You can turn the gluten-free diet into something that feels positive and productive. Here's how.
By Cecilia Bonaduce, NFCA Volunteer
For a lot of people, a celiac diagnosis can feel like a prison sentence. The things you used to find joy in are taken away and replaced with a strict and difficult-to-follow diet. How can you turn the gluten-free diet into something that feels positive and productive?
I find that my most common gluten mishaps occur at restaurants due either to cross-contamination or misinformation from the waitstaff or kitchen. These experiences are highly discouraging. To me, they demonstrate that no matter how hard I try to be gluten-free, no matter how many sacrifices I make, I will never achieve full health because dining out is simply too hard. These feelings are counterproductive for us! The gluten-free diet is difficult enough to follow without the addition of an inherent feeling of defeat. Fortunately, there are ways to take bad experiences and change them into GREAT ones.
Writing letters to restaurants is a great way to take the negative experience of being “glutened” into a positive one where you have closure and have made a difference in your local community. We live in a digital world where online reviews can seriously impact where consumers choose to dine. Consequently, restaurants have become more responsive to customers with complaints, but this is only useful when restaurants know that they did something wrong. The only way this can happen is if you tell them.
People often feel victimized after being “glutened” at a restaurant. The response from sending in a letter describing your experience can help those feelings of defeat go away. You will see that the restaurant does care, that they are apologetic, and they are willing to change. In my experience, 99% of the time, the restaurant apologizes, makes promises of improvement and encourages you to try dining with them again.
What should a letter contain?
1. The date and time you were at the restaurant
2. Details of your experience
3. Explain why it is important
4. Encourage a response. (For example, you can urge them to get gluten-free training through NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens program.)
For more information about the importance of letters or to see letter samples, go to www.ccglutenfreed.com.
Writing letters is a great way to engage in local awareness efforts, to change the quality of service at restaurants and to motivate yourself to keep going and take ownership of your gluten-free diet. Discovering the power of letters led me to be “gluten-freed,” and it can do the same for you.
About Cecilia Bonaduce
Cecilia Bonaduce is working on her degree in Public Health at UC Berkeley. She teaches a class at the University called “Changing the Restaurant Industry” and is creator of CC Gluten Freed, a blog that focuses on the social challenges that accompany the gluten-free diet. Go to www.ccglutenfreed.com for more information.