Dude…How Do You Eat Out So Much??

eating out celiac disease

See the picture of that yummy looking bread above? That’s the secret of enjoying a night of eating out. It’s all about being prepared and doing everything you can possibly do to minimize the risk and maximize the pleasure.

Let me take a step back and explain.

I received the following email from a fellow celiac who very nicely questioned how I eat out so much. Here is what she had to say…

Dude – I’d like to ask a question and i want to be sure its not taken the wrong way.

If you don’t mind my asking…How often do you eat out? I’m asking because for me, I rarely eat food I don’t prepare myself. Even when traveling, I try to bring a decent amount of my own food. I just don’t have trust and I don’t want to be glutened and be unable to go to work, etc. It’s just not worth it to me and I feel like when I eat food I did not prepare myself, I’m letting others control how I’m feeling vs. myself being in control if that makes sense.

When I hear about people who are often getting glutened, what’s in the back of my mind is “Why are you going out to eat then?”

Let me be clear – it’s never your “fault” if you do your due diligence, ask questions, etc and get glutened. Restaurants and others are to blame.

Also, I know there are times when we must and want to go out. who wants to cook their own birthday dinner, who wants to miss the family tradition of going out on x holiday or whatever? I get that. I really do. I’m just wondering about those that just want to eat out on a Tuesday or who don’t feel like cooking (and hey i’m right there with you sometimes).

How do you personally work this out in your life? How do you walk the tight rope of giving up your control on how you will feel the next day to a restaurant vs biting the bullet and cooking for yourself at home or even bringing your own food to a restaurant to join others?

So here’s the deal and I’ll be flat out honest. Eating out can be a huge pain in the butt. There is a risk every single time we eat food that others prepare. It is simply the celiac way of life.

That being said, yes I still eat out. Not as often as I might like and certainly not in restaurants I don’t trust (which is pretty much every chain restaurant). But life is to be enjoyed and that is what I try to do.

Is it worth the risk? Only you can answer that for yourself.

But there are steps you can take to minimize the risk as much as humanly possible, especially if you are going to a restaurant you’ve never been to before.

Step 1: Call the restaurant ahead of time and ask to speak with the manager. Tell him/her you have celiac disease and try to get a sense if they truly understand what “gluten-free” means. If they hem and haw or seem like they can’t be bothered, cross them off your list. If you get the feeling they can accommodate you, then proceed to step 2.

Step 2: Upon entering the restaurant, ask to speak to the manager again. Tell him/her you called earlier and explain your needs again.

Step 3: While everyone else looks at the menu to see what they want, study the menu to see what you cannot have (which is usually about 95% of the menu). It’s a process of elimination that can take some time. If it’s a large menu, sometimes I don’t even bother and I just wait until the waiter comes along.

Step 4: When the waiter comes to the table, stand up and quietly explain your situation to him/her. Note that I said quietly. Personally, I hate the attention that my situation brings and I also don’t want to put the waiter on the spot in front of the whole table. Go over the do’s and don’ts and the can’s and can’ts of eating gluten-free.

Step 5: It’s time to order. The moment of truth. I usually have at least three items that I will ask questions about and will always go with the safest choice, even if it’s not my first choice.

Step 6: This is the most important step. Enjoy yourself. Do not spend the rest of your meal being paranoid you are going to get sick. You’ve taken the necessary precautions. You’ve done what you can. Now it’s time to eat, drink and be merry.

So back to the picture of the bread. Friday night, Mrs. Dude and I had a great night out with Jennifer Esposito and her husband-to-be Louis. Jennifer brought a loaf of her own bread (with permission from the restaurant of course) for all of us to share.

When’s the last time I had bread at the dinner table? I can’t even remember. It was so friggin’ awesome.

What’s my point? That simple gesture added something special to the evening.

It’s up to you to find these small gestures. It’s up to you to do what you need to do to make your night out less stressful and more memorable.

It can be done…I promise. There is no reason for us to live our life in fear.

(Oh…and she also made me a birthday dessert…apple crumb pie. Bless her little heart.)

celiac and eating out

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51 thoughts on “Dude…How Do You Eat Out So Much??”

