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The emotions of dining out gluten-free

Posted on June 15th, 2011 by Alison Read 23 Comments - Add Your Own »

Dining out on a gluten-free diet can be challenging because gluten is present in a lot of foods, but something that doesn’t often get addressed with the topic of dining out is what is happening before the gluten-free diner even walks into a restaurant. I’m talking about EMOTIONS.

eat1Our emotions are something that set us, the gluten-free diners, apart from other diners. While other customers are thinking about their dates, or admiring the art on the walls, or taking in the smell of fresh bread as they walk in the door, I’m hoping there’s something at the restaurant I can eat. I’m wondering whether or not this restaurant is going to understand what gluten-free means. If I’m with a group, I’m dreading having to once again explain that I can’t share dishes with everyone.

Gluten-free diners come in to the restaurant with a variety of emotions:

  • Anxiety – Will there be something I can eat?,
  • Nervousness and Fear – Will I get sick (again)?
  • Embarrassment – Will my friends think I’m a pain? Will they say sorry to me every time they eat a bite of something I can’t have?
  • Sadness or Anger or Resentment, depending on when they were diagnosed or how well they are dealing with their new diet — Why can’t I enjoy the freedom that everyone else can? Why can’t the restaurant make this easier for me? Why me?
  • And let’s not forget Hunger! The hungry gluten-free diner may have to wait even longer if everyone at the table is eating bread. There have been times when I am so hungry that by the time my dinner comes, I eat everything on my plate — and people look at me at the end of the meal as though I’ve eaten so much! They’ve forgotten that they’ve eaten a half a loaf of bread before the meal even started.

All these emotions just to go out to eat! While most people find it easier to go out to eat than cook at home, the gluten-free diner often chooses to stay at home because it is easier than dining out.

Our love of good food and dining and socializing can triumph, however, and when we do find restaurants we trust, restaurants that have a gluten-free menu, and restaurants that understand our needs, we can begin to let go of the anxiety and those other negative emotions, and truly enjoy our food and our entire dining experience. This is what we want restaurants to understand about us: If they can make us feel comfortable and can earn our trust, we will be there and we will be loyal, and we will bring our family and friends too, and we will spread the word.

What emotions do you have when dining out gluten-free?

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  1. Wow, you got this exactly right! Each one of these thoughts/emotions take over me as I consider dining out. Unfortunately, prior to my diagnosis, dining out was one of my favorite things to do! 🙁 Now, after much trial and error, we do have a couple local restuarants that we can trust and that has definitely put these anxieties to rest for me. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. This is so true!! I have them all except the embarrassment. I am not at all worried about what people think or if they feel bad. It often happens when they hear that Abigail has to be GF. And I say, please don’t, she is so happy and proud. I do not want anyone to ever make her think there is something wrong with being GF!!! We have made it a happy, proud thing in our house!

    I think that as a Mom they are even heightened because I worry about Abigail. I can deal with getting sick, but do not want that for her. And I always, always wish it was easier. Thank you for once again, sharing a great post with us!!


  3. I’m not over weight or anything. but eatting out has been so frustrating because i’m still so hungry when I’m done. I used to be able to fill up with the main course, without salad or bread. And theres just no fillers in any of my food.

    I prefer to just hide at home and make myself my own food. I can control myself better and I am able to graze on and off through out the day. Its just so much easier for me then to sit and eat one meal and then wait several hours until the next meal. I just can’t eat that way anymore.

    I don’t really give a crap what other people think of me. Even going to a friends house to eat I’ve been trying to inform them that I can bring my own food rather than have a frozen dinner gluten free dinner that makes me feel like crap two hours later because it has quenoa (I can’t have that either.)

    I worry when i enter a resturaunt i don’t know about more of what is in their seasonings. There are seasoned veggies at apple bees we can’t have and its like they are just throwing it in there as uch as possible. I swear they have a gluten shaker and they go balistic. I really think this is a huge contrivercial issue to keep americans fat.

  4. When I first went gluten free, I felt some of those things… mainly sadness/anger/resentment. I got over it fairly quickly though! Now, 6+ years g-free, I don’t even think twice about heading out to a resto and just not eating anything. I check it out beforehand, and if I don’t think I can eat anything there I just eat before I go, and focus on enjoying the company.

