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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Love is Thicker Than Gluten: How to Live With a Gluten Eater

It's getting late,  the corners of our loft are softened by the mellow golden light melting out from frosted glass and crinkled paper. After a long day of mind grating web related work I'm perched on the couch, contemplating dinner while Anthony Bourdain curses with brass in the background. Alex won't be home for several hours, the oven timer sounding as his keys struggle in the lock. We'll pad the floor with oversize pillows and wade through another episode of Lost as we tuck into Creamy Garlic Chicken, mashed potatoes and crisp salad. Yes, foil wrapped dressing chicken...that sounds good, I'll make that. I'll make it for someone I love, who I know will appreciate it - whatever it is.

Whether you don red from head to toe, quiver under your covers all day or send yourself a $40 bouquet of roses, Valentine's day will arrive this weekend. I've never doted much on this day, blame it on my Introverted Loner Sensibilities - I'll tell you I love you when I feel like it, dammit. I sniff at the idea of expressing my feelings on a day designated by - well - others. The very idea of being required to distribute Valentines to every member of the class dredged up thick clouds of resentment in my second grade soul.

Yet here we have it, a day when many celebrate their love, or lust, or comfortably rutted relationship. A day many abhor or ignore while the candy companies dance in joy. Regardless of your deepest, inner feelings, this weekend will probably draw out thoughts of your loved ones; past, present or those residing in the hopeful future.

I'm (amazingly, earth-shatteringly, never-take-it-for-granted-one-second) fortunate enough to have collided with an even more compatible partner than I could have ever crafted myself. In fact, Alex even has Celiac Disease. No, we didn't meet at a support group. I sometimes forget that not everyone with Celiac Disease happens to fall in love with other Non-Gluten Homo sapiens. So what do you do when that person who gets your blood pumping scarfs down bread with both hands?

How to Live With A Gluten Eater

You may wonder how I have any authority on this subject. "Hey!" You might be thinking, "You've got your GF mate, what gives?" Well, I've lived with non-GFers in college and definitely understand the often heinous issues involved. I'll offer up a few things to consider here, but I turn to you, my co-habitating readers to offer up your own experiences in shacked up bliss. 

Look Before

When you're around someone you love, sometimes it's hard not to show some affection! But if your someone is a Gluten eater you're faced with some particular obstacles. Cross Contamination can be "transmitted" through kiss, so your happy snogfest is liable to be rudely interrupted by some less than welcome reactions if your partner has been nomming on some gluten treats. A good habit for your Gluten Lover to get into would be brushing and gargling after every meal or snack when they're around you. Sure, it can be a pain but they get a healthy you as a consolation prize and they'll get a glowing report on their next trip to the dentist.

Alex is a dairy eater while I am definitely not, he's always really good about recalling that he's been eating dairy if I'm about to give him a peck. Putting the halt on a contaminated kiss is about the only time affection-rejection is a true sign of love.

Get It All Out In the Open

A Celiac Diagnosis can be a lot of things. Emotional, relieving, overwhelming, a big step in the right direction. Tacked on to your long 'to do' list is to have The Talk with your partner. No, not that talk.  There are all kinds of configurations of Gluten-Non-Gluten living but the basics are: 1. Your Partner Will Go Gluten Free For You Out of Love and Pragmatism 2. Your Partner Will Go GF in the House While Inhaling Gluten Out In the 'Real World' or 3. Your Partner Will Eat Their Food and You Will Eat Yours. Personally, I don't even know how you keep food between partners totally separate. Do you make two dinners? Do you only cook for yourself and your partner cooks their own meals? Do they sometimes, grudgingly eat "your" food? Did you have, officially, The Talk? Are you happy with the arrangement you have reached? I'd love to hear your experiences, if you're willing to share.

Stay Close While Keeping It Separate

There's no way to get around it, when in any relationship you need SPACE. Yes, emotional space, growth space, work space and stop crowding me while I sleep space. Bulk up that list with some quality food cookware space. If you and your partner have chosen to live on separate food islands it is essential to your health that you designate very specific areas for your stuff. In order to keep it safe you might need to do some unique distribution in the cabinet area. Instead of divvying up shelves in one food cabinet you might try storing your food in a dish cabinet along with the plates or cups. Buying two sets of different colored plastic containers for leftovers will keep fridge lurkers split up. Pots, pans and cooking utensils come in all kinds of colors, stock up on all colored cookware for yourself while your partner uses all metal, black or gray. Befriend someone with a label maker. You're going to live a little differently so you have to do things a little differently. Make weird your norm and embrace it.

