To my wonderful gluten-free community,
Wow, is it really Christmas already? It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that I was in the middle of a field carrying a huge cardboard cover of ‘Gluten-free Christmas’ or lying on the beach in Malaysia on my first holiday in 4 years. But one way or another, we finally made it here!
The whole reason I decided to write a Christmas message to you this year was mostly because of what happened on This Morning recently. The main clanger dropped there was tons of incorrect information surrounding Coeliac disease and a rather bleak/crude/inaccurate portrayal of gluten-free people and gluten-free food in general. However, if you pretend Vanessa Feltz never even said anything for a moment (I know it’s hard 😂), there was another silent theme present that took me a little longer to notice – and when I did finally notice it, I just found it really sad:
Following a gluten-free diet can create these awkward family tensions and dynamics at Christmas whether we like it not.
And of course, whilst we might also experience similar tensions all-year-round with friends and colleagues, at Christmas (with many family members all around the same table and a lot of pressure on one specific day) that’s where new inter-family tensions can regretfully grow. As if following a gluten-free diet wasn’t hard enough already!
The caller’s situation described on This Morning is just one example of hundreds of different situations that I’m indirectly referring to whenever I say: ‘being gluten-free can affect so much more than what’s on your plate’. And as this example shows, Christmas is no exception. As much as I’d love to be positive and simply say to you all: ‘don’t let gluten get in the way of you enjoying Christmas!’, as the caller’s example demonstrates, a gluten-free life isn’t always that simple in reality. And sometimes it’s for reasons entirely outside of your control.
Yes, in an ideal world we’d all expect family to always be accepting, supportive and accommodating of our dietary requirements – especially as our needs are medically justified – so obviously, we shouldn’t have to spend Christmas explaining them or defending them. Plus, we’re not ever asking for much, we’re usually willing to make it easier for people to accommodate us where possible and most importantly, we didn’t choose to be gluten-free!
But what if gluten-eaters feel their own reasons/needs for not wanting to accommodate a gluten-free person are equally important too? ‘Feel’ is the key word here as it doesn’t matter if their reasons aren’t medically justified – if they feel that way, they feel that way! And sometimes, especially when they’re not clued up on the ins-and-outs of living on a gluten-free diet (how many gluten-eaters are?), it can be difficult to convince them of anything different. And that therein lies the heart of the problem.
And that’s why I’ve chosen to highlight situations like this in my Christmas message – purely for the simple fact that I know there will be lots of gluten-free people out there feeling frustrated for similar reasons right now. Whilst I can’t wave my magic wand and change their minds for you, I can assure you that you’re not alone in sometimes feeling more frustrated than festive at Christmas. Please remember: the entire gluten-free community is on your side! Let the reaction to the example shown on ‘This Morning’ on Monday be an example of that.
Though it might not feel like it right now, by putting yourself and your dietary requirements first, you’re most definitely doing the right thing. And in terms of the social consequences… whatever will be, will be – for better or worse. At the very least, if you’re polite yet firm and stand your ground, people won’t be surprised when it’s exactly the same deal next year too, which will hopefully slowly improve things. After all, whether gluten-eaters like it not, nobody is going to enjoy it if you’re feeling poorly all day after consuming gluten. If anything, occasions where we’re made to feel like ‘the awkward one’ only make us even more appreciative when others are super accommodating and understanding.
I also just wanted to remind you all that family members who aren’t particularly understanding about your dietary requirements aren’t necessarily behaving like this because they have a strong dislike or personal hatred towards you. So often it’s just blissful ignorance in general that causes some outlandish or insensitive comments (such as on ‘This Morning’!) but obviously, ignorance of a gluten-free diet more specifically. Though it might be hard sometimes, try not to take it personally and remember that there’s no need to scold someone for it – much like how we should hold nothing against Vanessa Feltz. Situations like this are exactly why the gluten-free community has to keep raising awareness and educating everyone to our needs all-year-round so that the ins-and-outs of being gluten-free are common knowledge. I’ll be personally working on that in 2024 too!
