Kristen is a 24 year old, young professional working in channel marketing for a global communications organization. She was advised to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle to help combat GI disease diagnosis. Follow her on Pinterest or Twitter, and connect on LinkedIn.
As someone pretty new in the professional world, I found it somewhat of a challenge to explain my gluten-free lifestyle to my colleagues for the first time. The team I was first a part of at my current employer had “donut Fridays”, each Friday one of the managers would bring a dozen or more donuts. I felt torn about how to handle this situation. I clearly couldn’t just grab and eat a donut to be polite, without having to suffer the consequences of course, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted bring it up. It was a nice gesture by my managers and I was self conscience about coming off as expecting special treatment or as “too good”. I never thought a baked good could cause me so much anxiety. There’s already enough anxiety associated with entering a new work environment, my diet shouldn’t be one of them. I was able to survive donut Friday’s and all the other work food events and here’s how.
1. Let People Know
When there’s a dozen donuts at work up for the taking and you’re the only person not eating one, people are likely to notice. Each time a colleague inquired about why I was skipping the snacks, I was honest. I explained that I wasn’t able to eat gluten for health reasons. Typically, we all had to work to do and that was about as far as it went, but of course there were questions to follow from time to time. I kept an open mind and politely answered questions each time I was asked, I found that a lot of people weren’t even sure what gluten was, so it was fun to get to inform people and be open about some of my health concerns. I always was sure to note that it was a health reason and something I’ve been practicing strictly for a length or time. Overall, just telling people cleared up a lot of questions and helped them understand why I was not a participating member of donut Friday. Honest is the best policy it seems.
2. B.Y.O.S (Bring Your Own Snacks)
There are so many great snacks these days that are gluten-free. I always had a little stash with me to combat feeing left out on those days when baked good were plentiful in the office. At my office we’re lucky enough to have a refrigerator that I could store some heartier snacks like yogurt and hummus in. However, there are plenty of options that you can have in your drawers just in case of emergency. One of my favorites it Tate’s Bake Shop. The chocolate chip cookies are my favorite, and I’m always able to find these in the local grocery store, or even at CostCo to buy in bulk (which is usually how I do it since they’re so good). Another favorite of mine is Buddha Bowl Himalayan Pink Popcorn this can combat the savory, crunchy craving when others are snacking on pretzels or the like. I always keep these on hand for a little pick me up and combat those gluten-free blues.
3. Partake How You Can
Even though the traditional office foods are usually not gluten-free friendly, you can still participate. Another office staple is the potluck or office outing. Potlucks were easy for me, the dish I brought by default would be gluten-free because that’s how I cook and lifestyle I lead. This can be a great chance to assure this is something that you can eat present. While the choices were usually limited, I at least could count on my dish being ok to eat and gave some of my colleagues a chance to try something gluten-free. Handing office outings can be different as they are usually outside the office and alcohol is likely involved. I think in these cases it’s important to go, even if you know you might have to plan to eat before or after. Just have fun with your colleagues and take it back to number 1, be honest if someone’s wondering why you aren’t indulging in the cake or pizza or beer that’s present. It’s also important in these situations to do your research, the venue the event is at may be able to accommodate with a gluten-free option. While you may have to pay for a special plate, it can be nice to be able to sit down and enjoy a meal while all your colleagues are doing the same.
4. Find a Friend
By being open about your gluten-free lifestyle, I was able to find a gluten-free ally. Another woman at my office also was living a gluten-free lifestyle. It was so helpful to have someone in the same building that was having the same or similar experience that I was. Through this connection we were able to become good friends, and also share snacks and recipes. My gluten-free friend had been with my company a little while longer that I had, so she was able to clue me into some of the lunch places around our building that would have gluten-friendly menus. This part helped immensely by allowing me to feel like I had options outside from bringing my own lunch. It also was helpful to have this friend at office functions so I didn’t have to feel so terribly left out or alienated by having to skip the pizza at the party. If there isn’t a gluten-free friend at your office, that’s alright! I would encourage you to explore the gluten-friendly lunch spots around your office and bring someone along to try it with you, and make a friend rather than find one.
5. Be an Ambassador
Once people understand your special diet, you can become an ambassador for gluten-free living. While, I’m not saying you should try and get everyone to live gluten-free all the time. You can show them that some (most) gluten-free foods are actually delicious and often times healthier than alternatives. I was always open and offering any of my gluten-free snacks around to my colleagues nearby and anyone else that was curious. I also found it helpful to bring in some gluten-free goodies when I had extra. Most of the time my colleagues couldn’t believe that the cookies, cake, muffins, etc were gluten-free at all, these Pumpkin Donut Muffins were an especially big hit. This can help people really understand and get a good picture of gluten-free living and how it can be practiced on a regular basis. It was helpful to have colleagues know I’m not as tortured and deprived as they initially thought.