  1. You all look radiantly happy—as it should be! xx

    I am in your camp. Dining out does not have to be a fearful event.
    A bit of advance work, maybe look at what others celiacs say about it on Find Me Gluten Free and talk with the server or manager.
    A few minutes will tell you if everything is going to be handled properly. I have never been whacked by doing this “homework” in advance. One time, I even had a waiter tell me “you can’t have that, but you can have this….” when I ordered something because he knew it had breadcrumbs in the salad prep but it was not mentioned on the menu. (yeah, he got a big tip)

    Upscale places do a better job of it because they prepare from scratch for the most part. It was very generous of them to allow you to bring in bread and dessert (BTW, this was also accepted at a place in the Boston area when I brought in homemade flourless cake for my Mother’s birthday. Most restaurants are willing to go the extra mile for their patrons!)

    And finally….if you are dining at a place run by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, you are going to be eating fabulous food. so…
    What did you have anyway?…come on, spill….and let me live vicariously for a few minutes and drool. It may be a while before I am in NYC again.

    1. Mrs. Dude and I split two entrees…Halibut over veggies and a whole lobster. Oh my….it was amazing. Not like any lobster I’ve ever had before.

      Fyi…we were at ABC Kitchen. So good, I went back the following night with my brother and sis-in-law.

  2. Great information, thanks. I will have to be more pro-active as I did cook my own birthday dinner a couple of weeks ago. Kind of depressing. Would you mind a suggestion? How about “bless her big heart”? JE seems to be a wonderful, caring person.

  3. Hey Dude and other followers,

    This post came at the most opportune time for me as I have a problem. I’m attending a wedding in San Diego for a couple who is friends with my significant other. I contacted the bride to get the caterer information. She said they do not want to talk to guests and I should tell her my food concerns. I did. Now the caterer is refusing to feed me. I am really upset by this. I’m traveling all the way across the country for this and I can’t even get a meal?? Am I overreacting? Should I go behind the bride’s back and try to figure out who the caterer is? Or just wait til the wedding is over and blast them on social media? Any suggestions on what to bring to a wedding for my dinner?

    Thank you!

    1. Best bet? Eat before you go and take a big purse with some bars/snacks to nibble on.
      Don’t *not* eat and hope you’ll find something edible at the affair. I did that at my daughter’s graduation reception and wound up not eating all day because there wasn’t a single non-gluten based item at the event. (Lots of mini sandwiches and cupcakes, but nothing fresh.)

      Still had a wonderful time seeing her and her friends graduate, though.

    2. My own two cents…don’t blast the caterer. They are trying to feed a lot of people. If they can’t take care of you, make other arrangements. I almost always bring my own food to big events. The host (in this case, the bride) has enough on her plate. Just bring your own food and enjoy the day.

    3. Take a handbag full of food with you – enjoy the safe food you’ve brought with you. Its good that the caterer is being upfront and honest about not being able to prepare a gluten free meal. This way you can bring your own (just make sure you have something delicious) and still celebrate both in style and safely. Enjoy the wedding!

    4. Our daughter is getting married in December so we’ve been discussing these wedding issues recently.

      Since the Bride is your significant other’s friend, I would not go behind the Bride’s back for any reason. This caterer’s honesty is good so you know. I would not talk bad about the caterer to anyone because it will reflect on your friends. I either eat before I go or carry something with me when I attend events arranged by others.

      Our caterer is preparing some GF items since the Father and the Grandmother of the Bride must eat GF. My Mom & I really don’t plan to eat much anyway but we thought it may be appropriate to have something for guests who need GF although we don’t currently know of anyone else. We are having a separate GF cake for my Mom (and anyone else interested) so GrandMom can enjoy a piece of cake at her Granddaughter’s wedding. My daughter is getting married on the date of my Mom & Dad’s 55th anniversary so the extra cake is a little side grandparents celebration desired by my daughter at her wedding.

    5. This situation is rather odd. I’m no social butterfly, but I know that caterers have been handling special requests for years (low salt, vegetarian, kosher, etc.) – it’s not that hard for a real food professional, for cryin’ out loud (I’ve requested for a few other weddings in the last 3 years of eating this way – a couple times I and the kids had completely differenet meals than everyone else.). So I was taken aback when my husband’s aunt, who is more cosmopolitan then I am, thought GF DF was an outrageous request (and was not going to ask the caterer). I gave her a pass, chalked it up to her being a mother-of-the-bride, and contacted the caterers on my own. Naturally they were more than happy to help, and I didn’t have to stress Auntie out. Since this wedding is using a caterer who can’t do GF (maybe it’s a budget event?), do bring your own food, and don’t hide (stop at a Chipotle or Qdoba, or health food store with a food bar for a GF wrap between the wedding and reception. Don’t forget a yummy packaged dessert in that handbag!). Anyone who asks, just politely say you have dietary restrictions).