And this is the part where my Christmas message was about to come to an end… until I came across a post in my Facebook group just a few hours ago that’s hyper relevant to the essence of my Christmas message. And that’s why I’ve decided to include it here: the actual, real life conclusion of the story that first unfolded on ‘This Morning’… *dramatic music plays*
This whole story started when a caller on ‘This Morning’ called in seeking advice from Vanessa Feltz about a Christmas dilemma: her mother-in-law was hosting a gluten-free buffet, but her ‘fussy 15 year old’ was sure to turn his nose up at all the gluten-free food. Should they just leave before the food is served? The segment was captioned on screen with: ‘I’m being forced to have a gluten-free Christmas’.
Well guess what? The daughter of the now famous ‘gluten-free mother-in-law’ is in my Facebook group and it turns out that it’s actually the mother-in-law’s daughter, Joanne, who’s the ‘one gluten-free person’. The ‘gluten-free mother-in-law’ was in fact just trying to cater for her daughter at Christmas! So here’s what Joanne posted in my Facebook group, re-shared here with her permission:
Good Evening and Merry Christmas everyone,
Firstly my Mum and I want to Thank you all for sending and giving so much love this week, some of the messages brought us to tears.
The support has been absolutely overwhelming, it’s so nice to meet you all. I am indeed the ‘one’ coeliac (on the left) with my beautiful, wonderful Mum who was ‘forcing’ everyone to have a gluten free Christmas buffet! 😔
For those wondering, my Brother, Sister in Law and nephews, including said fussy eater did not come after all 🥺 Very sad not to be having a Christmas celebration together, but this was their choice, they were still welcomed round.
Anyway, here is the completely gluten free buffet that we all can’t wait to tuck into.
Thank you Mum, for giving me the best gift I could ask for, Love, support and a table full of delicious and safe food. This means so much ❤️
I am excited to see how the awareness for coeliac will continue to grow and to support Becky 100% in this journey.
Girl, you are the one for this job!
Sorry not sorry you’ve had to pick up the mess from the said Alison call, but what an outcome!
Wishing you all a very healthy, hearty and Gluten Free Christmas 🎄 here’s to 2024 🍾
There you have it! Whilst I still find it sad that their family chose not to come over at all, on the other hand, it’s also a great example of how some ‘normal’ people – in this case, Joanne’s Mum – will absolutely bend over backwards to accommodate our needs. What an absolute star! I mean, look at that spread… it’s positively wondrous and all gluten-free! 😳 Now tell me, who on Earth would ever even notice that everything there is gluten-free? Nobody!
Though it’s perhaps not the happy ending of a Hollywood Christmas film because gluten still managed to prevent Joanne’s family from coming together at Christmas (even despite not being present!), it’s a real life ending that I’m so honoured to be able to share with you all. That’s because it accurately shows the reality of being gluten-free at Christmas; it isn’t always easy and it certainly isn’t always perfect. And if you are lucky enough to have a sympathetic family member who’s willing to go the extra mile, like Joanne’s mum, please remember to be extra appreciative to them this Christmas! But for better or for worse, as long as you’re putting your own gluten-free needs first in a fair and reasonable manner, as I said earlier, you’re doing the right thing and we’re all behind you. And that’s essentially the sentiment of my Christmas message this year.
Last but not least and possibly most importantly: Please don’t eat gluten – I don’t care how good you think something is! Because nothing is worth the not-so-short-term pain and long-term effects of consuming gluten. I’ve read many-a-Facebook-comment in my time where said commenter describes how they’re essentially going to be using Christmas as a gluten ‘cheat day’ and eat something crazy just ‘because it’s Christmas’. I’m not trying to be judgemental, I’m just here to remind you that the ill effects of consuming gluten don’t take a day off just because it’s Christmas… so neither should you!
But even if you weren’t planning to do something as intentionally drastic as I just described, the same thing still applies: don’t eat gluten, but this time I’m referring to it in a more accidental manner! Stick to the same good habits you rely on the rest of the year: read the ingredients on the packaging, be mindful of how the food is prepared and served and if you’re not sure, don’t eat it. Sorry I had to end this on such a stern, bossy note, but I’ll only have a good Christmas if I know you guys are having one too!
Needless to say, thank you all for all your support on my fifth recipe book ‘Gluten-free Christmas’ and across the last week where I somehow ended up on ‘This Morning’ myself! A huge thank you to Joanne and her Mum for just being such a wonderful representatives of the gluten-free community, even despite being completely unexpectedly thrusted into the spotlight!
Have a merry (gluten-free) Christmas and even if it’s not as merry as you’d like, please remember: Christmas is just one day.