How to Support Your Gluten-Free Loved One
It can be difficult to know how best to support your gluten-free loved one. Always ask how you can help first—it is important to provide supports in the way your loved one actually needs.
However, if your loved one is struggling with how to ask for help, the following tips may provide a good starting point:
Do some research. Understand the basics of what it means to live gluten-free. Just putting in the effort to better understand the enormity of this transition can be tremendously helpful.
The transition to living gluten-free can be stressful and emotional. It is also not a straightforward process, which can be both frustrating and overwhelming. Every person’s level of sensitivity to gluten is different, so strategies that will work for one person may not work for another person. Validating your loved one’s emotions about this transition will help him or her feel supported.
Plan activities that don’t center around food
When someone is new to living gluten-free, it can feel awkward to attend social events because they often revolve around food. Going out of your way to plan events and activities that don’t involve food may be especially helpful at first. Your loved one will appreciate the opportunity to socialize without extra anxiety about food decisions.
Make the transition fun
Use this time as an opportunity to be adventurous. If you enjoy cooking with your loved one, try some new recipes together. If you enjoy dining out, try a new cuisine that has naturally gluten-free dishes (Indian or Thai can be great options). Make it easier on your loved one by taking care of the planning so that he or she can just enjoy the experience.
Even the most supportive person can unintentionally do things that make his or her loved one feel more isolated or alone in the process of transitioning to living gluten-free. Avoid the following traps:
Telling them its not a big deal or just to relax
It can be tempting to try to support your loved one by encouraging them to “look at the bigger picture” or “calm down” when he or she is expressing emotions about the transition to living gluten-free. However, it is important to let your loved one express and process these emotions. It is life-changing to transition to a gluten-free lifestyle—just as with any change, it can be scary and overwhelming. Give your loved one some time and affection as they work through their emotions. The more supported your loved one feels in experiencing these emotions, the faster he or she will work through them.
Being insensitive about worries or anxieties
It may seem silly or even paranoid to worry about “hidden gluten” in everything from food to soap, but these concerns are very real for your loved one. Anxiety is usually not rational (or easily controlled), so be patient and supportive as your loved one learns how to stay safe in a gluten-full world.
Eating gluten in front of them
Especially at first. Especially if it’s your loved one’s favorite food. It’s just mean.
Inviting them to food-centered events
Unless you have gone out of your way to ensure there is something truly gluten-free for your loved one to eat. Bonus points if you can do it without drawing unwanted attention to your loved one.
Making it about you
Yes, it may be inconvenient for you to stop going to your favorite restaurant or to be more conscientious about leaving crumbs on the counter. Right now, though, let this time be about your loved one. You can work together to find new restaurants and strategies for keeping him or her healthy.
Comparisons to “harder” situations
Everything that’s hard is hard. It’s that simple. Just because it’s not a terminal illness does not mean it’s not difficult for your loved one. Again, the more your loved one feels “allowed” to feel upset about the transition, the faster he or she will be able to move forward.
How do you support your gluten-free loved ones?