Celiacs often face upsetting social situations around food. We fear that being assertive about our needs will seem rude, and we don’t want to offend anyone or wreck anyone’s fun.
But, when we don’t speak up for ourselves, we are being rude to ourselves by denying ourselves the care that we need — and we’re being rude to others by deceiving them about our true experience.
Honour yourself by noticing your own needs and speaking up about them. Honour others by letting them deal with their own reactions and responses.
Here are some tips for being assertive about your dietary needs.
1. Explain the facts calmly, simply, and briefly.
EXAMPLE: “You know how some people have severe reactions to bee stings, peanuts, or seafood? Well, I have severe reactions to gluten — and gluten is in almost everything, so I have to be really careful.”
2. Use Non-Violent Communication (NVC). FIRST, express your feelings. NEXT, express your needs. FINALLY, make requests to get your needs met.
A guideline for this is the famous NVC “I-Statement” formula, which goes like this:
When ______, I feel ______, because my need for______ is not being met. Would you be willing to ______?
EXAMPLE 1: “When there’s a lot of gluten around my food preparation area, I feel scared, because my need to have safe food is not being met. Would you be willing to reserve a section of the counter for me only?”
EXAMPLE 2: “When I am pressured to eat something that I think might be unsafe for me, I feel miserable, because my need for respect is not being met. Would you be willing to say ‘Oh, ok’ when I say ‘No thank you’ to a food you’re offering me?”
EXAMPLE 3: “When I am a guest where everyone else eats gluten, I feel anxious, because my need for food safety is at risk. Would you be willing to let me prepare all my own food?”
EXAMPLE 4: “When other people use my groceries, I feel jittery, because my need for a secure and dependable food supply is at risk. Would you be willing to never use the products I’ve labelled GF, and to ask before you use any of my other groceries?
3. If you have gone through Steps 1 & 2 above but people are not cooperating with you, try the following: FIRST, ask yourself what you need from the other person/people. NEXT, accept that they are not giving it to you. FINALLY, give it to yourself.
EXAMPLE: Let’s use Example 2 from above, in which someone is pressuring you to eat something risky at dinner. You have explained your situation (Step 1), you have expressed your feelings and needs and made a clear request (Step 2), but they continue insisting. You want them to respect your needs, but it’s not happening. Don’t worry — if you can’t get respect from them, you can always get respect from yourself. Say NO, mean it, and move on. Respect YOURSELF by giving yourself what you need – respect THEM by letting them deal with their own behaviour.
Honest and calm assertiveness like this is kind. It is a healthy communication practice that will help us in every area of our lives.
by Sherry Scheideman, MA, Registered Clinical Counsellor.