    Strangely, it’s other people who get bothered by what I can/can’t/do/don’t eat!

  5. I have just been diagnosed . . . after spending 8 years trying to figure out what was wrong with me (I knew it was related to food but couldn’t figure out exactly what foods). I also have some food allergy issues. So now, I feel lost in restaurants. I don’t feel safe (even when there is a gf menu) and I don’t know how to survive trips out of town. Does anyone have any strategies for what to do when traveling away from your home city? I am planning on doing some research before my next trip, but unfortunately it involves a large family reunion and many preplanned “eating events.” Ugh. So glad to have found this sight. I’m in NorCal too.

  6. Hi Shelley,
    Welcome to the GF world! You can start by looking at two of my articles:
    Dining Without Gluten
    Restaurant Tips for Gluten Free Dining

    Regarding events — this may be the hardest situation to navigate because often the food is a set menu, or you are too removed to ask what the food will be. I have gone into kitchens at weddings and asked them if they could make me something I could eat! I have waiters check to see if there are any of the passed appetizers that are gluten-free and if so, will they please come right back to me with them! They almost always are very accommodating if you ask really nicely. I have even checked food labels in friends’ and relatives’ trash cans to see if I can eat what they have prepared! If all else fails, pack some nuts and crackers in your purse in case there is truly nothing to eat. I hope this helps and good luck on your trip!

  7. Although no one in my family has celiac my two children have life threatening food allergies. You’ve just described exactly how I feel every time we go out to dinner with our kids.

  8. Wow, I feel so lucky. For one, I love steak. When I go to a restaurant I generally just order a salad – no crutons, a steak – generally pretty safe, and vegetables. I also seek out Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants as pho soup is generally pretty clean – I have yet to see a recipe that calls for flour.

    I have gone to a restaurant in my town for years before I knew I was Celiac. They are so cool. They bring extra rice crackers with their cheese appetizers. For the soup course they bring me a bowl of fruit and for the desert course they bring me ice cream. Now that is customer service.

    I also have really great friends and we are all foodies. They always seem to come up with GF appetizers and main courses. I find deserts are hard for them so I volunteer to make deserts. I am beginning to get a pretty mean GF almond flour pie crust down. It is a shame as it took me thirty years to perfect my perfect pie crust. I hope I have another thirty years to perfect my gf pie crust.

    “Death tugs at my ear and says: “Live, I am coming”;”
    OW Holmes

  9. I’m glad it’s not just me! I am still trying to figure out all my food issues, but my likely gluten intolerance is also complicated by likely intolerances to dairy, eggs and soy, plus peanut, tree nut, sesame and corn allergies! It’s really best if I just always cook for myself. And for a food lover, it sometimes is pretty rough. The extent of our “dining out” lately is a Whole Foods rotisserie chicken, but I still have to come home and prepare my own side dishes!

  10. Angie,
    At least you can feel safe in your own home and you probably cook great healthy food! With that many allergies it must be tough to ever dine out. 🙁

  11. I’ve put together a big long list of restaurants that can accommodate gluten and dairy free and then only eat there. I’d rather steer my business (and the business of those I’m dining with for that matter) towards those who have gone out of their way to educate themselves and prepare for dealing with someone with food issues. I do always double check just in case but am much more comfortable in restaurants that get it!

  12. It always starts with anxiety and either turns into relief or frustration. Frustration, especially when the restaurant has a gluten-free menu and/or claims to be gluten-free friendly and then the server doesn’t have a clue. Relief when I have a knowledgeable and helpful server who appears very confident in the information they are giving me. I have found that calling in advance and speaking to the manager really helps, especially when I have to dine out for business.

  13. Cara,
    I agree — calling ahead is always a good idea.

  14. Hi Alison!
    It is tough to ever dine out with so many things to avoid. But I hope I can tolerate some of the lesser “evils’ in small amounts eventually. 🙂 I am, however, really happy to see the growing number of restaurants that are addressing allergy concerns directly! It’s starting to feel a little safer. But yes, there’s nothing like your home kitchen – and as luck would have it both my amazingly supportive BF and I are pretty darn good cooks! 😉

  15. Oh boy can I relate. I went to Chipolte the other day and had to ask 3 times about GF food. It was so annoying-I had to finally ask for the manager. The people in line behind me probably were irritated with me holding up the line. It is almost just not worth the hassle. When I get a clueless waiter it kind of ruins the dining experience for me. The point of being able to relax and eat and chat etc. just fizzles. I know we all need to continue to bring these issues to the attention of restaurant owners to educate their staff and to do better with menus. Also rarely are there ever desserts on GF menus. Much room for improvement in all areas.

