Being Gluten-Free Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

gluten free pot luck
helping celiacs

Dude note: To help celebrate and promote Celiac Awareness Month, I will be writing 30 blog posts over 30 consecutive days (weekends excluded) with the theme “30 Days of Helping 30 Celiacs”. Each post will be aimed toward helping one specific person or group of people. If you or someone you know needs help, guidance, advice or a shoulder to cry on, please contact me and I will do what I can to help. On the 31st day, you’re on your own. Totally kidding.

Today’s 30 for 30 blog post is for: Monica (not her real name) whose fellow employees may have good gluten-free intentions but she’s unsure how to approach them.

We’ve all been there. People with good intentions insist that the food they made is totally safe for us to eat. And if guilt overcomes our good senses, we could be in for a world of hurt.

Remember these words…It’s NEVER worth it.

Monica…take it away:

Dear Dude,

I have been following your blog for a while now. I love the variety of topics and just how relatable everything is. I do not have diagnosed celiac, but got tired of listening to doctors that don’t know what they are talking about and gave up gluten on my own three years ago. Thank you for being such a strong voice in our community.

With that being said, I have a problem. I am a hairdresser and work with fifty women. Pot luck is the last Friday of every month. I used to work Fridays when I ate gluten, so it was never a problem. I will now be working Fridays again and am having some major anxiety about going in to work today.

My coworkers know I’m “the one who can’t eat anything” and who is always the pain at restaurants if I even go along. That doesn’t bother me. Being gluten free has taught me to be an amazing cook, so I would rather eat my own food! But with pot luck, my coworkers are going to be attempting to make things so I feel included.

How do I approach the topic of me not trusting their dirty, gluten filled kitchens without sounding unappreciative? I know they are trying to be nice, but some of them roll their eyes when I say I can’t have it. My manager thinks it is a choice and refers to me as vegan. Every once in a while, I get the question “what can you eat?” with a look of non-concern and irritation.

I have tried time and time again to explain, but they don’t take me seriously because it isn’t celiac or because it is such a fad. So many people that they know say they can’t have gluten, but drink beer and eat whatever when they “cheat.”

I would love some advice on how to deal with going to work one day a month or some words of encouragement from other people.

Thank you so much!


Stand your ground Monica. You don’t owe anybody an explanation.

I’ve happily gotten to the point where I have no problem informing people “thank you so much, but I can’t eat that.” Period. Guilt-free.

That being said…it’s not like I don’t trust anybody. We have friends who have done an amazing job making safe meals for me, but they always ask Mrs. Dude 100 questions beforehand. And I’ve never gotten sick.

There is never a need to apologize to anybody for being gluten-free. If they’re too ignorant to understand that, it’s on them, not you.

Bring your own food and enjoy the company.

Gluten Dude: The mobile app that puts your safety first!

All the tools you need for a simpler gluten-free journey, brought to you by a passionate celiac disease advocate who understands the challenges you face.

Find Gluten-free Restaurants

Thrive with Celiac Disease

Subscribe to the Blog

Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Let's Connect

Topics of Conversation


35 thoughts on “Being Gluten-Free Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry”

  1. Hi Monica! To repeat what G.D. said, it is NEVER worth eating anything you’re not 100% about. How I frame it is, why would anyone be offended by what I eat? If I bring my own food and join in on the social activity, they really don’t get to have an opinion.
    I’m not on the offense here. Simply put, you can present it as it being less work for the host, co-workers etc. The pressure is off them and you can relax knowing your food is safe.
    I do this regularly. In the potluck situation, undressed salads, fruit plates or drinks (juices, etc) are options for you to provide along with something else for yourself.
    As with most things, the more you do it, the easier it gets, Monica. Keep yourself safe so you can relax and enjoy the event. You’ll find most people won’t even notice or at least comment.

  2. I would just treat it as a social event and not worry about the food aspect…. just bring your own food and sit and eat with everyone. I don’t think you owe anyone any explanations (whether it’s celiac, NCGS or a personal choice, those are all valid). I try not to do a lot of big discussions, I just go with “I don’t eat X” and leave it at that.