Acknowledge Your Acid Test

Any kind of adversity presented in a relationship should really be seen as a gift from the mysterious concoctions of life. How your partner faces this adversity can be a unique glimpse into the true depth of their feeling for you. Anyone who truly loves you will want to see you healthy and feeling safe. That is not to say that any partner who won't devote themselves to and unnecessary GF diet doesn't love you. Rather, it is in their attitude. Are they respectful of your food storage areas and cookware? Do they grumble often about having restricted restaurant dining options? Are they empathetic in the face of - er - less than attractive Gluten reactions? Do they simply make you feel badly about your diet? If you have a negative experience with your partner's reaction to your diet change you may be dodging a bullet. Anyone who doesn't want to support you in any way they can to make sure you're healthy and living life to the fullest isn't worth your time. If they react poorly to your GF decision how will they react to any other needs that arise? A truly loving partner will support your commitment to the diet and will go to great lengths to avoid contributing to contamination. Know that you are worth a supportive partner and hold on to those who respect your needs.


  1. Fabulous post! Love your writing style and what you've shared in this piece. Found you via Twitter. I'll be back (after work)! :-)


  2. This is a wonderful topic. When I first went gluten free, we tried to keep food with gluten in the house for my husband, but I kept getting sick. Out it went, with his full willingness and desire for me to be well. I feel grateful to have a spouse who is supportive. While he does eat gluten outside the home, he always brushes and rinses for me, and when we go out to eat, he orders gluten free too so we can share. I think it is possible for some households to keep some gluten around, it just didn't work for us.

  3. Great post! It's funny because my husband and 3 year old daughter actually prefer my gluten free food, even though they can eat gluten! My daughter often asks (ok, demands) "Mama's toast!" :)

  4. Great post. Living with a non-gf-er is a topic I could certainly discuss. I think my bf and I have a pretty good arrangement, which is good b/c we recently bought a house together!

    For all of our shared meals, we only cook gluten free, including pasta. Who wants to cook two separate meals, really! The only exceptions are when we make pizza or anything with bread. For budget reasons, we make a gf version for me and a 'normal' version for him.

    For the most part, we use the same utensils and cooking utensils, plates, etc. We keep 'glutened' bake wear in the gluten section of the kitchen.

    The Gluten Area: My bf is great at keeping his toaster and any gluten preparation, in the gluten area of the kitchen, which I am not to touch, which is fine with me! He also keeps all his gluten food (mainly bread and snacks) in a separate cupboard, along with the glutened cutting boards and bake wear.

    It's probably not the perfect system from a cc point of view, but it has worked well for us since we got strict about preventing cross contamination.

    For the most part, my bf has been great and understanding and very helpful throughout my gluten free journey and I'm very thankful for that.

    Kissing? To be honest, we mostly only kiss on the cheek unless I'm sure he's uncontaminated by gluten!!!

    And that's how I live with a gluten eater, happily!

  5. You always have the best gluten-free information posts. This was awesome =D.

  6. I also live with a gluten eater who loves his bready-ish stuff.
    He eats his "regular" foods-sandwich thins, english muffins, etc. It's all kept in one corner of the countertop for easy cleaning. We only have one toaster, which I rarely use, but I do clean it and use foil if I want to use it. Most of the meals we eat together are naturally gluten free, but if he wants pasta, I make it. I actually am not a fan of pasta anyway, so I'll usually make spaghetti squash for myself. Like the lazygfchef mentioned above-it may not be a perfect system. Life-she is full of compromise ;)

  7. Is it really possible to transmit the gluten from one person to another (say through kissing, sharing a drink) to the extent that it will cause symptoms? I've never heard of this...

  8. Hi Shirley! Thanks so much, glad to have you here :)

    Hey Jennifer - That is so awesome! So glad to hear you've found someone who supports and cares for you.

    Kristin, I can't tell you how many times I've had to pull friends and family off my (expensive) gf food, they go after it like wolves!

    Hey Chef! Thanks for sharing - it's great to hear how others live! Sounds like segregating the food is the best plan for harmonious living.

    Thanks Lauren, I really appreciate that :)

    Thanks a lot Erin, now you've got me craving spaghetti squash :) Seems that compromise is the name of the game, excellent that you've found someone willing to play! Thanks for sharing your GF tactics!

    Hi Andy, that is a question hotly discussed in various forums and threads - the short answer: yes, cross contamination can occur from kissing. There are factors involved such as how recently the Gluten Eater has ingested gluten and how sensitive to Gluten you actually are. Basically, gluten is very tenacious and can hang around areas, like the mouth or lips, for quite some time. I've actually had a reaction from wiping my mouth with a napkin that was laying on a table which happened to have Gluten crumbs on it. Best bet for safety? Have a brushing and/or gargling party :)


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