      You might try to figure out if the caterer really has been asked (I think the folks planning these events get so stressed they might be entitled to some white lies), so you could do the same thing I did, unbeknownst to the bride/mother. If it really is true, then an after-the-fact polite review/comment online about the business not being able to accommodate special dietary needs would be appropriate.

      1. Chipotle is my go-to event meal! Going to a friend’s house for a party? I stop at Chipotle on the way. Going to a company picnic? I stop at Chipotle. Going to a wedding? I’m probably going to stop at Chipotle.

        I specifically ask my friends to NOT plan food for me because I don’t want to hurt their feelings when I don’t eat it because I can’t verify if it’s safe. I also don’t want to be hungry when that happens.

        Chipotle is no guarantee, but I have had very good luck eating there (knock on wood). It’s filling and delicious, and I go there so often that as soon as I walk into almost any Chipotle in my town, the employees recognize me and start changing their gloves. I feel like Norm walking into Cheers!!! (Only without the beer and with the possibility of getting really sick if the employees were careless with spoons touching flour tortillas that day.)

        1. That’s awesome that you’ve had good experiences with Chipotle. I love that place. But I can’t take my 8 yr old daughter with Celiac there. Even though we had them change gloves, wipe down, etc, my daughter got deathly ill. I think it is because even if they have gloves on and touch tortillas, and then immediately touch lettuce, etc from the toppings — those toppings get glutened (and it doesn’t really matter if they change gloves if the toppings have already been cross contaminated).

          I think my daughter is just extremely sensitive. She is so very tiny for her age, and now we know why — her body hadn’t been able to absorb nutrients for who knows how long. So, in her case, we are very very strict about eating out. We really need her to grow and to heal. But the eating out thing has been so frustrating! Kudos to people who can make it work!

          1. That’s a shame! I hope you have something you can use for convenience that doesn’t make your daughter sick. I never get the lettuce or cheese because they are always touching it after touching tortillas. My only big risk is the spoons touching the tortillas and then going back in the food. I’ve stopped getting white rice or anything on the front row because a few weeks ago I saw one of their employees being carless and letting a flour tortilla touch things on that row while they made a burrito.

          2. I also had the experience getting sick there (first time I ever tried them). My BFF felt bad about it (she suggested we go their) looked online and found that if you ask them they will use the prep in back that is clean to make your bowl. Have not gone back since but It is good to know. 🙂

    6. Caterer refusing to accomodate with notice is illegal. Bride refusing to pay the extra $20-30 per plate for special meals isn’t.
      Decide how important this relationship is to you & either don’t go or bring your own. My best friend got married at this 5 star resort & buffet dinner was served. Nothing except the vegetables was safe. I asked chef quietly for salad without the bleu cheese & croutons…received a 12inch plate of spinach. Snarky comment of “here’s your gluten safe meal” was met with a smile, some mixed vegetables & vinegrette tossed on top from the buffet & sat down with a smile. Friend was horrified. & upset till i reminded her its her day, I have something to eat with everyone else & vegetables won’t kill me…though they did taste better after that 2nd glass of wine 🙂
      While I do advocate accomidation the diplomatic way to handle this is
      – decide your priority (relationship or winning a meal that still may not be safe)
      -bring your own
      FYI I’m paying $100,000 for plated dinner next month I’ve worked my butt off for & even gotten boss approval for my meal up-charge ($60 instead of everyone elses 35). After being poisoned at tasting & pissing off the sales guys since…will be having salad & whatevers in the whole foods bag next to my chair. Remember SN

    7. Caterers are not equipped to deal with us celiacs. If they said they could, would you really trust the food? It passes through way too many hands and probability of getting sick is high.

      I’m in San Diego and there are some awesome gluten free options, so I would bring your own or eat beforehand. 2Good2B is a gluten free bakery & cafe that has a location downtown and in Encinitas. Their stuff is also corn free and they have many dairy free options. Another option is Healthy Creations, also a completely gluten free cafe that specializes in preparing ready to bake gluten free meals, catering, and also have a sit-in cafe. Their Paninis are insane!

      I’ll just link you to my yelp list for GF places in San Diego so you have some more resources. http://www.yelp.com/list/gluten-free-in-sd-san-diego-4

  4. Ok freaking out a little because louis looks EXACTLY like my brother… breathing again jen’s smart enough to avoid unemployed chain smoking texas alcoholic.