    I am sure the whole point of the pot luck is to create a relaxing social situation, and you can totally participate in that with your own food. Don’t even worry about it 🙂

  3. Comrade Svilova

    I try to remember with good friends that they really feel badly that they can’t cook for me, and even though I don’t want to say for the hundreth time “I’m so sorry, but I can’t!” I still try to take their insistence that they want to try as a sign of good will. But it sounds like the people you’re talking about are not necessarily just coming from a friendly, caring place, and I’m sorry. But like GD said, just “I’m so sorry, but I can’t eat that,” as many times as required, with a smile and no explanations!

  4. I run into something similar at work as well. There are a couple of coworkers who think of me at engagement functions, and bring me in gluten-free goods they’ve baked themselves. I really appreciate what they do, especially as they use parchment paper on their pans to avoid cross-contamination. And so I don’t have the heart to question them on their mixing bowls, etc. My safest bet is to tell them I’ve just eaten, but will take them home for later. I know that’s probably not the right way to handle it, but I really don’t want to hurt their feelings. (And it helps if you have just eaten, so you’re not drooling or gazing at all of the food with longing)
    Bottom line for me is that there are people thinking of me, trying to ensure I can participate in everything. And that’s something to be thankful for.

  5. If people want to try or do try to fix something for me, I simply tell them, “Thank you. I truly appreciate your thought. However I don’t eat anything that doesn’t come from my own kitchen, not even my mother’s cooking.” Then I laugh, and they usually laugh, and we all get on to doing whatever. No guilt. No sorry. No weirdness. If someone has a problem with what I do or don’t eat, it’s on them.

  6. I agree with Katherine’s approach. I hate for people to go to the worry for me. I would tell all of your co-workers to please not trouble themselves; you will bring your own food.

    1. Katherine, Amy and Maranda definitely have the simplest approach. That is what I have been doing since my diagnosis. Anywhere I go potluck or an invite for dinner I cook something for everyone to eat. And the dish is something no one can refuse. Like a decadent mac’n cheese or swedish meatballs that melt in your mouth. it has really worked out. However, recently a very good friend of mine had a birthday coming up. I called him to wish him a happy one. He proceeds to tell me that he and a bunch of his friends (my friends too) are going to this really cool cafe on the ocean to celebrate. I live 10 min. away. They have to drive 30 min to get there. Did I get invited? NO. This friend is close enough that it made no sense not to invite me. So the next day I called and asked him, “How come you didn’t ask me to come along?” His reply, “Because you can’t eat there.” I guess that is a whole other topic. It’s all about the food and not our friendship? I could have had a glass of wine or a mai tai and enjoyed the company. I’m still feeling the hurt. I’ll get over it though.

      1. I’ve gotten to where I will bring my own food but instead of making a dish for everyone else, I’ll just go to the store and buy a regular gluten-filled food item like a pack of Chips A’hoy or Oreos. Thay way, I know they will get eaten up, or I could just send them home with someone else. I used to make gluten-free goodies to provide, but once others had touched them, I felt hesitant to grab any myself due to cross-contamination issues, and I hated having to give the leftovers up because of cross-contamination risk. This is what has worked out best for me.

  7. Bring your own food, with enough to share, and say “Thanks, it looks great but I have more than enough to eat.” Do it once or twice and they will quit trying to feed you. Or you can lie. Tell them that yes indeed. you have now received an official diagnosis and yes, it IS celiac. I am sure they do not know the details of how that is done. Will that get them off your back? If people will listen to me for more than 10 seconds, I liken it to people who are allergic to peanuts. For some reason the public knows and respects that even a tiny bit of nut can set off a reaction to someone allergic to nuts. It may be a poor analogy, but seriously? No one (except super close friends and family), REALLY cares about our digestive issues and what we can eat. I do hate it that people try to feed me GF processed mixes and foods when I do great by cooking my own things from scratch! My daughter in law once looked at my dinner (that I threw together at her house with fresh, real, identifiable ingredients) and at her plate and declared that mine looked a lot better! (And it was)!

  8. Yikes, the potlucks! We have a huge Christmas potluck every year at work. This year was the first year after I had gone gluten-free. My friends did ask what I could eat ahead of time. I just told them not to worry about it and to bring what they would normally bring. That way I didn’t have to stress about their methods or every ingredient. I have found that they look somewhat relieved when I say that. They didn’t want to leave me out, but were not sure how to do that. I really do appreciate their concern. I made something I like and know I could have, and more importantly I dished up some and put it aside for me BEFORE setting it out for everyone (just stick it in the fridge for lunchtime). I was glad I had done that when I went back into the room of food to get a napkin. One of the ladies (who just didn’t know) had taken the spoon out of one of the other dishes (most definitely gluten-filled) and scooped out some of the spinach/artichoke dip that I brought. So even if any of the dishes started as a true gluten-free dish, there is no guarantee that they will stay that way at a potluck/buffet type meal. I still had some great conversations with friends though!

