Tag Archives: networking

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

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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