as excuses go, we don’t have many with merit to not take a daily vitamin especially considering the nature of Celiac Disease in relation to absorption and nutrition.
Like last year, you can expect a follow up from me in June 2013! In the spirit of no-secrets-blogging, I will even post a copy of my blood work from 2012 compared to 2013 to see if the daily vitamin is making a difference!

Cheers to a new year and to preventative care and newly improved health!

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-CC

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Should being gluten free impact your politics?

24 Oct

The election is right around the corner! Make sure your vote is an informed one!

Although the issue of food policy was under highlighted in the Presidential debates, it is nonetheless of political importance. From the farm bill, which impacts the cost and availability of food, to USDA public health promotional campaigns, to FDA food regulations, there are many avenues US leadership can take to change the way we access food in this country.

So what are the issues that a savvy Celiac should consider before casting their vote? The farm bill, food safety programs and access to and promotion of nutritional foods are the key issues that I want to explore so that I can make an informed decision at the polls.

This post is not an endorsement of either candidate.

FARM BILL

The farm bill impacts a population much broader than US farmers. When (or should I say if?) the farm bill is passed it will impact the cost of food as well as our access to certain foods. The next President will not only have to deal with getting the farm bill passed but will also play a role in shaping it.

As someone who is gluten free, the availability of gluten free food is a very important issue. Since gluten free foods tend to be more expensive than products made with wheat flour it would be in our best interest to support policies that make farming more economical, especially for small farmers. Here is the catch: the farm bill attempts to support all farmers, making all food more accessible and affordable. Cheaper brown rice would be great but if wheat flour is also made more accessible and even more affordable than it already is we are likely to see some unintended consequences.

If wheat flour is made more expensive don’t you think that restaurants might think twice about dredging their meats in flour? They might consider using an alternative like cornmeal or rice flour. Cost and accessibility shape our food options both at the market and when dining out.

The President has repeatedly articulated the importance of passing a farm bill this year. He calls for adequate protection of American farmers from draught and natural disasters and promotes diverse, specialty crops like fruits, nuts and veggies (which is great for us!).

Romney has taken jabs at Obama during the campaign about his failure to get the House the pass the bill. Romney thinks that Obama does not have the leadership skills necessary to get a bill passed. He argued that “[P]eople have been waiting a long time for a farm bill. And the president has to exert the kind of presidential leadership it takes to get the House and the Senate together and actually pass a farm bill.”

Romney supports disaster relief as well but also indirectly supports subsidizing American farmers. Romney says that other nations subsidize their farmers and if the US is to compete we will need to do the same.

When you get down into the nitty-gritty of both candidates’ farm bill positions there are more similarities than differences. Both candidates will cut about $30 billion out of agricultural spending by eliminating many of the subsidies that currently go to crop insurance companies. Much of the farm bill is allocated towards food stamps. Here lies the biggest difference between an Obama supported farm bill and a Romney supported bill: Romney/Ryan support decreasing the amount of people using food stamps. They said that they don’t need to cut the program to reach their goal. Romney said, “I want to make sure we get people off food stamps, not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs.”

FOOD SAFETY

President Obama created several programs that promote food safety. He established the Food Safety Working Group, which is a group that focuses on updating and improving US food safety systems. Obama also increased the authority of the FDA so they can more effectively enforce food safety regulations.

Although Romney believes in the importance of access to safe foods his approach to securing such food is very different from Obama’s approach.

Romney supports a more hands off approach to preventing food-borne illnesses. He argues that “preventative practices” are the best way to prevent outbreaks. These practices/protocol would be developed by the private sector because Romney believes that the people in the fields are the best equipped to handle this issue. Romney’s campaign states that it is most cost efficient and effective to allow food growers, handlers and processors to create food safety protocol. As for the role of the FDA, Romney’s campaign said that the Romney Administration would prioritize collaboration between the FDA and the private farm sector on this issue.

NUTRITION

The Obama family is very committed to promoting healthful food choices in schools and encouraging people of all ages to lead active lifestyles. Michelle Obama worked to get more salad bars into schools, President Obama supported the USDA’s new food pyramid, MyPlate as well as their Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Snack Program and both of the Obamas encourage cities to get involved with the Let’s Move! program which provides local towns and cities with tools to get community members exercising. President Obama believes that partnering with the private sector and supporting federal programs to promote healthful lifestyles is the best way to improve the health of the public.

Romney does not support nanny-laws and is committed to making sure the federal government does not overstep its role in American lives. These beliefs about the role of the government shape Romney’s strategies for tackling public health.

In response to questions about promoting nutrition the Romney campaign gave a quick and short response:

“The federal government should not dictate what every American eats… An emphasis on a balanced diet will be crucial to addressing this crisis and public health programs in a Romney Administration will highlight the importance of healthy eating.”

Romney and his campaign have not articulated a plan nor a specific commitment to promoting nutrition and healthful lifestyle choices.

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Now that we know where each candidate stands on these issues the next question is “Does it matter?” As someone who studied Public Health it greatly matters to me but this post isn’t about public health (in general) it is about whether or not being gluten free should impact the way you vote.

The answer is: probably not. The gluten free diet, though more popular and well-known than ever before, is far from the norm. A farm bill that cuts the profitability of wheat farmers is not going to change the fact that people love their gluten. It is an ingredient that has dominated palates across continents. Although I do believe it is important for voters to take the issues I described above into consideration when casting their vote, I do not think that our gluten free fate is in the hands of the future President.

