Baked on the Bright Side

How Gluten-Free Affects the Family by Guest Blogger Jennifer Fugo

February 28, 2011

Despite the popularity of a Gluten Free lifestyle, people don’t talk much about the familial ramifications that can actually shake up your life in unpleasant ways.  I had no idea how my diagnosis of gluten sensitivity would actually affect my surrounding loved ones.  You should know that I’m from a traditional Italian family whose roots in Italy are still very much alive.  Our meals have been primarily structured around pasta dishes for many years.  With that said, some of my family was supportive.  Some were curious and took time to understand what was going on.   And others were outright irked by the sheer fact that SOMETHING about our shared family experience had changed without their approval.

The first year of being Gluten Free was the most difficult, by far.  Not only was I learning the ropes of how to cook, order and eat safely, but I also had the combined duty to educate those around me.  I became known to some as ‘the difficult one’ who had to pick specific restaurants, menus, and dishes in order to avoid gluten.  Eating safely for me was construed by others as being picky or difficult and, at times, exhausting.  Traveling with co-workers was tremendously stressful because I had to find a decent place to eat for everyone or eat entirely by myself.

Holidays seem to exacerbate tension and seem to best illustrate the ups and downs of eating differently than everyone else.  My first Thanksgiving was exactly that- stressful.   On the upside, my dear aunt who cooked the meal went out of her way to find me a container of frozen Gluten Free lasagna and made Gluten Free gravy for the turkey.  Her kindness touched my heart, especially since I didn’t even ask for any such considerations to be made on my behalf.

However, no one prepares you for the tough experiences.   Another relative carefully watched me as I looked over the various dishes laid out around the turkey and asked what was wrong.  After my quick response of being intolerant to gluten, he bluntly told me that I was being picky, not to buy in to any of that nonsense and just eat like everyone else.  Though I can’t speak to his intention, I can tell you that I didn’t exactly feel thrilled about my Gluten Free lifestyle in that moment.

Ultimately, I learned that these sort of unpleasant events happen simply because food is SO personal.  You can’t always pinpoint who will or won’t be supportive since eating is such a powerful personal and communal part of life.  A shared meal is one of the most intimate experiences that bind people together since it makes up a large part of distinct and unique cultural experiences.  Thus, being the one to upend the normal flow of family meals can create tension and drama.  It can make others feel that you are rejecting the family and your shared heritage solely by rejecting the food.

With all this said, its my intention to help support you in navigating through this confusing maze of dietary transition that I now know because I lived through these experiences.  Don’t fret!  There are ways to share your situation that will garner the support of your family while maintaining harmony at the dinner table.

If you are embarking on the Gluten Free journey, here are few tips that I’ve found to be very helpful in making the transition:

1)      Pick a few of your favorite family meals and find the simplest way make them Gluten Free without changing too much at once.

2)      Talk honestly with your relatives about your condition and explain the ramifications of eating gluten on your body and the long-term health effects.  People tend to be more sympathetic if they understand WHY you are doing something and how it affects you.

3)      Don’t take negative reactions personally.  It can take time for some relatives and friends to come around.  Remember that you are changing an aspect of a shared experience that may initially create tension.  Be kind and compassionate of others’ feelings and trust that they will adjust to the food changes.

4)      Do your research about some local dining establishments that offer Gluten Free options and create a list that you and others can choose from.

5)      Get support.  Whether you join a local support group or work with someone like myself who understands what its like to go through the process, you’ll benefit tremendously from having a dedicated space in your life that’s sole purpose is to help you learn the ropes and feel confident about your change in lifestyle.

If you’re looking for more help, join me for a FREE tele-class on Tuesday, March 15th at 7:30pm ET called the ABCs of Gluten Free.  You’ll learn about:

  • What it really means to be Gluten Free
  • TWO keys critical to making a Gluten Free lifestyle actually stick
  • FIVE ways people fail to maintain a Gluten Free diet & how you can avoid them
  • The biggest mistake people make when going Gluten Free that prevents weight & inflammation loss
  • · Simple steps to set up your life for Gluten Free success

In addition, you’ll also receive some cool gifts from sponsors like Rudi’s Gluten Free Bakery along with a recording of the call and some other great surprises.  There’s limited space on the call, so reserve your space by registering now at

ABOUT JENNIFER FUGO:  Jennifer Fugo, CHC, RYT is a certified health coach and yoga teacher.  She works with busy individuals who need motivation and support to transition to a healthier diet.  Named by Philadelphia Magazine as one of Philly’s ‘Gluten-free Gurus’, Jennifer has tremendous experience coaching clients to eat around food allergies and sensitivities as she herself is sensitive to gluten, casein and eggs.  Her warm and motivating style has helped many clients learn to cook and eat safely and healthfully to nourish both themselves and their families.  For more information, recipes and events, please visit her on the web at

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