  16. It makes me so sad that we can’t eat out as a family anymore. Well, we could, but honestly, it’s too hard to do so when eating at home is healthier, cheaper, and less stressful. Our son has multiple food allergies and it’s just not worth the restaurant worries.

    I came across your site on the Circle of Mom’s top 25 Food Allergy Mom Blogs. It’s given me the idea to start a blog hop for allergies, asthma and eczema – parents or adults dealing with the condition. Please check out the page here and add a comment if you’d like to join. Thanks!


  17. Hi, I came across your website by coincidence. I suffer from celiac disease and am fairly new to it. I was diagnosed jsut going on a year ago. Many of my friends that I had pulled away because of the fact that its harder for me to eat out. If they do invite me to go many times its to a restaraunt I can’t eat at so I sit there drinking a sprite. I totally get all those emotions before eating out. I wish more people understood but I don’t think they can unless they are in our shoes. I appreciate you explaining it this way and I hope more people realize this is a disease that doesn’t have to be a total inconvenience. It just takes some understanding and education on everyones part. This disease has inspired me to raise awareness so I’ve tried to design products to do this. I’m going to be improving on them with time as I’ve just started. Please check it out.

  18. I’ve felt all of the emotions you listed. I travel for work 80-90% of the time. Each week I pack my breakfast and a few meals in an insulated lunch sack with ice pack. Most times I get through airport security without my bag being selected for screening. Then for the hotel it’s getting a room with a fridge and microwave. During weeks that I travel with a group it gets really tiring. I love steak, but it gets real old, real quick. Sometimes I avoid going out and eat in my room instead just so I don’t have to deal deal with the dilema of figuring out what to eat at a restaurant. A few weeks ago while in upstate New York we happened upon a great bistro where 90% of their menu was gluten free. Who knew! Instead of bringing bread to the table they brought a GF Indian flat bread. My co-workers watched as I danced in my seat in shear delight when I was able to order a hamburger, with a glueten free bun!!!! Heavenly! (Picture Cookie Monster eating cookies.) It really is the little things that make our day.

  19. Those are all true emotions. My husband asked me a few days ago what would be the perfect and most relaxing vacation for me and I honestly couldn’t think of anywhere I could go where I wouldn’t have to think about what I was going to eat. Wherever we go must have a kitchen so I can cook for myself. Unknown restaurants are too scary when you’ve spent money and time and don’t want to get sick.

  20. I have been diagnosed Celiac for about a year and a half, and this article hit the nail right on the head! I have felt these emotions over and over, and while it DOES get easier, the anxiety about menu items and big deal everyone makes over your food choices are still embarrassing to some extent. To the traveller above: my husband and I travel extensively, and while it takes a bit of planning, my tip is this…Every trip I get a small notebook to keep in my purse, and prior to the trip research (internet) any restaurant in that particular city that carries a GF menu or has good GF reviews. It eases anxiety of not knowing where to eat when yo get there, and also allows you to easily suggest a restaurant when travelling with friends. I never go without my notepad!!! 🙂

  21. yes, all of those feelings are correct! Avoiding gluten is bad enough, but when you have to avoid dairy and soy in addition to the gluten it becomes a hopeless battle to try to eat out. I get to the point where I know I can have a more delicious dinner at home then to spend the money on “plain” rice, chicken and veggies and a bowl of fresh fruit for dessert. Eating out should be a treat, and it just isn’t.

  22. I am glad that I happened upon your website. I have multiple allergies and have often felt alone in navigating the world of social and restaurant eating with various restrictions, but this site is a good reminder that others can relate and understand the challenges that I face. It is comforting to find that support is out there (here)…there are many times when I have wished for it in the past.
    Thanks. I hope to be back!

  23. I started working at Outback Steakhouse in 2006 and was so surprised to learn they have always had a separate gluten free menu. You just have to ask for it. 🙂

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