This month, our gluten free college blogger Julie Bourne shares tips on navigating the college social scene while maintaining a gluten free diet. You can read her past posts on this Blog as well as follow her on her own Blog, The Campus Celiac.
While the primary point of going to college is to learn, receive a degree, and land a great job, I have found college to also be an invaluable time for getting my introverted self out of my shell. Socializing is a major component of the full college experience -- a positive thing but also something that can induce some level of anxiety for those with severe gluten allergies. Social activities like going out to the bars, eating dinner at a restaurant with friends, and dating can all bring some level of stress when gluten needs to be considered. However, this stress can be remedied with some simple know-how and preparation.
As a recently turned 21-year-old, going out to the bars and deciphering the extensive menu of fancy drinks is a pretty new thing for me. I have generally found that the less complicated the drink is, the stronger the likelihood that it is gluten free. Ordering a simple glass of red or white wine is always a good call, but if you want something stronger, rum is usually fine (in it’s most simple form) as well as tequila. This means that margaritas are often an option. Vodka is tricky, because it can be made from potatoes, grapes, wheat, or rye. Although many experts believe that the distillation process renders even grain-based vodkas gluten free, others believe sensitive individuals should avoid all but the growing list of non-grain gluten free vodkas.
Safe mixers like Coke or natural fruit juices will help you out a bit if you are going for the hard liquors. Of course, gluten free beer is always a safe bet, and many brands are now more widely distributed so it's not as hard to find. Going to a house party? BYO(gluten free)B! Be sure to eat plenty of substantial food before hitting the bars due to the alcohol you will be consuming -- and also because you can’t always bet on bars having gluten free appetizers or snacks to save you when you get the munchies.
Going out to eat with friends is slightly less problematic since it is something celiacs face on a pretty regular basis. It is always good to have a few safe restaurants in mind that are also well liked by non-GF eaters and are nearby your school. If you are with friends who are pretty familiar with your gluten issues, they might be in the habit of looking at you when a choice of restaurant needs to be made. If you have to make a decision on the spot, Mexican restaurants are often a safer bet than most other types of restaurants, and they can be easily found. If plans for a specific restaurant have been made in advance, you can always call ahead and inquire about their gluten free options to avoid uncertainty when everyone is waiting for you to order.
As if dating wasn’t awkward enough, bringing up your gluten free-ness to your date without sounding high maintenance can be tricky. However, it’s probably a relief in some ways for your date to know that you’re choosing the restaurant and planning the date. It takes a bit of pressure of him or her! So don’t be afraid to be the helpful person who makes suggestions for restaurants (one that you know you can eat at) or makes the decision to have a date that doesn’t involve food. You don’t have to bring up your gluten issues at all until you feel more comfortable with the person. However, if an opportunity is presented to casually bring it up, you might find it to be an interesting conversation starter. Whatever happens, do not sacrifice your own health to avoid coming off as “high maintenance.” So many people have allergies and food intolerances these days, so you are far from being unique in that respect. And if a person is right for you to be dating, they will respect your dietary restrictions.
The bottom line is: do not risk your health in order to assimilate yourself in social scenarios but also don’t let your gluten allergy or Celiac Disease get in the way of having a good time! Grab a drink with friends, stay out dancing ‘til 4:00 in the morning, date that cute person in your biology class. Gluten doesn’t deserve the right to rob you of these times that you will look back on with fond memories.