Your diet is bad for my health
In the past few years it’s become increasingly popular for people to choose gluten free items over the, let’s be honest, more delicious and fully glutened options. In honor of Celiac Disease awareness month, I would like to explain why the choice to eat gluten free can be harmful to those of us who don’t have that choice.
Two years ago, after about a year of feeling unwell, I focused on what I was eating to see if I could come up with some self-diagnosis (which is typically the worst thing to do, but you know, it’s also often the easiest when we don’t know more than I feel bad). It didn’t take long for me to figure out that every time I ate bread or a bowl of pasta I felt awful. And I mean, awful. Gut pain, bloating, and all the uncomfortable feelings that go with it. I was also very moody, so that was pleasant for everyone around me, I’m sure.
As most of us do, I chose to ignore the signs for a long time before I got tired of feeling like shit every day and went to see my doctor, who diagnosed me with Celiac Disease.
However, I continued to drink beer for about a year post-diagnosis because I was told certain beers only contain trace amounts of gluten, which would be okay for me to drink. It’s not, but honestly it was one of those situations where I so badly wanted it to be true that I allowed myself to ignore the unreliable sources I was getting this information from and also justifying how shitty I felt by blaming the food I ate with my beer. After much denial, and tons of misinformation, I finally decided to get serious about my health. And, eventually, my mood wasn’t as touchy/grumpy, I suffered a lot less bloating, my rheumatoid arthritis became non-existent, and I had more energy.
Now, I can see how, when hearing things like this, some people might think, “Oh that sounds great! I think I’ll stop eating gluten because I want to experience feeling good, too.” Unfortunately, that is too common a reason why people “give up” gluten, because they hear about how great it was for those of us with severe intolerances to it.
What they don’t often hear about are all the ways that this disease affects our lives and the way we approach eating. We have to learn to read food labels on every single thing we eat (every spice, every condiment, every bottle of hot sauce). And, while Canada has strict governing food laws over labelling something gluten free, the U.S. does not. Which means we still need to check ingredients on products that are labeled “gluten free”. And even if something is known to us as having been gluten free in the past, we have to check the label again in case the manufacturer has changed how they produce food in their facility since the last time we ate it. We have to asses every food situation to determine its safety. Ever notice a person with Celiac not indulging in snacks at a party? It’s not that we aren’t hungry, it’s that it’s not worth the risk.
We also have to learn to ask questions when we dine at restaurants, even if the menu might seem clear. This can cause a lot of fear for some people and many sufferers choose to never eat outside of their home. Take a minute to let that sink in. The possibility of us getting sick when we eat out is so high that some people actually choose to never take that chance.
For the most part, restaurant staff are not properly trained on the severity of a gluten intolerance such as Celiac Disease, which makes it dangerous for us to eat in public places. We may have to call ahead to talk to a manager to ensure they are equipped to serve a person with Celiac Disease, or we may have to ask our waiter repeated questions while we decide if it is worth the risk to eat there or not. What we’re dealing with is a disease where our bodies literally cannot digest gluten, and even the smallest amount (I’m talking crumb size, which my daughter likes to refer to as gluten dust) can cause bloating, severe moodiness, and intense gut pain for days, weeks or even months, before it fully goes away. And those are just my symptoms. Other people experience severe skin rashes, vomiting, and worse.
I’ve been told by medical professionals there is no known health benefit to eliminating gluten unless you have an intolerance to it, so even the fact that society has labeled this as a “diet” or “lifestyle choice” is harming our ability to go out and enjoy a meal at a restaurant without worrying about getting sick. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve gone to a restaurant with gluten free items listed on their menu and when I ask if those items are safe for someone with celiac disease I am told they are not.
And I’m not suggesting you should never order gluten free items at a restaurant if that is what you want to do. My goal is simply to raise awareness about the things regarding gluten that are not often known about. However, if you do order something gluten free off the restaurant menu, it would be helpful if, for the sake of our health, you mention to the staff that it is simply your preference.
This small adjustment to how you order your food won’t necessarily change things for us, but it’s a place to start. To help restaurant staff learn the difference between wanting to eat gluten free and needing to for health reasons. And could, potentially, mean the difference between me enjoying a meal out or spending the next few weeks miserable and uncomfortable.
Because, the truth is, even if I can’t indulge in all the delicious food on a restaurant menu, I still like to have the option of someone else doing the cooking. And it would be great if I could do that without worrying about it damaging my health.