  9. So are the mixing bowls, etc. important to most people? I went gluten free 4 years ago and felt GREAT then lately I’ve been feeling bad again and I wonder if it’s not the fact that I share dishes here at home with my husband, well washed … but I wonder.

    1. Yes! That is definitely true for me. I don’t trust anything not run through the dishwasher beforehand, and that includes hand-washed dishes. The rags could contain gluten, and any left-behind residue might not be completely removed even by a clean rag. That caused me a lot of problems with the food my mom fixed for me, and now I will only eat things she fixes if she brings over fresh, uncontaminated ingredients to my house and prepares them in my kitchen with my gluten-free dishes/utensils/appliances.

      1. Dishes having been through the dishwasher is key–many of the vintage porcelain and silver dishes I’ve used for years came from Goodwill, but they went through the dishwasher, before I would go near them.

    2. I do not share anything except plates that get glutened and then really scrubbed once or twice a week. I also won’t allow about wheat pasta being boiled and wheat baking in the same kitchen (both put gluten in the air.)

      You also need separate toasters, separate baking sheets for pizza, and if your significant other eats wheat cereal, separate cereal bowls and spoons.

      If an occasional plate gets used for wheat crackers or wheat pizza, and you treat it like it’s radioactive (wash the plate with soap and water, rinse several times, put the plate through the diswasher, and then scrub your hands and under your fingernails), you should be fine.

      You can’t be even remotely careless, though. I’ve been glutened by not washing my hands carefully after washing a granola bowl, and I had to break up with a baker.

    3. I have my own cabinet, own cutting boards, own sponges, own towels, own toaster ….. etc. Got to be careful, right?

  10. I understand how she feels, she just doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I used to just bring my own food, but now everyone thinks they know GF and try to bring things for me. I used to think that would be great, but now I don’t. Even if you might trust something in a friend’s home, it is hard to trust it in a line-up of gluten filled foods. I have come to hate the word potluck and that would be hard to have one every friday!

  11. I don’t even bother with “I can’t have that” most of the time anymore. That just opens up more questions that I don’t feel like answering. Now, my answer is “No thank you” 95% of the time. No one has to explain why they aren’t eating a seafood dish – maybe they don’t like seafood, maybe they are allergic, who knows. So, if they want to have a REAL conversation about Celiac disease, I’d be happy to have one. But, since most of the time it’s just to mock or roll their eyes I can’t be bothered with that.

  12. I use a variety of the techniques mentioned here. I start with the “Oh wow that looks amazing, but I just ate. I’ll grab some later!”. This usually works, but I’ve also used the intense questioning technique when someone just won’t let it go (“Were you cooking anything else at the same time you cooked this? Did anything share utensils? Did you bring in the labels of the ingredients, maybe I could check those? Oh, you didn’t? Oh….”).
    You could also try the “oh, I forgot this week” technique, though if it’s every week that will only work the first time.
    And yes, I’ve found the peanut allergy analogy works REALLY well, especially when I’m asking someone to move the doughnut box for me because I don’t want to touch it.

  13. I really agree with Jennifer ad BlushinRose – it’s great if you can bring something that you’re able to share, but do put some aside for yourself first (the spoon thing kills me, but it’s so common. Sigh.)

    And this may just be a small word choice, but I prefer GD’s “*thank you*, but I can’t eat that” to “*sorry*, but I can’t eat that.” Sorry is a word that’s associated with doing something wrong, or with needing to ask for someone else’s forgiveness – that’s not the case here.

    Good luck, and know that while the first few weeks may well be awkward, people should adjust to the new normal pretty quickly. It’ll be easier than the restaurant issue, since you’re asking them to *not* do anything differently than they were before you came back to working on Fridays, and even the most die-hard “I want to feed you!” types can rewire their brains after a while.

  14. In situations like that, I just bring a plate of gluten-free cookies (not in the box), a plate of peppers, olives and tomatoes, and something like a gluten-free pasta dish, all in quantities large enough to share.