    Chains I successfully eat at regularly:
    Wendy’s- burger meat is safe, fries ARE NOT. Bun-less burger on a baked potato looks & sounds weird but cheap filling safe food on the fly you do what ya gotta do. While I occasionally get weird questons on the how (double stack done same as usual in a potato box) this is safe straight off the menu same as 100 other times a day

    Chipotle- experiences vary on location

    Udi’s (now eati’s)-GF buns, GF safe fries lots of goodness on menu

    Red robin- experiences vary MOST locations keep GF buns in stock & managers are trained on GF fries. SKIP THE SEASON SALT-contains msg!!
    While i agree that eating out is a risk, some days my life just won’t allow getting home for a baked potato or left overs & the bar in my purse either wasn’t replaced or was eaten earlier. If you’re not willing to accomidate on the fly life gets really lonely really quick.

  5. I agree, doing your homework ahead of time makes a BIG difference. I too have been safe every time I’ve called ahead and checked in with a manager, because yes, you can tell right away if they understand Celiac vs. the fad. Also checking a restaurant’s website ahead of time – if they have a GF or allergen menu posted, their staff are usually pretty well trained. (But still check in with a manager when you arrive!)

    Disney World is probably the safest place I eat on a regular basis (I’m so lucky to live in Orlando!) because the chefs *get* food allergies, and you speak to each of them before you order. Last time I ate there, when I told the chef I had Celiac and I’m “only” allergic to gluten, he smiled and said “that’s easy” – and then proceeded to tell me that 95% of their menu could be adjusted for a Celiac. 🙂

  6. First off, SO glad you had a break in NYC – visiting with friends and family. The loving gestures and care extended to you two goes such a long way, doesn’t it.
    Personally, because of my extensive food allergies and intolerances, eating out is “more” than attending to Celiac (dairy, egg, millet, sorghum, walnuts, apples etc). I do have a go-to restaurant locally but other than that I take my food with me. I order something to drink or if there are options, like a baked potato, I will go that route.
    All of the suggestions offered make perfect sense. Due diligence is all we can do. Whatever it takes to enable yourself to participate is what matters.

  7. I always call ahead an see if they have a gluten free menu. If they don’t have one I pass on them. There are so many restaurants that DO have a GF menu these days that I find it safer to patronize them, rather than hoping I can get a safe meal on the fly.

    If only the world was run more like Walt Disney World’s restaurants where the chef and/or manager is HAPPY to talk to you and is actually excited to see you in their restaurant. I thanked one Disney chef for taking the time to speak with me and he came right out and said, “Don’t thank me! Let me thank you! I sling the same hash all day. When someone like you comes into my restaurant, I get to use my skills and be creative. I live for people like you!”

  8. Glad you had a wonderful birthday celebration. Great restaurant advice & procedure to follow.

    Chef of a very trusted local restaurant texted me last Friday that 1 of my favorite menu “best I’ve ever eaten anywhere” items was featured that night. The entire entree including sides was gluten free & absolutely wonderful! Incidentally, not advertised as GF in any way.

    Our usual “Trusted Advisor” (she is much more than a waitress/server) always takes great care of us & even added a couple of GF jokes, which were funny, apropos & she could hardly wait for us to come in to tell us.

    GF can be happily experienced in restaurants; however, GDude’s advocacy/education efforts is a vital ingredient for continued success. I continuously support those Chefs/restaurants who genuinely care & I don’t waste time/effort on those who don’t. Even my most favorite places slip up every now & then, we’ll discuss what happened, I’ll sometimes show them the effects on my skin (the eye patch helped convey some serious side effects) and spare them the more unappetizing details – they always feel almost as bad as I do. I always go back to dine with them again because they are trying hard to please us & we enjoy dining with them. Some pain is worth enduring.

    I still prepare most of my own food and I am very careful when we travel. However, the PROCESS of working with our trusted local Chefs is well worth the risk & effort for my wife (not GF) as well as for me because we enjoy eating out so much & we don’t enjoy living like food hermits.

