5 Myths About Being Gluten Free
Each year I celebrate the call from my doctor that changed my life. The one that diagnosed me with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten, which means I have to avoid that nasty little protein like the plague until the day I die.
Being gluten free at first was really difficult. I was still sick, and saddened by the fact that about 80% of the grocery store had become essentially poisonous to me. With the amazing support of friends and family I had to re-figure out my entire diet, and learn to start eating foods on a regular basis that I had never even heard of (quinoa, polenta, etc). My food pyramid shifted from the traditional American bread-based diet to a vegetable/nut/meat based diet because that was the most affordable option.
After a while, though, I became used to my normal grocery store perimeter walk. What I could and couldn’t eat bothered me less and less and finally I felt like I was no longer my disease, but my disease was just another part of me. People got used to me just bringing my own food along to events, and eating weird things.
I celebrate the diagnosis because it gave me a much better quality of life. I’m no longer anxious and depressed all the time, or constantly sick and losing weight. My bones don’t break from stepping off of a curb (yes that happened) and I no longer have 10+ cavities every time I go to the dentist no matter how much I brush and floss. In short, I no longer have to deal with most of the symptoms listed on the Mayo Clinic website.
So along the way, what has probably been the most annoying thing? Besides the fact that gluten even exists.
When I meet someone new and they have been fed so many falsehoods by the media, celebrities, their uncle Bob, whomever is spewing out this ridiculousness about what it’s like being gluten free, and apparently what is appropriate to say to someone who has to be gluten free.
The following scenario happens often. I’m in a social situation when the topic comes to food or cooking or being gluten free and I’m like “oh yeah I have Celiac disease”, and off the other person usually goes on this laundry list of cliches that encompass the majority of things people say when finding this out about me. They have no idea, and I really don’t want to be rude, but I’ve had to figure out how to not sound like a jerk debunking literally every sentence that follows. I probably do. Social situations are not my strong point. Anyway, in celebration of 2.5 years of gluten free, I’ve compiled a list of the 5 biggest myths about being gluten free I and many of my gluten free friends and family have run into, that I wish the world could read. Considering an estimated 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac disease, this might be helpful. Here we go.
1. Gluten Free = Healthy
Usually stated as…
“Oh well at least it forces you to eat healthy”
Alright am I the only person who has ever read the nutrition label on gluten free replacement food? PSA: It generally has waaaay more sugar, calories and preservatives than what you’re trying to replace! Why? Because otherwise it would probably taste like crap. Let’s be real here. But it’s not just the replacement food that isn’t healthy. It is entirely possible for me to have a terrible gluten free diet without ever buying replacement food. Ever noticed my unreasonable obsession in my other posts with ice cream? I love ice cream. Is it healthy? NO.
Is it gluten free? YES (if you get the right brand/flavors).
I hate this buzz word. Gluten free does not mean healthy. Gummi bears are gluten free. In fact, most candy is gluten free. Cheetos are gluten free. Potato chips are gluten free. Totstitos salsa con queso is gluten free. Cyanide is gluten free.
2. Everyone on a gluten free diet is a hipster and/or is trying to lose weight.
Okay here is the problem. Somehow a gluten free diet was projected to the world as the go-to weight loss diet (which I find funny because, like I just said, replacement food is way less healthy than what you’re replacing). Sure, it works for some people because they just eat less of everything and replace junk food with whole foods (WHOA), but it has simply become trendy to be a part of this fad. And to annoyingly shove it in the face of everyone else. Which really sucks for those of us with a medical necessity. People are actually mean to us about it, saying we just want attention, or are just being stupid, or that it’s just a phase, as if this was a choice.
3. Just a little bit won’t hurt, and even eating more over time might help!
No. Just stop.
Celiac disease is not an allergy.
IT IS an autoimmune disease, and the only one with a known trigger. Triggering an autoimmune response again and again over time will not “train your body to deal with gluten”.
It will, however, slowly kill me. Yes? Yes.
Autoimmune =/= Allergy
4. Gluten free life is the worst.
Every. Single. Time.
“Oh that’s terrible!”
“Wow, your life sucks” (I get this the most often)
“I can’t imagine!”
And my personal favorite:
Would you die? Really? No, you wouldn’t die. Somehow I seem to manage. But I would actually die if I ate your food, so give it a rest. Also since when has it become socially acceptable to condescendingly tell someone their life sucks?
My life is not defined by the food I put in my mouth.
Suggestion? Instead, maybe ask us about what Celiac disease is. What kinds of foods do we usually eat? Or simply say “Oh, okay.” and move on with whatever we were talking about.
5. Eating gluten in front of me is the worst thing in the world you could ever do ever.
Disclaimer: this one may not apply to all gluten free people.
Tip: ask, but don’t go on feeling bad if we tell you to eat!
I’ll admit that I used to think this way whenever I did something like eat ice cream in front of someone who had lactose intolerance. I’d have it, see them, think terribly of myself and scarf it down as quickly as possible while avoiding eye contact.
And even for a while after I got diagnosed, I would get kind of sad seeing others eat gluten in front of me. Partly because I hadn’t yet discovered the huge world of foods that naturally don’t contain gluten, and partly because I could still remember what that cake you’re eating tastes like. But over time, things got easier, and my taste buds more forgetful. I got in the habit of bringing food most everywhere I go, so if you’re eating, and I’m hungry, I am too. I can’t focus on the fact that you have cake because this apricot is fucking delicious.
But really, that cake will also make me feel horrible for a week or more. I’ve gone through plenty of glutening mishaps to know this. So while you see delicious cake, in my mind I see something that smells really good, but I don’t want to eat it.
Okay that was a weird analogy, but you get what I’m saying. So go ahead, enjoy your food right in front of me like you would anyone, and let’s have a fun conversation about something. Shall we?