Allergies and the Holidays

Having food allergies can be quite isolating at times.  It’s usually at those times when a group is going out on Friday night and you realize the place of choice doesn’t have allergy-friendly options.  So you end up ordering an over-priced salad that makes you sick anyway because the salad dressing is chalk-full of preservatives and hidden gluten.  Or when your office is celebrating x, y, z over a gluten-ful dessert, and you sit awkwardly in the corner making small talk, but you’re not able to fully participate.

To all of you allergy-ridden people out there, the list goes on, right?

During the holidays, this can be especially frustrating.  You may be invited to your work party, your husband’s work party, or various friends’ holiday parties.  And then there are all those winter weddings…

So what do we do?

Let’s be real: in a world where people often think food allergies are for “rich people,” it’s not exactly the most comfortable thing in the world to ask the host of the party if there will be gluten-free/dairy-free/whatever-free options available.  [However, if you do know the host/hostess fairly well, I recommend asking him/her about the menu.]  After leaving many a get-together starving, I’ve learned a few ways to handle these situations.

Prepare – If you’re able to see the menu prior to the event, do so and prepare accordingly.  If you’re going to a big corporate work party and the menu is Italian-themed, chances are the best you’ll get is the starter salad.  Eat a light something before you go off to the party.  I usually opt for a light meal that’s full of protein.

Pack snacks – I’ve come to be the queen of being prepared.  I always have a granola bar of some sort and something sugary on me if my sugar drops.  Find something that has some protein in it to hold you over until you can get some food.  [My go-to is a LaraBar.]  If you’re needing a boost, excuse yourself, go get some fresh air and eat your snack.  This may sound strange, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this.  A lady’s gotta eat.

Invest in digestive enzymes – Yes, yes.  These are products I get at Whole Foods.  No, they’re not the cheapest things in the place, but as someone who must deal with digestive issues due to food intolerances, I budget for them as they have saved me on those nights spent at restaurants.  For some, going out to eat is a risk.  Restaurant food is full of preservatives and hidden ingredients even if labeled “gluten-free.”  Take 1-2 of these before heading out, and your stomach won’t be as badly affected.

If going to a potluck – Bring a hearty dish that you can eat.  Bring an appetizer instead of a dessert, so you’re at least guaranteed something real to eat.

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Be prepared talk about it – If you do end up telling your host about your allergies, he/she will probably ask questions.  People are fascinated by the so-called deadly, mostly trendy, gluten intolerance.  They’ll ask you what happens when you eat gluten.  As someone who has been thrown by this question before, have an response prepared that politely answers the question, but politely dodges it as well.  Constipation, inflammation, bowel movements, rashes, and vomiting don’t scream first-time-dinner guest chat.

Thank the host/hostess who accommodated your allergies – Sometimes you’ll encounter a friend/hostess who is overly accommodating.  As it is challenging to cook gluten-free, write a thank you note expressing how at-home and taken care of you felt.  Maybe send a small gift as a token of your appreciation.