  9. I eat out way less than I used too, but I still enjoying eating at restaurants. Everyone’s advice about being prepared is essential. When possible call ahead. But I do know what it is like to be out shopping or whatever and you end up somewhere you didn’t plan to go. Plus, I live in a southern, rural area where I would say that restaurants are not as progressive as in the larger cities. Battered and fried is the main food group. I ALWAYS have back up snacks with me to keep from being ravenous if no options are found. I also try to bring my own packets of salad dressing and eat plain salad if needed ( http://www.minimus.biz/Gluten-Free.aspx ). Always talk to the manager, kindly I might add, not just the wait staff. There are some fabulous waiters and waitresses out there, but I have run into many who either look at you somewhat annoyed or they ask you what gluten is. I had a cook once say that he didn’t know what was on the chicken. It comes frozen. So…I didn’t eat that. Don’t downplay your sensitivity. I used to be so embarrassed about asking so many questions, but after several glutenings I have gotten over it. And as depressing as it may sound, be prepared to walk out if you feel they are not taking you seriously or if they do not seem to understand fully the seriousness of your requests. Then mark them off your list. I also no longer go in thinking I want a particular meal. The menu, ingredients, and overall knowledge shown by the staff dictates my choice of meal at that restaurant. It will always be a little leap of faith to eat out and for now most of my experiences have proven to be safe and enjoyable. If that is just too scary, shift your focus to enjoying the company of others (who may be eating) and eat beforehand. Not fair. I understand. But at the end of lives, what do we treasure most? The gluten free pizza we ate (and then worried if it was truly gluten free) or the long conversations we had with our sister/friend/mother/father over that dinner.

  10. I was spoiled on traveling.. the very first place I traveled to post-diagnosis was Portland, Oregon… and I found out very quickly the next time I traveled (Tampa) how different locations are from place to place.

    There’s a difference between eating out in your locale and eating out in an unknown place. When traveling or landing someplace new, I start with the local restaurant recommendations from GF bloggers and then I talk with the folks once I’m there. If I’m not comfortable I have no qualms walking out… and then you’d be surprised at how fast they want to learn. (I’ve met more executive chefs that way.) My husband (love this man!) will even call ahead and ask for me himself when he wants to surprise me with a special night out.

    I work hard to develop “regular” spots. I do well at (some) chains – but mostly because they made one walloping mistake and then learned from it. I purposely cultivate relationships with wait staff, managers,… pretty much everyone in the front end. And I tip well. Unfortunately some people in our community (and in the fad diet world) have established a bad rap for the rest of us, to the point that we have special names, of which “gluten bitch” is the prime one. I work very hard not to be one. But my regular places also know when I’m not happy it is definitely *their* screw-up. They’ve learned that it’s not just about getting the food right, but that there’s a psychological issue as well because I can’t take chances if something isn’t right.

    And unfortunately I just got this right in Ann Arbor and will now be moving to a new location (Omaha, NE) and have to break in new “regular spots.” Oh, well.

  11. Thank you for addressing this. I’ve often wondered the same thing about you and thought, well, he must have his favorite restaurants, he knows people, etc. 🙂

    I’m hesitant to eat at restaurants, same as your letter writer. I don’t think all chain restaurants deserve to be cast aside, however; I think some chains (for example, Legal Seafood) have been doing it well for a long time. You still need to ask the right questions, though.

    It’s hard to not be paranoid! I never was before. And now… oh boy. I get it.

  12. GD-

    You are one handsome dude, great pic (no offense Mrs. dude). Dinner looked amazing. Everyone should be able to enjoy one great worry free/gluten free birthday dinner. There’s a mission for ya.

    Dude has some great advice. I am out on the road a lot in Jersey doing inspections with other people and we eat out often. Almost always somewhere different, depending on where the road takes us. Today was olive garden. Staff person was great. They had a gluten free menu..six items on it. Three of which were meat. Down to three. Two were gluten free pastas cooked in the same pasta water as the regular spaghetti. Down to 1. Looks like a salad sans croutons. Whoyah.

    Just make the best you can and enjoy the company. Drink heavily. Whatever works for you. Just don’t be too afraid or you will be limited by something that you might be able to control.

    Jersey Girl
    “She wanted me to have salad as the food! No! Salad isn’t food. Salad comes with the food. Salad is a promissory note that something good is going to happen… and I should just wait right here.”

    John Pinette

  13. Was glad to see you and Mrs. Dude having a great nite out. Liked seeing picture of the four of you having good time. Mrs. Dude is so lovely you are very lucky man Dude, but I think you already know that. Wish you many years of great birthdays. All the best and gentle hugs for Mrs. Dude

  14. I eat out a lot less than I did pre-celiac, but we still try to eat out once or twice a month (and we travel a lot and eat out). It sounds counter-intuitive but what really helps is to learn how to cook yourself (I have always liked cooking so this was no hardship). The more you know about cooking, the more you can ask the right questions of restaurant staff/manager/chef about what the best choices are.

