Edit Desk: Do’s and Don’ts of Dietary Restriction Etiquette


After living with Celiac Disease for the past three years, I have come to understand proper etiquette and language when it comes to talking about food allergies and dietary restrictions. Properly addressing these issues is vital, as ignorance can undermine the severity of what people with dietary restrictions experience. I’ve compiled a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” to navigate conversations and attitudes regarding dietary restrictions. 

My list of “Don’ts” 

  • Don’t undermine the severity of the issue

People have dietary restrictions for all sorts of reasons, some more severe than others, but it is never okay to downplay the severity of somebody’s restriction. For me, the worst thing someone can say about my Celiac Disease is that it’s “just a stomach ache,” because this disease is something I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my life. It has forever changed the way I eat. Comments like these can isolate people with restrictions, and make them feel like a burden.

  • Don’t pretend to envy a restriction  

I can’t even count the number of times I have heard the words, “I wish I couldn’t eat gluten, I would be so much healthier.” I wouldn’t wish my restriction on anyone and it’s rude to make it sound like I’m so lucky to have to use a different toaster and read every ingredient on the packaging when I’m buying groceries. Having a restriction on your diet does not make one individual healthier than another. My Celiac Disease has caused severe damage to my small intestine and nutrient deficiencies that I may never recover from, which is far from “healthy.” 

  • Don’t single them out

This is self-explanatory, but it is not your job to announce someone’s dietary restriction at any meal. There is no worse feeling than being in a social setting and having someone remind you that you can’t eat anything there. Wait for said person with the restriction in your life to make those comments for themselves. 

  • Don’t talk badly about allergen-free food

I will be the first to admit that miniature-sized gluten-free bread will never compare to a freshly baked French baguette, but there are plenty of foods available that are allergen-free and delicious. Still, this food could be a person’s only option, so don’t assume the food is bad just because it is made with allergen-free ingredients, and definitely don’t make someone feel bad about the food they are still able to consume.

My List of “Do’s” 

  • Make them feel included

Food brings people together, and it is a part of so many important moments in our lives. From celebrations and vacations to family gatherings, food is always present. For people with dietary restrictions, this can be an extremely isolating time as they often miss out on this part of events. Therefore, it is so important to make anyone in your life with a dietary restriction feel included. Something as simple as including one allergy-free dish at a party seems small, but it can go a long way in making someone with a dietary restriction feel included. 

  • Check the menu before making a reservation 

Going out to eat might be one of the most anxiety-provoking situations someone with dietary restrictions may face. The lack of control and risk of cross-contamination can be extremely stressful. And the slightest mishandling of the meal can cause you to get seriously sick. Not to mention, there may be nothing there for them to eat. Going out to eat with your loved ones and having to get a salad with a piece of grilled chicken on it because it is the only thing you can eat never feels great. So check the menu before making the reservation. Do they have an allergen-free menu? Is there a dedicated fryer? Are there safe options for them to eat without having to worry? This quick step can help take the stress off of your loved ones, and make them feel more included. 

  • Ask questions

When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease, all I did was research. Nobody I knew had the disease, so it was up to me to figure out how to deal with it. If you know somebody with a dietary restriction, don’t be afraid to ask them questions. It is better to be informed and will make that person more comfortable in specific contexts. As someone who is constantly unsure about what they can eat, I would expect that other people would have questions too, and I’m happy to answer them. 

  • Try new things 

People with dietary restrictions have to completely alter their diet, and because of this, they are forced to try new things. It is important for someone who is trying to support their loved one with a dietary restriction to be willing to try new things as well. Whether this involves going to new restaurants, altering recipes to make them allergen-free or just having new kinds of food around the house, it is important to be open to this change. This can make it a lot easier for the person who is going through these changes, and who knows, you may end up finding a new food that you really enjoy! 


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