Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Caution! This Post Contains Gluten

photo via pinterest
Before we get started I want to preface this post by saying I have the greatest sympathy for any individual who has a medical diagnosis of Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance and I am in no way trying to make light of their challenges. That said...

To be perfectly honest, I am more than a little fed up with the gluten-free trend. Five years ago how many of us gave gluten a second thought? Don't you remember the good old days when we were too busy trashing carbohydrates to pay gluten any attention? Now this innocent, naturally occurring protein composite, responsible for the lovely chewiness of bread and lightness of cupcakes, has become the villain of the grocery store shelves. Bread, once considered the staff of life, is now viewed as a national threat. Grown adults shutter at the G-word. What happened?

Monkey see, monkey do. Keeping up with the Jones. It's human nature. But just because Novak Djokovic's game improved after he was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance does not mean going gluten-free will make you a tennis star. And just because celebrity-not-a-nutritionist, Gwyneth Paltrow, started her kids on a gluten-free diet does not make you an irresponsible parent for letting your kids consume gluten with total abandon.

Nosophobia is commonly experienced by medical students who, while studying a disease, become preoccupied with a particular disease to the point where they are convinced they are suffering from x disease. But let's face it. Headaches, dizziness and weakness can be caused by one of a million things. Including simply not drinking enough water.

Crazes cause individuals to think and do...umm...crazy things! And social media (aka trend breeding ground!) does not help. It starts innocently enough. Mrs. So-and-So is experiencing abdominal pain, headaches and fatigue. After proper testing, her doctor diagnoses Celiac disease. She begins to eat a gluten-free diet and her symptoms resolve. But, wait! You've been having those symptoms as well as irritability and constipation! So you consult Dr. Google. Lo, and behold, right there on Web M.D., your symptoms are staring you in the face. This is incredible! You follow Mrs. So-and-So diet and, miraculously, your symptoms resolve. Pat yourself on that back. You just self-diagnosed. Sheesh, why stay at that desk job you hate so much? You're ready to hang up your shingle and take on patients. Who needs medical school?

Is my snark showing?

First, let's get our names straight. There is a difference between Celiac disease, a wheat allergy and a gluten intolerance. Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the lower intestines' nutrient absorption. The Celiac Disease Foundation states an endoscopic biopsy is the only accurate way to diagnose Celiac disease. A wheat allergy is a short term reaction to a substance the body considers harmful. A gluten intolerance is the GI track mounting a stress response to gluten resulting in permanent damage to the intestines.

You know how annoying it is when someone walks in on the middle of a conversation and, not understanding the context, makes a ridiculous assumption? Just because your symptoms resolve, you loose weight and feel great after switching to a gluten-free diet does not mean gluten was the source of your problems. Cutting out gluten means cutting out a lot of foods. It could be your self imposed gluten limitation is discouraging you from consuming processed products and empty carbohydrates and is encouraging you to seek out more nourishing foods. We would all feel better if we replaced processed crap that bloats and weighs down even the best of us with fruits and veggies. And, judging by the taste of most gluten-free alternatives, it wouldn't surprise me if a gluten-free diet encourages portion control...there is only so much dense bread one can take before going crazy.

Ultimately, if eating gluten-free makes you happy, by all means knock yourself out with the rice pasta.  But please do not minimize the conditions by claiming Celiac disease or gluten intolerance without a medical diagnosis. It's not fair to those with a legitimate diagnosis. And it's not fair to yourself. If you are having symptoms consult with a trusted physician. 15 minutes of internet research does not equal 15 years of medical training. If that was the case I wouldn't have nightmares about student loans and MCAT scores. You need to care for your body and self treating could just complicate matters by masking symptoms. Love your body, love your life. Admit you are not your own doctor.

Would someone pass the pasta?


  1. I've been waiting for someone to speak up about this for so long -- thank you! On a side note, there's also a difference between limiting something in your diet and removing it altogether. It's smart to be aware of what you're eating and how it affects your body, but when people automatically go dairy- and gluten-free, especially if it's not even to treat symptoms but just because they think they'll lose weight or seem more health-conscious, they're simply following a fad and sometimes harming their body in the process. Moderation is the real key to any and every diet (and water and rest cover a multitude of ills).

    Brava, darling, from one pasta-lover to another. ;)

    1. Excellent point! Great minds think alike! I was going to include a section on moderation and fad dieting and how it steals the joy from the act of eating but then it became more than a section and I decided to save it for another post for another day. :) Here's to all the pasta!

  2. High five to everything in this post. I would also add that just as you can find symptoms by researching a disease, you can loose symptoms by expectation ("I think I have more energy today..." - is there really a way to gauge that?). Just because everyone else feels better without gluten doesn't mean you will (or have to) too.

    1. Yes! When observing symptoms it is so easy to try and make them match the diagnosis you are considering and just disregard the major red flag symptoms that don't match OR subconsciously create symptoms that are not present. And I think that applies to doctors as well as patients. It is also interesting to note that until gluten-free became a fad Celiac effected less than .1 % of the population. High five right back at ya!

  3. I whole heartedly agree! this makes me think of the video, "how to become gluten intolerant".

    1. I haven't heard of the video...will definitely be looking it up!