  15. I’d add one thing to your list, Gluten Dude: do some online research on the restaurant. Find out if other celiacs go there, or if it has a reputation for glutening people. You can go on Yelp and search for the words ‘gluten free’ and see if anyone mentions it in their reviews – or check out how well it’s rated on Find me Gluten Free. This can be a great way to find out if a restaurant has a gluten free menu to be trendy, or if they actually care about getting things right for celiacs. It’s certainly helped me dodge some bullets, and it’s also encouraged me to try places that might seem a little iffy at first, but that actually do a great job avoiding contamination.

  16. I need to eat out more often than I’d like to because I work in Community Nursing and I can’t always make it home for meals. I’ve found that visiting a chain restaurant’s web site before I go helps me decide whether it’s worth the energy driving there. I find that Wendy’s is limited to Chili, Baked Potatoes, and chicken garden salads (no croutons or nuts–cross-contamination). There’s even less choice at Tim Horton’s (I can only eat their chili and GF macaroons). Swiss Chalet, Crabby Joe’s, and Boston Pizza have more choice (haven’t tried BP yet, but Swiss Chalet & Crabby’s are my go-to restaurants of choice when I want something more filling and sit-down than Tim Horton’s and Wendy’s). When I go to a catered event, I don’t bother asking the caterer to make something I can eat. I just let my host know that I need to bring my own food and I don’t worry about what other people think. Blasting caterers on social media can come back to bite, so it’s not worth it.

  17. The other thing you really have to be careful about when eating out is restaurants that start out being careful, and then became not-careful. I live in hipster heaven, Austin, Texas, and the first couple of times I went to a local restaurant–Kerbey Lane–and said, “gluten-free,” they responded by saying, “We’re not safe if you have celiac–get the salad.” Then, they stopped warning me when I said, “gluten-free.” Sure enough, a couple of sandwiches on gluten-free bread later, that had probably been toasted on a shared grill, and I’m showing symptoms of having been glutened. (Despite asking!!! Repeatedly!!)

    Basically, it’s pretty hit-or-miss. Because gluten-free is such a fad, still, there are lots of places offering “gluten-free,”, that will make you sick. (My local grocery store even offers “low-gluten,” baked goods that they say are not good for people with gluten-intolerance or celiac.)

    The one thing that I have found, is that if a restaurant server sayd, “Is that a preference or an intolerance– because if it’s a medical issue, we use separate dishes,” then you’re safe. In Austin, the local chains Zen (Asian food) and Maudie’s (fantastic Tex-Mex) always ask, “intolerance or preference–we’ll use separate dishes,” and I don’t get sick there. Kerbey Lane, though, which is another local chain, makes me sick every time I eat anything other than the salad, there, even though they offer, “gluten-free bread and pancakes.”

  18. Looks like you had a wonderful birthday! You all look fantastic and happy 🙂 I’ve had much more success and have been more assertive when dining out precisely because of the information shared here, previous posts before by you, and other member’s comments. I don’t eat out often, but great 6 steps to follow with even more helpful specifics I’ll certainly be using. I always call ahead and try to handle #4 with grace, ease and poise while still making sure I’m understood.

    Thanks for sharing and Happy Birthday Month!

  19. I email and/or call ahead as well, especially before going on vacation.

    I also made up double sided business cards that have a “Medically Restricted Gluten-Free Diet” alert & info for the food prep people (if I’m at a sit down place). It goes over cross contamination concerns, hidden sources of gluten, and overt sources of gluten.

    Giving this to the manager and/or waitress is a good gauge on if they are taking you seriously or not. Usually once the card is in the equation I get a LOT more questions and assistance with finding safe food. I also ask that the card stay with my order the entire time until it gets to my table in order to avoid the finishing person throwing an onion ring on my gluten free steak or a side of bread on my salad.

    I also yelp. A lot. And I give reviews to help other celiacs find safe places and to point out NOT safe places or places that say they are GF but really aren’t. I become a regular at the safe places and work with managers and owners to understand how they can serve the celiac community.

    1. Would you mind sharing the verbiage you have on your business cards? I am newly diagnosed, and this sounds like such an excellent idea! My husband is hesitant for me to make much of a fuss and to be able to hand over a card with all the facts would be so much easier and quieter (although I know I have to tell the manager and waiter first, then hand over the card).