    (And make yourself a covered plate before you get there that “magically appears” from any available source of refrigeration, once the potluck actually starts. It’s not your job to have to explain cross-contamination to the world.)

  15. I think it definitely helps NOT to tell people to their face that you assume their kitchens are “dirty.” 😉 But I’ve dealt with this with my grandparents, who want to try to accommodate me at holidays, and I have to tell them that there are just so many complications to cooking gluten-free that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and there’s no point in their trying to wrap their heads around it all just to be able to feed me a couple times a year. Some modified version of that usually helps to convince others, too.

    I work in a very gluten-aware office (we publish GF cookbooks, for one thing), and even so I don’t eat anyone else’s dishes at potlucks. They seem to get it. If anyone complains, try reminding them how annoying it’d be if you had to miss work from getting glutened and they had to pick up your slack!

    1. My work peeps know I won’t eat anything they make, and are happy to know I will bring my own. I wish that everyone would pick up their own crumbs, that litter our common eating area on a day-to-day basis. It would be gross even if it wasn’t a health issue. Yes, we have talked about it at department meetings. I think this is a situation (slobs vs non-slobs) in every workplace in the world though. Every common kitchen/eating area in any workplace I’ve ever visited has some form of a “pick up your own mess” reminder.

  16. Oh the potluck dilemma! As a cautionary tale, it’s taken me a month to recover from the last time I was nice and ate something someone else had made “GF”. Because I got glutened; I got two other infections because my immune system was lowered and my body got thrown out of whack. I also had to make a trip to the emergency room. So if you wonder at all, DON’T EAT IT!!
    Everyone’s given such good advice. I too say “Thanks, but No Thanks.”
    I always do the intense questioning route if someone has gone to the trouble of trying to prepare a GF dish before I eat it and if I’m not comfortable with their answers I won’t eat it.
    Celiac never stinks worse than when it comes to social settings…. hang in there, eventually everyone will expect you to do your own thing and it will become the new normal….

  17. Dude, its a potluck. The whole purpose is to eat whatever the heck you want or don’t want. They should be the most low pressure food events ever in terms of eating demands.

    If they start to really hassle you, just yell “food rape” and walk away. Eat it if you’re okay with it. Bring something with you if you’re not ok with their stuff.

    Personally, I’m a big fan of being the person who brings a fruit tray or a veggie tray with me. If nothing else, I can eat that and the others are comforted that I’m a health nut and that’s that.

    Don’t let anyone pressure you to do anything you don’t want. Just tell them thanks for the info and move on.

    1. Haaaaaaaa! Food rape! I mean, obviously not to diminish any violent act, but I can totally see myself yelling that one day when I get fed up with people telling me how safe their food is for me. (Pun intended!) 🙂

  18. When I get pressure from well meaning, but gluten eating, friends I decline their offers.

    I explain to them that it’s not the ingredients I’m worried about. It’s the cross contamination. I tell them that gluten hides in the scratches in their cutting boards, in their skillets, etc.

    I tell them that it took me a long time to figure out that my own pots, pans and woks were making me ill and that I had to replace them ALL to be OK. I tell them that I had to ban gluten from my kitchen altogether before I could recover.

    I also tell them that I can’t even use the microwave at work because it makes me sick, even when I clean it before using. I’m just that sensitive.

    And I tell them that I’m really, really healthy today, but it takes a lot of will power and caution not to make a mistake. One mistake will make me ill for many months.

    Most of my real friends understand at this point. Anyone who doesn’t get it after that isn’t a friend. They’ve got issues that go far beyond me. So I just thank them for thinking of me and I don’t eat what they’ve made no matter what.

  19. I agree with the above, say “thank you” and move along to your safe “foods” you prepared. Even if I could eat from a potluck, I wouldn’t. I had bad experiences prior to celiac eating at potlucks. I always seemed to find a hair in the food, or once I bit into a cupcake and it tasted like a cigarette (the women who brought them smoked like a mad women) Now, of course having celiac, it is my excuse for not participating in community food. I love knowing, I have prepared something for myself and it’s “safe” and im still able eat with my co-workers just my food.

  20. Ughhhh the dreaded office pot luck parties. The WORST!! First of all who really wants to mingle with your co workers more than you already have to?