Ultimately, it comes down to constant vigilance, commitment and willingness to speak up for your needs. There is no quick-fix solution to the lack of awareness about gluten intolerance, Celiacs and food allergies in this country but every time you explain it to a waiter at a local restaurant or to a new acquaintance you are making a difference. It isn’t just about being gluten free! I am talking about spreading awareness about restricted diets and cross contamination, issues that make the lives of millions so challenging in the US. Not many people can say that when they dine out they help change the world but we can.

-CC

Sources

http://www.unitedfresh.org/programs/wppc/presidential_nominees_responses

http://articles.aberdeennews.com/2012-08-24/farmforum/33373582_1_farm-bill-programs-that-benefit-farmers-farm-safety

http://cornandsoybeandigest.com/issues/obama-romney-weigh-more-agriculture-priorities

http://insidetrade.com/Inside-Trade-General/Public-Content-World-Trade-Online/romney-hits-obama-on-farm-bill-gridlock-reiterates-trade-policy-plans/menu-id-896.html?S=SM

How To Get The Most Out Of Your GF or Celiac Support Group

22 Apr

No time to read? Click here to listen to this blog post!


You may have heard of them,  you may have even been to them but are you making the most out of them?  Gluten free support groups can be very useful and a great addition to your gluten free lifestyle.  The trick is knowing how to make the most of them.  Support group meetings can vary in terms of structure and content.  All of the group meetings I have been to have consisted of an informative guest speaker, usually a leader in the GF community, informal mingling with other attendees and samples from a GF food vendor.

Are there certain things you should keep in mind in order to maximize the benefits of  attending?  Absolutely!

Here are my suggestions that I hope you adopt before attending your next, or first, GF support group meeting.

1. Bring business cards – one of the biggest emotional challenges of having Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance is the inevitable, yet probably only occasional, sense of being alone.  Finding a gluten free support group will show you that you are not alone.  Seeing it is not enough though, you need to feel it.  To do this, make some gluten free friends!  Bringing business cards to meetings makes it very easy for you to exchange contact information with the other attendees.Typically, the mingling at meetings is very informal.  You are unlikely to have a table to write on or pens and paper for trading contact info.  In addition to lack of resources, you may not have the time to have the exchange of contact information in the brief minutes allotted to mingling, especially if you have somewhere you need to be after the meeting.  Business cards are quick, to the point and a great way to help you remember someone!  If you don’t have business cards, get some personal contact cards made!  They are very inexpensive to order and super fun to design at www.vistaprint.com

2. Ask the right questions – at many GF support group meetings, group leaders schedule a guest speaker to come educate the group about various aspects of the gluten free diet.  At the Oakland Celiac Support Group I have heard from speakers such as Dr. Emily Nock, a primary care physician and Celiac Advocate at Kaiser Permanente, and Ann Whelan, the Editor-in-Chief of Gluten Free Living magazine. You want to capitalize on your opportunity to ask questions, especially considering how incredibly talented and qualified the sources at meetings tend to be.  But, what to ask?  Avoid overly personal medical questions.  Though the speaker may be a physician,they aren’t going to be able to give you solid medical advice based on one question in the middle of a group lecture.  In addition, asking personal medical questions takes away from the group’s ability to benefit from the speakers advice.  Ask more general questions that aren’t overly specific to your personal medical status.  For example, don’t ask a 3-4 minute long question that requires you reciting your medical history. Instead, ask questions like “what is the possibility of people finding a cure for Celiacs? What would a cure look like?” or “What is the current status on GF labeling laws and how do you think they will impact my health?”

3. Get to know at least one person really well each time – This goes along with the idea of bringing business cards to the meetings.  Try and establish a genuine connection with at least person at each meeting.  Of course, you won’t have time to get to know everyone which is why having business cards on hand is very helpful.  Try chatting with the person sitting next to you.  Try looking for someone who has a similar lifestyle of life context as you do. For example, if you are the mom of a Celiac kid then look for another Celiac parent to get to know.  If you are a very busy, fast paced business person look for someone who has a similar job or similar job demands.

4. Introduce yourself to the guest speaker -At the time when I heard Dr. Emily Nock speak at the Oakland Celiac Support Group, I was just beginning to consider the medical field as a potential career goal.  After her presentation, I introduced myself and asked her if I could shadow her medical practice.  Although I did not have a personal contact card, Dr. Nock took down my contact information.  I shadowed Dr. Nock for a full semester while at Cal and two years later, Dr. Nock is both my friend and my mentor.  Never miss an opportunity to network with people in the gluten see community, especially GF leaders.

5. Follow up – This is my biggest piece of advice.  Follow up with the people that you meet at these meetings. Shoot them an email or give them a call next Saturday morning.  Make sure that these connections don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of  your life.  The friendships and connections you make at these meetings can really improve your gluten free lifestyle.  There are a ton of different ways you can follow up with people: Linked In, Twitter, Facbeook, email etc.  Choose whichever one is best for you!

If you don’t have a GF support group, I highly suggest finding one!  There are a ton of resources for you on the web.  Check out the Celiac Disease Foundation’s extensive list of GF support groups across the nation.  National Foundation for Celiac Awareness also has a database dedicated to this topic.  For more support group options try signing up for www.meetup.com.  This website is a social media site where people can form and search for groups based on their interests.  In addition to these resources you can always google your city and “gluten free support group” to find contact information for a group in your area.

Hope these tips make your next GF support group an invaluable and rewarding gluten free experience.
-CC
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