      1. Somebody shove some gluten free food in my mouth so I don’t say something insensitive about the husband who doesn’t want his wife to make a “scene” while trying to order food that is safe for her to eat. It’s coming. I feel it coming!

      2. It has a bold, red outline around the border of the car and says, in a big font:
        I am on a medically-restricted GLUTEN FREE diet. Please see reverse side of card for a list of foods that will make me sick.

        The opposite side says :
        I will get sick if I ingest even a tiny amount of GLUTEN.
        GLUTEN is a protein found in…..and then it lists common ingredients w/ gluten, hidden sources of gluten, and how cross contamination can make me sick.

  20. Honestly, the best advice I can give is don’t be afraid to go out and give it a try. Obviously come prepared with questions and plan in advance, and obviously don’t eat if you don’t feel like your needs will be met, but its always worth at least going out and trying. You might just discover a new favorite restaurant that can accommodate you better than you might’ve thought.

    Case in point, just yesterday I had an amazing experience at a Chinese buffet. After going gluten free I’d pretty much crossed Chinese food off my list of possibilities; I really didn’t think there were any places in town that I’d feel would be able to work with me and I could communicate well enough with. I felt bad for my boyfriend though for missing out, and figured I could just get by on the salad bar and let him enjoy the rest.

    Well this buffet also had a large Mongolian style grill and bar. Glancing it over, I figured the sauces were all probably out of the question, but I decided to pull the manager over and ask, anyway. She told me the sauces were probably all contaiminated and she wouldn’t feel comfortable if I ate them. But she went in the back and grabbed some packaged seasonings and butter, and asked the cook to sanitized the grill and equiptment for me.

    The moment of truth came when someone else came up with a howl filled with sauce. The cook put his on the oopposite end of the grill and seperated the spatulas he was using to cook them. He even washed his hands and changed gloves before scooping my food to my plate.

    It was a delicious, filling meal, and I didn’t get sick at all. I understand being scared, but little surprises like that make it easier to be willing to put myself out there.

  21. A couple more thoughts on eating out/eating out and travel: when I was first diagnosed I found “Let’s Eat Out” a really useful resource. Lots of good information on what to ask the server or chef and what to be wary of (hidden gluten, preparation methods). Available on Amazon, of course, and I see that they have published the chapters separately (eating in a Thai restaurant, French, Italian and so on).
    And I’d like to echo another post: my husband always tips over-generously when I’ve had a good gluten dining experience.
    I write TripAdvisor reviews when I’ve had a good (or bad) restaurant experience (also for hotels that serve breakfast).
    For anyone traveling in Europe: there are celiac associations in each of the European countries, with lots of info and restaurant reviews. Most (not all) have a English-language page.

  22. With four members of our family having celiac, I get very nervous eating out. I can be happy with a grilled chicken salad, but my teens are not going to settle for that every night on a week long vacation. I will echo what others have already said, research, call ahead, and speak to the manager when you get there. I managed to eat out 12 days in a row and never got sick. I had a four day teaching conference in Minneapolis with non-celiac coworkers. They were kind enough to eat at restaurants that I thought would be safe for me. We ate at local and one chain restaurant. Immediately following my conference as a family, we went to Florida for a week. We bought and prepared our own food for breakfast and lunch but went out each night for dinner. We did have Red Robin twice, but other than that we dined at local restaurants. We even found an Italian restaurant that made nearly all their dishes gluten free upon request. It was a crash course in not being fearful of food…hoping it was all my prep work and not just dumb luck that kept us healthy. 🙂

  23. Jeffree Itrich

    Great post. I have double gluten issues; it affects not just my gut but another organ as well. When I get glutened I suffer a painful double whammy, it’s not pretty. Nevertheless I’m trying to live a sane life which includes occasionally eating out. I look for restaurants that offer a GF menu as well as a reassurance that they know how to do that properly. If I have even the slightest suspicion that they don’t “get it” I won’t stay and eat. Many places I’ve visited have a chef or owner with a child who suffers from celiac. They make critically sure that their food is safe for folks like us. Love those places but they aren’t always easy to find. I travel a bit for work and research GF restaurants in cities where I’ll be. So far that’s worked for me.

  24. Anne-Sofie Saabye Møller


    When I´m going out, I usually bring a small card you can print from the internet saying what I can´t eat. The Celiac Union has cards at their webpage, as you can print out in what ever language you need, which is really great for vacations!

