When people find out I don’t eat gluten, they often react with eye rolls and aggressive, skeptical questions. Isn’t being gluten-free just a fad? Do you even have Celiac? Yes, the gluten-free movement has gained visibility and popularity in recent years and some may argue that makes it trendy. No, I don’t have Celiac. I also don’t call my eating habits “gluten-free,” as that’s an oversimplification. My eating habits are much more insufferable: I eat paleo. Not only do I avoid gluten, I avoid all grains, legumes and refined sugars. Yeah, I’m basically the worst.
I’ve written here before about why I went paleo. Though this way of eating has improved my life immensely, I am not a zealot. It works for me, but it might not work for you. I am not on a quest to turn the world paleo. I don’t preach about it on social media or in person and I don’t judge what other people eat. In fact, I try not to talk about it unless someone asks. It’s not worth the judgment I so frequently encounter.
Frankly, it’s also because I fall off the wagon sometimes, and that invites even more smug judgment. Yes, I get judged by the same people for both avoiding gluten and eating gluten. After more than three years of eating this way, I’ve developed tactics for dealing with invasive questions and judgment. They also work for many other inappropriate questions from nosy jerks. In honor of National Celiac Awareness Month, I present my arsenal of tactics for combating pushy jerks. Godspeed.
1. Be snarky.
When I’m pointedly asked, “Do you even have Celiac?” I like to say, “Nope, just an eating disorder!” That shuts up people quickly. You can turn the tables with something equally inappropriate, like, “I’ll tell you if I have Celiac if you tell me the last time you masturbated.”
2. Be private.
This article notwithstanding, I don’t generally advertise the fact that I’m paleo/gluten-free. Since folks are so often defensive and judgmental when my eating habits come up, it’s easier to just not discuss it. I know how to order healthy-for-me food at a restaurant without making a spectacle of myself. Recently, a close friend of over a year was surprised to find out I was gluten-free. I shrugged and told him that I never mentioned it because it’s not relevant unless you’re cooking me food. It is indeed possible to have a close friendship, and even eat meals together, without ever discussing your dietary restrictions.
3. Tell them to mind their own business.
Some people have bad boundaries. You can counteract them with good boundaries. When someone asks something you don’t want to answer, guess what? You don’t have to! Life is not a job interview. When a stranger or acquaintance starts grilling me about my eating habits, I stop them with a simple: “Meh, it works for me. I don’t feel like explaining it to you. Let’s talk about something else.” I highly recommend firm, plainly stated boundaries and deflection.
4. Be honest, if you feel like it.
Sometimes I do talk about it. Most of my loved ones are supportive, and sometimes they genuinely want to talk about the paleo/gluten-free lifestyle out of curiosity or because they’ve wanted to try it themselves. If it’s someone I trust and I’m in the right mood, I’ll gladly answer questions. So what happens when I slip up and eat gluten? A lot of fun things! For one, I get epically foul-smelling gas. Hey, you asked! I’ve been busy and stressed lately and have not made time to cook or take proper care of myself. So, uh-oh, while on the go I have eaten a pastry or two (or three). Never have I been so grateful to be single, since I’ve been able to freely stink up my apartment without worrying about grossing out a partner.
When I stray from the paleo plan, my mind feels foggy, my face breaks out, I gain weight, I get heartburn and I feel lethargic. None of these are life-threatening: I spent the first twenty-six years of my life living like that. It was a revelation when I went paleo and realized I didn’t have to spend every day fighting exhaustion, heartburn and nausea. So that’s why I’m paleo. In the simplest of terms: it makes me feel better. So leave me alone about it.