There are certainly many challenges to face with your new gluten-free diet, and as with many of the challenges of life, I have found that one of the best ways of dealing with them is by connecting to others in the celiac community through celiac support groups and celiac forums.
First of all, a celiac support group will help you establish a network of celiac people who will be there for you in a welcoming, compassionate environment—with gluten-free refreshments, of course. Imagine what it would feel like if your circle of friends were all celiac patients as well, and you would all get together for gluten-free dinners, pot-lucks, and bake-offs. You’ll find that you’re on your way to building a circle of supportive celiac friends who will offer friendship and understanding.
Celiac support groups often have gluten-free veterans or offer the collective experiences of the individual members so that you can learn new ways of managing your gluten-free lifestyle. You can learn about gluten-free menus at local restaurants, gluten-free vendors, where to shop for your gluten-free fare, and how to cut down the costs of your gluten-free diet. Many groups invite vendors to bring gluten-free products to meetings for the members to sample, and members can buy what they like at a discount and don’t have to pay for shipping.
Celiac support groups will motivate you to take more responsibility for your diet and health. Getting enough essential nutrients, such as fiber and B vitamins, can be tough with a gluten-free diet. By staying connected with people who are generally motivated to maintain a healthy, gluten-free diet, you’ll find that you’ll be willing to go that extra step and take care of yourself better. There were times when I felt overwhelmed by the changes required in my gluten-free diet, but by connecting to others I helped to stay motivated. In my celiac advocacy work, I often come across celiac patients who feel like giving up, but after a helpful chat, they find that they’re more willing and able to tackle their dietary challenges. Similarly, you may find that you’re able to help someone else yourself.
Celiac support groups will help you with all sorts of celiac issues, not just related to maintaining a gluten-free diet. For instance, how do you survive the holidays now that you must avoid gluten? How can you celebrate Halloween with your celiac child? How do you explain on a date that you must eat only gluten-free foods? These are some of the many subjects that your celiac support group friends will be able to help you through.
In North America, celiac families have a range of choices of local chapters of The Gluten Intolerance Group, The Celiac Sprue Association, The Celiac Disease Foundation, The Canadian Celiac Association, and Raising Our Celiac Kids (R.O.C.K.). To find a nearby celiac support group, use a search engine and type in “celiac support groups” and the name of your state, or look up a local group in MeetUp.com and type “celiac” in the search box on the home page. If there’s no local support group, national organizations would be happy to help you launch one in your area, in which case I would recommend connecting with a nutritionist. You can also join online support groups and participate in online discussion forums. You can sign up for a weekly newsletter or blog, such as my own gluten-free blog. Celiac teens can also join celiac support groups on Facebook and MySpace.
Whether you’re dismayed by your new gluten-free diet or excited to have found an answer to your painful symptoms, I highly encourage you to join a local chapter of a support group, or at the very least join an online forum. Since I started my gluten-free way of life and connected with others in the celiac community, my life has been more rewarding than ever and living gluten free has become second nature. Don’t miss out on these benefits yourself or pass up the opportunity to offer to others your own gluten-free wisdom and experience.
From our home to yours, Tina Turbin.