    Second, not only do I agree with you in not trusting their GF dish, but I rarely trust co-workers food, period. I see how some of these people operate on a daily basis. You think I want to eat your Mexican stuffed shells or buffalo chicken dip that you made with the fingers that are spent half way up your nose all day? Thanks, but no thanks.

    Simply say no thank you and let it be. Cant worry about hurting feelings if this is something that you take very seriously and for obvious reasons. For the ones that get truly insulted or make fun of you for living this way….Tell them to go kick rocks. You don’t need that negativity!

    Stay Strong!! 🙂

  21. I’m getting better at replacing my, “I’m sorry, I can’t have that” with “no, thank you”. For some reason it is taking some serious effort to say no instead of I can’t. But it’s way more effective and it doesn’t require an explanation as to why I can’t. Also, WHY can’t I stop apologizing for having a disease?

  22. I visited family last weekend. We had a lovely day. Then my young niece said to the group “well, what does she eat” referring to me. I don’t blame my niece for being rude – she is clearly just parroting things said by her parents.

    This comment hurt a great deal. I thought my family had finally come round to understanding that I am not just following a fad – clearly not behind my back.

    My sister-in-law refuses to eat eggs and tomatoes because she doesn’t like them. Fair enough. But not fair enough to be ridiculing me behind my back, in front of the children, for a condition I have no choice over.

    Sorry, just needed to vent.

    So, how is this relevant? The way I see it is that we live in a time of prejudice and ignorance about this condition. We have no control over that. The only thing we can control is the measures we need to take to protect our safety. Carry them out kindly but firmly. Start as you mean to go on and take your own food. Share knowledge about your condition kindly with those who are interested.

  23. I agree with most everyone else – there is simply no need to apologize or let anyone make an issue of it or feel awkward about it at all. If they ask beforehand, I just say “Don’t even worry about my restrictive needs, bring what YOU want to eat, I’ll be fine.” When people come to me concerned about my lack of plate (or plate that I rushed in ahead of everyone else and filled with only a few choice GF items) I just say something like, “Oh, I ate a huge lunch, ’cause I have to be real careful at events like this. Gluten City, Arizona, know what I mean?” Pro tip: Actually eat beforehand so you can say this truthfully and also so you don’t get hungry sitting around watching other people eat!

    If anyone ever presses the issue and tries to get me to “just try a little” of something (which really doesn’t happen much) my standard answer is “Look, I react to a bread crumb in the same way you react to salmonella. There’s a lot of great things I can eat, but eating this thing here is not tempting to me at all. Not worth it.” I also just shrug off all the semi-awkward “jokes” about me being high-maintenance, etc. I feel great. Let ’em wonder.

    Good luck, Monica, and don’t let the well-meaning but ignorant masses get you down!

  24. Few words give me as much anxiety as the word potluck. Do I spend my time and money making something for everyone to eat knowing it will be the only thing I can eat? Do I buy something store-bought for them as well as buying or making my own meal? Do I like these people enough to care what they think about my contribution to the event?


    I’ve only had to participate in one potluck since my diagnosis, and it was at work for a Thanksgiving celebration. I brought canned cranberry sauce for them to eat and heated up a frozen Mexican meal for myself. That was kind of sad, so next time I’ll plan better to have something good for me to eat! Nothing against Amy’s gluten free entrees, but it did not fill the void left by the turkey and stuffing I didn’t get to eat.

  25. This! This is something that I am in the midst of figuring out. I’m getting married this summer and am absolutely honored that friends are throwing my fiance and I a couple’s shower. I am NCGS, he is “normal” and can definitely eat whatever is at the party. I cannot, but am already feeling guilty and dreading telling our friends (who are *really* trying to find something I can eat at the shower) that I won’t be eating anything there. What I’ve come up with is “Thank you so much. Everything looks delicious, but I have to make sure my dress will still fit next month!”….any other advice for a GF bride to be??

  26. When people ask me, “What can you eat?” I have learned to list off store bought items such as On the Border chips and salsa or somethings that are naturally gluten free. If someone just tries to make a gluten free casserole in their gluten filled kitchen it’s too easy to end up sick. So unless they are willing to ask those “100 questions”, unfortunately, I can’t trust the food.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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.

Follow me on this journey

I hate to drive alone

Download my app

And live a better gluten-free life

Send me a message

I'm all ears

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Please type your message.

© 2024 Gluten Dude: The Naked Truth About Living Gluten Free | Legal Stuff

Scroll to Top