Celiac Awareness Month: Let’s Stop Gluten-Free Shaming

May 8, 2018

One of the hardest things about having Celiac disease is the negative connotation associated with a gluten-free diet. For those of us who have Celiac disease, it’s not just a way of life; avoiding gluten is a medical necessity.

Just as avoiding peanuts is a medical necessity for those with peanut allergies.  

Just as needing insulin is a medical necessity for those with diabetes.

None of us ever asked for this disease, and we do what we can to heal and help manage our health, which is no small feat. As a Celiac, avoiding gluten out in the real world without the risk of cross-contamination is exceptionally challenging. I would not wish this disease on anyone. Ever. (Oh, how I would love a plate of that Spaghetti Bolognese above!)

So why are we often shamed by our need to be gluten-free?

There are two groups who I think feed the negativity surrounding a gluten-free diet. First are those who treat it as a fad diet, believing it to be an easy way to lose excess pounds by avoiding gluten; unfortunately, if you asked many of these people what gluten is they could not tell you. These people have been the butt of jokes from comedians to those in the food industry, and sadly, they are the ones who have left a stain on gluten-free eating as a medical necessity. My advice: If you can eat gluten without any ill effects, eat it. There are many essential nutrients and health benefits found in gluten-containing whole grains! Just please don't pester your server about your need for a gluten-free meal (or tell them you have a wheat allergy), then order a hunky piece of cake for dessert.

The second group of offenders is doctors. Yes, doctors. Many conventional medical professionals look down their noses at gluten-related diseases. My mother’s primary care physician referred to Celiac disease as the “disease du jour.” (How can a disease be “trendy”?!) My daughter’s pediatrician groaned and said, “Don’t tell me a naturopath diagnosed you?” when I told him I'd tested positive and asked him to test my daughter as well. When I declined a dessert at a recent dinner event saying that I had Celiac disease the young doctor who offered it to me asked, “Oh, did a doctor diagnose you?” I just smiled and said, “Yes, an endoscopy confirmed it.” Would a doctor ever dare ask someone with diabetes if they were diagnosed by a doctor?  Would they dare asking anyone with any disease for that matter if a doctor diagnosed them? No. Because what she really was asking was if a “real” doctor diagnosed me. For a moment, just as my pediatrician had done, she made me feel ashamed. Why?, I thought, should I feel ashamed for getting properly diagnosed? I get it. Conventional medical doctors think naturopathic doctors are quacks. But, in fact, many NDs are diagnosing Celiac more than MDs. For the record, I go to both medical doctors and a naturopathic doctor because I believe both offer significant medical value, but my ND approaches my health and healing in a much more integrative way.

The good news in all this is that, in time, fad diets burn out. My hope is that those who follow a gluten-free diet for no real health reason will tire and move on to the next fad diet. Maybe then the millions of us who medically cannot tolerate gluten will finally get the respect we deserve.

Celiac Awareness MonthMay is Celiac Awareness Month. Want to learn more about Celiac disease? Head to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

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