Coeliacs! How to have a good Christmas (and not worry about gluten)
I honestly don’t remember my first gluten-free Christmas. It would have been in 1999 when the freefrom aisle didn’t exist and there was practically nothing on the internet that would have helped.
But my mum pointed out I’d got a good system going: I simply chose naturally gluten-free foods and enjoyed them, rather than trying to replicate old gluten-filled favourites. I suppose I must have had icecream for pudding that year. Whatever it was, I was so ecstatic to be well again I wouldn’t have cared.
I do remember one festive season going horribly wrong. On Christmas Eve I visited a café and made my dietary requirements really clear, even going to the kitchen to discuss everything. When my food arrived, there were little crunchy pieces on top of my salad. Afterwards I asked what they were and the chef admitted she’d chopped my food up on top of the bread board. I was both cross and devastated. I felt like she’d ruined my Christmas. Mercifully, I didn’t get any painful side effects. But I still spent Christmas worrying about it.
These days I’m lucky enough to have a gluten-free home and a very understanding husband. My children are too young to appreciate what coeliac disease is but they have begun to notice if mummy eats different food. That said, because I bake a lot of gluten-free cakes, they still get to eat yummy treats!
I don’t think I fully appreciated how upsetting it was to have coeliac disease until my daughter started having symptoms. I felt so sad for her and realised I’d never allowed myself to feel the same way. I’d simply adopted the attitude of ‘this is the hand I’ve been dealt’. It may have been because a family member was mean about it. She told me I was lucky it was only coeliac disease and not cancer (and no-one we knew had cancer).
Adopting that ‘never mind’ attitude means people may think your diet is irrelevant or being coeliac isn’t that bad. And emotions are heightened during celebrations, especially when there’s a big crowd of people cooking and you’re worried one of them might cross-contaminate your food.
So now I’m more careful about my needs and putting myself first, which is what I tell other coeliacs. If someone tries to downplay your experience or disrespects your diet, don’t be afraid to be firm with them. It’s easy to fly off the handle at Christmas but if you can arm yourself with some calm responses in advance, you may avoid a brewing mushroom cloud.
Handling life as a coeliac is one of the reasons I began my blog, Life on a Rice Cake. I wanted to share my knowledge so others didn’t have to suffer. Many newbie coeliacs think they just have to cut out gluten but actually it’s imperative to know a lot more. Food-wise, you need to have more calcium, watch your fibre intake and, for variety in the diet, have a range of different carbohydrates so you don’t become reliant on potatoes and white rice.
Thankfully, the 25th of December is one of the few times it doesn’t really matter how much you eat. Like they say, it’s not what you eat between Christmas and New Year that counts: it’s what you eat between New Year and Christmas. So I think it’s a wonderful time to indulge in the joys of turkey with roast potatoes and brandy butter with a steamed pudding (and these days there are plenty of gluten-free versions).
World events in 2020 will mean a smaller affair at Christmas, which may make things easier for anyone who’s new to the coeliac diet. There’s nothing like twenty people bringing different dishes to dinner (aka how to make a coeliac more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs). And you can Zoom call each other’s dinners with total safety!
If you’re unsure about anything, Coeliac UK does a marvellous job in setting the gluten-free record straight. There’s also a big online coeliac Facebook community to support you if you need it. So take care of yourself this Christmas; you’re not alone.