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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's ok to hate Panera...

There's a big difference between being newly diagnosed and having accepted the fact that you will always, always be gluten free.  Early on, I will admit, I had a serious meltdown at Panera.  Something similar to a full blown panic attack.  I think it was the bagel smell, the tempting flaky pastries, those stupid muffin tops, and that creamy chicken and rice soup I so desperately wanted to eat - everything started to soak in at once - I couldn't eat anything, I wasn't normal, I can't eat at restaurants, I'm a freak, my stomach hurts all the time, I'm getting a headache, geez it's hot in here, my eyes started to tear up, I had to get out of there.  I was upset, frustrated, angry, and a whole host of other emotions.  I hated Panera and all it's wheaty goodness.

It's ok to hate Panera.  But it does get better.  

It was probably a whole year before I set foot in Panera again, perhaps out of embarrassment, I didn't exactly cause a scene, but I was afraid of how I would feel again.  For me it was all about research. I knew I could find something to eat there.  For one, I could sit and drink coffee.  So that's where I started.  I would take my laptop and sit and drink coffee.  I still hated the way it smelled... so bakery like.  (ugh).  But I kept researching.  I would find the least busy employee and ask for their ingredient book.  They have a book of all their products (soups, pastries, salads...etc) with all the separate ingredients and allergies listed out.  I found which soups and salad dressings were safe for me to eat.  This was incredibly empowering for me.  I was taking control of the situation.  I was being my own advocate.  

Now when I go to Panera, I can order the caesar salad and the black bean soup.  Of course I politely ask them to change their gloves, explain that I have a food allergy, and request no croutons on the salad.  They are very very nice about it and go out of their way to comply.  I have never had a negative experience.  

I will advise that this is a very high-risk environment even when their staff is taking caution.  Because their products are made in a bakery with flour on every surface and potentially in the air, cross-contamination is possible.  I didn't start eating here until almost a year of being gluten free and I personally believe I am less sensitive because my body has been healing from a gluten free lifestyle.  Each person needs to make their own decision about what their body needs and can handle. 


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