Talking to family and friends about CD and the GF diet

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q:  How do I talk to my family and friends about my celiac disease and the need for a gluten-free diet?


I would recommend starting out with simple information that is easy to read and digest. Try not to overwhelm them with lots of information all at once – we all know that there is a lot of information when it comes to celiac disease and the gluten-free (GF) diet. Our Celiac Disease Facts brochure is a good starting point to give to family and friends. It provides a good snapshot overview of both celiac disease and the GF diet.

How do I start the conversation?

I think it is important to start with the health aspect of celiac disease, telling them how gluten affects the body in someone with celiac disease and the health consequences of gluten ingestion. The Celiac Disease Facts brochure can be very helpful here.

Advocating for yourself can seem daunting at first and is not something everyone is comfortable with. However, you do not have to be super assertive to make it work. Something our CEO Lee Graham said really struck a chord with me - each person needs to find their own voice and approach and what feels right for them. You have to do what you feel comfortable with, you cannot make yourself into something you are not, and there are several ways you can approach advocating for yourself that still fits every personality and keeps you (somewhat) in your comfort zone. You might still need some practice and try different approaches out. Some people are very assertive and straight to the point, and others more subdued in their approach. Personally, I like to focus on the health aspect of celiac disease when I communicate my needs, I find that people usually respond well to that.

A common thing family and friends may struggle with is understanding the small amount that makes someone with celiac disease sick. They may think it is strange that you cannot have “just a bite or a little taste” or understand the importance of avoiding cross-contact. I think that can be hard for people to wrap their heads around. The infographic below can be very helpful for people to visualize the amounts that can make someone with celiac disease sick.

When it comes to introducing people to the GF diet, a good tip is to start focusing on naturally GF foods. Many people instantly think of specialized (and expensive!) GF foods such as baked packaged goods when they think of the GF diet. However, many foods we all know and love are already GF, there is actually no need to get specialized GF foods! Also, many dishes can be made GF with some simple adjustments. This can definitely take some pressure off when getting introduced to the GF diet. Sauces and gravy can be thickened with cornstarch. You can use GF breading instead of regular breading, and GF pie crusts instead of GF containing crusts etc. Check out our GF recipes for ideas.

GF Food Staples:

  • Plain meats, and poultry

  • Plain fish and seafood

  • Eggs

  • Milk and cheese

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Legumes

  • Potatoes

  • Rice

  • Corn

(check labels, all grains and legumes should be labeled GF)

Other tips:

  • Have a potluck and bring foods - bring a complete meal so that you know you will have food.
  • Invite people to your house and introduce them to GF foods, that way they can see it does not need to be difficult to cook GF.
  • Offer to help them cook and talk about GF options and safe prep methods.

Other helpful resources:

  • A label scanner app such as Gluten-Free Scanner (I usually do not recommend apps for reading labels as I feel each person needs to get used to reading labels. However, for family members using an app might be a good thing as they are not going to read labels on a daily basis. It just might make them feel a bit more comfortable.)
  • Find Me Gluten Free app (to find stores and restaurants)
  • We have many great resources on our website, such as a restaurant finder and gluten-free recipes.

For family that needs more in-depth information I would recommend checking out our free course Going Gluten Free: Off to a Fresh Start. This course gives a very good overview of celiac disease, other gluten-related conditions, as well as the gluten-free diet.

This course covers:

  • Celiac Disease (CD) & Other Gluten-Related Conditions - Symptoms, complications, diagnosis, treatment
  • The Gluten-Free (GF) Diet - Foods allowed/not allowed, oats, hidden sources of gluten, reading labels and product research
  • Lifestyle Changes - Emotional challenges, sharing a kitchen, eating out, traveling
  • Support & Resources - NCA resources, web links

Going Gluten Free: Off to a Fresh Start is available in a narrated version on our website anytime. We also run several Live Webinars throughout the year. Check out our next Live Webinar here.

For those with children and teens with celiac disease or other gluten-related conditions, check out our Raising Our Celiac Kids - ROCK website for information geared toward kids, as well as our newly diagnosed course for parents and caregivers, Gluten Free in 1,2,3.

Another thing that can be helpful is to connect with others that have celiac disease and hear about their approaches to talking with family and friends. You can search for a support group near you here:

We also offer a virtual support group every second Tuesday of the month that can be accessed from anywhere. Check it out here.

Other helpful links related to this topic:

Eating away from home during the holidays:

Celiac disease and a shared kitchen:

Can a small amount make someone with celiac disease sick?

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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