    Another things is talking with the chef. The waiter can understand wrong, remember something wrong or (which I´ve seen) simply don’t care. Also, the chef has an education in food and also this things, the waiter does´nt. I know its annoying to make that much “noise”, but its better than being sick. Or, be safe and go with a salad or fries…

  25. Do you have any advice on GF eating on vacation? My husband and I are taking an anniversary trip in six weeks and it will be the first time I will have traveled since learning I need to be gluten free. I am so nervous about it. I’d love to hear some pointers.

    1. Do research ahead of time. Look on review sites for restaurants that are GF safe. Also search for chain restaurants that you know are usually safe. Email the manager/owner with your questions/concerns and verify that they are celiac safe. I’ve gotten some great responses that way.

      I also locate the nearest grocery store and go there first to pick up extra food so I don’t feel stuck. I pack food as well.

  26. Of course you’ll research eateries in your destination (reviews by people who need to eat GF!), but don’t forget to find Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or health food stores in that area. Being able to have a safe packaged bedtime snack goes a long way toward making the end of my vacation day all warm and snuggly (or breakfast carb, like instant oatmeal, to go with the ubiquitous motel fruit that you wash yourself). Since it’s 3 of us in my family who are GF, we’ve found it really worthwhile to book motel rooms with mini fridges and microwaves. If we’re traveling by car, we bring a cooler, if by airplane and rental car, a soft sided insulated bag/cooler. Then there’s at least one meal (often lunch) I don’t have to be stressed over locating, b/c we can take sandwiches and go-withs of our choice for a picnic. Our favorite first night dinner we sometimes pack if we’re driving is cold rice noodles with peanut sauce, chicken, and peas; I put it in a big ziploc bag. Happy Anniversary!

  27. I’m the one who wrote the letter….thanks for posting it and all the comments. i do many of the things you are suggesting. I think for me, its generally not worth all the work of calling ahead, etc. Its just easier for me to eat at home or bring my own food. I have my few spots i go around where i live (an area with some options but not many) where i feel confident and then other than that i dont venture out much. I’ve spent one to many times sitting at a table watching others eat to know to bring my own food ! I think what you said is key….we each have to find what works for us. The only time i’m forced out of my comfort zone is on vacation. I do ok….usually i do not get glutened per se but towards the end of the week i think that the tiny bits of cross contamination build up in my system and i’m not feeling great. Also, i think its hard when you eat relatively clean and healthy and then are on vacation where you want to enjoy some not so healthy foods or the safest options for you are not normally foods you are used to (how many times can i be suggested that the safest thing for me to eat is the $50 steak with a $10 plan baked potato on the side !). Sometimes i wonder if this is also some of the culprit with eating out especially several times in a week.

    Perhaps in the future i will live in an area where its easier to eat out with more options, but i suppose for now I feel much better eating out minimally. Maybe i should get a medical sabatical from work and be able to try out 20 places in my area and not have to go to worry about going to work the next day !!!! Wonder if my boss would go for that as needing to be on paid medical leave : )

    Thanks again to all for your comments. I think more than any particular food i miss the spontenaity that i took for granted pre Celiac. I miss not having to plan everything and call ahead. I miss not worrying if something i ate would make me sick or if i would be able to last through the event after dinner or would have to leave cuz i wasn’t feeling well. To me…that’s harder than giving up any particular food. I’m glad to see others are challenged by this and just like our community….everyone has their own unique way of dealing.

  28. I just got back from seven days in Germany, Switzerland, and France…and didn’t get glutened ONCE. In spite of not knowing either French or German. I did take some Gluten Free Passport pages in French and German with me…which I handed to the server every time I wanted to order…but it was a lovely experience. They are very careful in Europe.

    I have a half-dozen local restaurants I trust…but I don’t eat at potlucks at church any longer. Even if the food is gluten free…cross contamination is a huge problem. I still go with my family…I just eat first.

  29. I just came home from a big BBQ- my first since my diagnosis last January (ok, I work a lot and don’t get out much). I had my usual cache of snacks, just in case. But, my friend who did the cooking called me yesterday while he was prepping and asked what he needed to do so I wouldn’t get sick. It meant a lot. I don’t think he realizes how much, to tell you the truth.
    I was still a bit scared. I didn’t eat a lot. I did eat though. It was so good… and I feel fine.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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