MANHATTAN — A few weeks ago, when Stacy Abrams' date ordered a giant German pretzel for dinner, she had to tell him some bad news.
“If you eat that I can't kiss you," she said. "I will get really sick."
Abrams, 33, suffers from Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that is managed by a strict gluten-free diet.
“He said, 'Even if I chew gum?' And I’m like, ‘No. It's a brushing teeth situation,'” said Abrams, who can suffer from extreme nausea, bloating and even vomiting after consuming even tiny amounts of gluten — the material found in products like bread, beer and pasta.
The date ended safely, with a kiss on the cheek.
The hazards of going out to eat on dates for gluten-free New Yorkers can be daunting. Singles have to call a restaurant in advance, warn their waiters of food allergies, and double check the meal is safe — all to avoid the chance of accidental contamination by wheat, a ubiquitous ingredient.
Add to that the stress of trying to make a good first impression on a date, without coming across as a high-maintenance prima donna, and it can be downright intimidating, gluten-free daters say.
"It sometimes sounds a little high maintenance if they don't know the severity of it," said Erin Eisenhower, 24, a model who has a gluten allergy.
Eisenhower said she tries to hide her food allergy for at least the first few dates.
"Most guys ask what kinds of foods I like, but it's easier to suggest places I can eat, without exactly telling them I'm gluten-free," said Eisenhower, who travels all over the globe for modeling jobs.
If she has even a small amount of gluten, Eisenhower will feel lethargic, bloated and even depressed for days following the meal. Acne-like boils can also appear on her face.
"I think the worst was having to go home after a dinner because I had accidentally ingested something," said Eisenhower, of a dinner-movie date gone wrong. "I think I told the guy I had food poisoning."
New York City-based dating expert Tracey Steinberg said being confident about yourself, including your diet, can be a magnetic characteristic in dating.
"I think as long as they are comfortable with it, then they will make other people feel comfortable with it," said Steinberg, 40.
But while healthy eating might be a desired trait in a mate, Steinberg is yet to encounter anyone who is specifically seeking out a gluten-free partner.
"I have never had anyone put gluten-free in their top five," said Steinberg, who often coaches singles to narrow down their non-negotiable requirements in a partner to only five points.
Other gluten-free singles say they use their partner's reaction to their health issue as a litmus test.
"If anyone were to make me feel weird about my dietary choice, I see it as a red flag, a sign that potentially this person is not tolerant of other things," said Terri Trespicio, who has been gluten-free for six months. Instead of it being a hassle, she says it gives a date "a way to be a gentleman," using the example of one guy who took the initiative and sought out gluten-free restaurants.
"I thought it was sweet," said Trespicio, 38, who lives on the Upper West Side.
Trespecio said there are plenty of upsides to her gluten-free lifestyle that are ideal for single life. Since ditching the troublesome protein that is found in most grains, cereals and breads, Trespicio has lost 10 pounds, no longer feels bloated, and has lost that "lousy" feeling.
Other gluten-free eaters report having clearer skin and an all-around better sense of well being.
For those who are afraid to go public with their food restrictions, Trespicio recommended avoiding the term allergy "victim."
"Anything you use as a 'poor me' is a turn off on a date," said Trespicio, who is a writer, speaker and healthy living expert.
Far from being ashamed of her allergies and intolerances, Sloane Miller has built an empire on them. Under the name Allergic Girl, she provides coaching, consulting and advocacy for those plagued by food allergies. She penned a book on the subject last year.
"Dating is all about getting to know someone and them getting to know you," said Miller, a 40-year-old Midtown East resident. "Accepting this diagnosis is letting them into that part of you."
If disclosing dietary conditions right away is intimidating, Miller suggested going on a non-food date such as a comedy club or even an old fashioned walk in the park.
"New York is very food-centric, and non-food dates can turn into food dates unexpectedly," she said. "You need to know what you can and can’t eat."
In that case Miller, who has a gluten and dairy intolerance along with severe tree nut and fish allergies, insists on education to avoid a reaction, without creating drama.
"Discuss with your allergist, gastroenterologist or registered dietitian what you need to avoid. Keep yourself safe," she said.
Abrams, who got her Celiac diagnosis 10 years ago, steers clear of the word disease. Instead she uses "condition."
"It is scary to hear the word disease," she said. "It [celiac disease] is very manageable. I just have to stay away from these foods."
After years of managing her condition, Abrams has learned to see the advantages. In December she briefly dated a guy who admitted that, in order to kiss Abrams, he cleaned his teeth more often than he had ever done before.
"The dentist will be happy too," she said.
To help those trying to navigate the food-centric city of New York with a gluten-free agenda, DNAinfo has compiled a list of 10 under-the-radar gluten-free eateries that make it easier to avoid diet dramas without being glaringly obvious. Click here.