Celiac disease is a challenging condition, not just for the individuals who have it but also for their loved ones. If someone you care about has recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, navigating how to best support them can be overwhelming and intimidating. From avoiding cross-contamination in the kitchen to understanding the nuances of reading food labels, the learning curve can be steep. But with some education and support, you can help your loved one with celiac disease lead a happy, healthy, and gluten-free life. In this article, we’ll explore some practical tips and advice for supporting a loved one with celiac disease and help you confidently navigate this new chapter.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. It is triggered by consuming gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When people with celiac disease consume gluten, their immune system attacks the small intestine, damaging the villi, which are finger-like projections that line the small intestine and help absorb nutrients.
This damage to the small intestine can cause a range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fatigue, and weight loss. In some cases, people with celiac disease may not have any symptoms at all.
Celiac disease is a lifelong condition but can be managed with a gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all foods containing wheat, barley, and rye, as well as any foods cross-contaminated with gluten. People with celiac disease may also need to take vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients.
Tips to Support a Loved One with Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a lifelong condition requiring a strict gluten-free diet. Though it doesn’t seem as serious as diseases that may cause bedsores, it can still be life-changing for the person diagnosed with this disease. Here are some practical tips for how to help them deal with celiac disease:
The more you know about celiac disease, the better equipped you’ll be to support your family member. If it’s a friend, talk to them about their condition, but also take some time to do research in your spare time. Take a few minutes out of your day to learn about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of celiac disease, as well as how to identify sources of gluten in food and how to avoid cross-contamination.
This way, you can spend your time discussing how you can help them and accommodate their needs rather than having them debrief you on the ins and outs of celiac disease. They are probably explaining it a lot to others already, so give them a thoughtful break by being knowledgeable about the disease yourself.
Check food labels
To ensure your loved one’s safety, it’s important to carefully check food labels for gluten-containing ingredients. Additionally, doing further research online or making phone calls may be helpful in determining the risk of cross-contamination in production facilities.
Familiarizing yourself with celiac-friendly food labels can make life easier for your loved one and strengthen your relationship. Still, it’s important to respect their judgment and preferences when it comes to dining out or eating food that you prepare. Ultimately, they are the experts on managing their condition, and their decisions should be honored.
Set up a gluten-free zone in your home
If you live with someone with celiac disease, creating a gluten-free environment is important. This means removing gluten-containing foods from the kitchen and pantry and being careful not to cross-contaminate any food or utensils. Consider separate toasters, cutting boards, and other kitchen tools to avoid cross-contamination. Label the new items and store them separately from other cookware to ensure that the gluten-free meals are totally gluten-free.
Be patient and supportive
Being diagnosed with celiac disease is really tough. Most people are carefree with eating, but once you’re diagnosed with this disease, eating becomes more challenging. It needs a radical lifestyle change, like giving up some of your favorite foods and some staples in your diet. Grocery shopping, eating out, and traveling will also become more challenging. It’s no surprise that, from time to time, this can become overwhelming and depressing for some.
When giving up gluten, it’s common for adults to feel anxious, which can cause physical symptoms like palpitations and shortness of breath. As your loved one copes with this, being a little extra patient and supportive can be very helpful. Don’t approach them as you’ve always woken up on the wrong side of the bed.
Be updated about celiac research
Science has been making life better for gluten-free snackers as studies regarding celiac research are constantly underway. Learn more about the causes of the condition and study potential preventative steps and treatment. Subscribe to celiac research organizations such as:
- Beyond Celiac – Beyond Celiac is a nonprofit organization focused on advancing research and advocating for people with celiac disease. They fund research projects and provide educational resources for patients, healthcare providers, and the public.
- Celiac Disease Foundation – The Celiac Disease Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports celiac disease research and provides education and advocacy for people with the condition. They also offer support groups, a physician referral database, and a gluten-free food certification program.
- National Foundation for Celiac Awareness – The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of life for people with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders. They fund research and provide educational resources, including a gluten-free cooking program and a free online course for healthcare professionals.
- Center for Celiac Research and Treatment – The Center for Celiac Research and Treatment is a research center based at Massachusetts General Hospital that focuses on advancing the understanding of celiac disease and developing new treatments. They offer patient care and support services and educational programs for healthcare professionals.
Explore new gluten-free foods with them
Nowadays, more gluten free-foods are constantly becoming available. New and delicious gluten-free items are debuting on grocery store shelves on a daily basis.
As they need to forgo some of their long-time snacking favorites, you can help and support them by keeping celiac-friendly snacks on hand. Join them in trying new gluten-free foods, so you can also expand your own palette along the way.
There are also countless gluten-free recipes on the Internet, and it would be fun to try them out. From pizza to potstickers to gluten-free pancakes, there are plenty of ways for people with celiac disease to rediscover some of their favorite foods.
Plan ahead when traveling
Eating out and traveling can be especially challenging for someone with celiac disease. Plan ahead by researching gluten-free options at restaurants and packing gluten-free snacks and meals when traveling. Traveling with them may take some extra compromises and considerations, but you don’t want to arrive at your destination with them being left out at every dining opportunity. Also, looking for gluten-free restaurants while you’re already there and hungry may be hard, so always research ahead of time to plan where to go.
Keep inviting them to social occasions
It may feel awkward to invite them to occasions like a pizza party or a night out at a brewery, but excluding them from these opportunities would be much worse. It’s common for people with celiac disease to be left out at parties, as people say they didn’t invite them because they will serve foods with gluten. The person with celiac disease may understand, but other times, they like to know they are being thought of.
Their dietary requirements can feel extremely restrictive, but they would still like to go out to feel normal. They can still enjoy food, eat out, and travel just as much as the rest of us. Give time to prepare or come prepared yourself.
To be extra supportive, make gluten-free food available at your party if you’re hosting, or look for restaurants that offer gluten-free options if you’re going out. It will mean a lot for them if they are given a welcome distraction from their condition.
Don’t doubt their condition
Different people experience celiac disease in different ways. One person may get immediately ill when they eat something with gluten, while another may feel slight discomfort, and another may experience mental fog. Just because your friend or family member doesn’t break out in hives does not mean that gluten doesn’t affect them. Remember that the worst effects of gluten are long-term impacts like cancer and diabetes. Do not doubt their condition or encourage them to relax their dietary restrictions just because they don’t show any obvious symptoms.
Every person with a gluten-free diet adjusts in their own way. Some people handle it well, while others struggle with the chance. The best thing you can do is to help them and be patient. You cannot control their every move, and it may also stress you both out if you try. Remember that they are only human and must take personal responsibility for their health first.
Encourage them to connect with others
Living with celiac disease can feel isolating, but many support groups and online communities can provide information and emotional support. Encourage your family member to connect with others who are living with celiac disease to help them feel less alone.
Just be there for them
One of the most important things you can do is to listen to their frustrations and concerns. Even if there are no easy solutions to the challenges, a loved one faces with celiac faces, lending an ear is a great place to start.
Supporting a loved one with celiac disease requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to learn. By making efforts to learn about the disease and help them with their food choices, you can help them manage their condition and live a full and healthy life. Remember that living with celiac disease can be physically and emotionally challenging, and your support can make all the difference. And with the right tools and resources, you can help your loved one with celiac disease thrive and enjoy all of life’s pleasures without compromising their health.