What’s Your Problem With My Gluten-Free Diet?

There is a lot of judgment out there against those of us who have gluten-free diets. I’m not sure why. If your kid is allergic to peanuts, do you feed her peanuts? I’m gonna guess not.
Okay, I do know why. It’s an accommodation issue. When something is new or unexpected or foreign, it’s scary. There is a LOT I could say about accommodation, but not right now. This is going to be relatively brief.
I get it. It’s easier to serve kids crackers and cookies than carrot sticks. If I could handle gluten, I know which one I’d go for! And if you can eat gluten, why would you opt for a gluten-free cake? I know I wouldn’t.
To avoid being that annoying person who requires you to make a separate meal plan, I bring my own food and often send my kids to parties with desserts they can safely consume and share (unless the host/ess contacts me and says they’ve got something prepared knowing our restrictions). My family originally went off gluten for me, but it turned out at least 3/5 have a serious problem with the stuff. I accommodate us for the reason above, but mostly for the following two reasons:
1. I don’t want my child being left out/uninvited/succumbing to peer pressure by poisoning his body with a food it will take months to recover from consuming.
2. Unless a family is already gluten-free due to allergy/sensitivity, it is very unlikely they understand how to keep my child safe when it comes to food. Not a judgment. It took me a long time to get it right for myself and reach good health. I don’t expect others to intuitively understand the ins and outs.
I also: read all labels twice, research restaurants and review menus before going out, check with staff prior to ordering, pack all meals in the car for travel, and offer to make meals and bring snacks anywhere I might stay for an extended period.
Even though I don’t expect anyone to cater to my dietary needs outside my home, I do expect some understanding. Celiac disease is real and has required many families to shuffle their eating habits or completely build a new deck. I can’t claim to have that because I was unable to get a diagnosis. After recognizing the symptoms but finding no evidence via blood draws and allergy testing, my doctor told me to go off gluten anyway. I’m absolutely certain I would get the Dx now, but I can’t without going back on a food that will literally poison me for several weeks for at least six weeks prior to testing. Same for my kids. And that’s a shame, because without a doctor’s note people feel free to tell me I’m faking or that gluten intolerance isn’t real.
Here’s the other reason the public is so annoyed by gluten-free. Everyone and their neighbor has tried it out by “cutting down on gluten” for a little while. That’s a low carb diet, not a gluten-free diet. “Gluten-free” means no gluten at all and it takes about two months for the stuff to really work out of your system and six months for your body to get healing if you have a problem with it.

I love that guy. He knows what it’s all about.
While I find it hilarious when people tell me they are “mostly” gluten-free, I understand some are in transition. Lifestyle changes can be very hard. I try to support everyone where they are. Being GF (as well as dairy- and soy-free because my body hates wonderful things) is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a huge commitment. I’m grateful there is a bit of our culture that treats it like it’s awesome instead of cumbersome, but I wish it wasn’t coopted by so many. It makes it really hard for the rest of us who can’t get a diagnosis to be taken seriously. No Dx doesn’t mean no problem.
But the idea that one cookie is okay or “it won’t hurt you” is a problem. A BIG problem. I’m thankful for families like these who speak up.
True story: I feel rage when people say gluten intolerance isn’t real. It’s one of the few claims that actually makes me want to punch a person right in the ignorance. It’s practically equivalent to supporting Trump. Stop invalidating my life experience! #nevertrump 
Whew. Deep breath. Not everyone can function with intelligence or compassion. Back to your regularly scheduled reading.
Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

2 Discussion to this post

  1. Drew Sheldon says:

    I hear similar crap when I refuse to eat something made with alcohol. I always hear the refrain, “Well, the alcohol gets cooked off.” But what if it wasn’t? And why can’t I just make my own choice? Whether a little gluten will hurt you or not is not something I would really know and certainly not for me to decide. So keep doing you. To hell with these fools.

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    • Shawna Ainslie says:

      I used to get that about alcohol a lot when I refused it for religious reasons. Frankly, your reason is far more important as it is directly detrimental to your health. It boggles my mind that someone wouldn’t understand that.

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