When I originally set up our newly formed household, we were into eating good food – healthy food, yes, but delicious, and made with real food. I was also frugal, and so specialty items were avoided, whole grains and legumes were purchased in bulk, and I planned simple, wholesome meals.
I never planned on being gluten-free, or anything “free,” for that matter. I just wanted to eat good basic food. I still think that was a good plan, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be for us. We don’t have celiac disease, which is a hypersensitivity to gluten that damages the digestive tract. But gluten (and a few other items) have proven to be detrimental to our health. Because of some digestive issues our oldest child had, we tried eliminating different common "problem" foods. We found that milk was the culprit for her eczema, and gluten affected her sleep (if you’ve ever had a toddler who consistently stays up every night until midnight, you can feel my pain).
Later when working with a holistic doctor who specializes in cases like my daughter's, we found out through testing that we were right — milk and gluten were both issues for her, as well as a few other foods. We were told that we weren’t keeping them out of her diet consistently enough, and so we worked at becoming much more strict.
Before we hadn’t wanted to be the “mean” parents who kept their child away from birthday cakes or eating out at certain restaurants. But our doctor pointed out that even once-a-month exposure was too much for her as it takes weeks for something like gluten to completely clear the body.
It was with some sadness that I gave up my “let’s just eat good, healthy food” plan and became one of those parents who brings food along for their child everywhere. But it’s been worth it.
And that’s why it’s a little personal now that there is a big backlash against “gluten-free fad diets." Sarcastic memes and rolling eyes are on the rise in response to gluten-free diet since popular articles like Time magazine's Eat More Gluten: The Diet Fad Must Die have come out. While such articles try to point out that there really are people sensitive to gluten in various degrees, the headline that most people walked away with was “those on a gluten-free diet are just stupid fad followers."
That’s gotten old fast.
'Fad dieters' don't help
Sure, I bet there are plenty of “fad dieters” who go gluten-free on a whim, and will probably leave it on a whim as well. But those who try all sorts of “fad diets” are hardly limited to the gluten-free diet. And sure, there are people who try out a gluten-free diet to see if it would help resolve a specific health issue, and then decide whether or not to stick with it depending on whether it made a difference. I wouldn’t call them “fad followers,” but rather people trying to take control of their health and explore possibilities.
And yes, marketers are zoning in on the gluten-free diet as a “marketing ploy." But that doesn’t mean the gluten-free diet isn't beneficial for some of us. It just proves that marketers will use anything to their advantage — and it's hardly limited to marketing for the gluten-free diet. The same basic marketing premise has been used since marketing began to try to convince us that eating a certain food item will help us lose weight, give us healthy hearts, and be a “wholesome part of our diet." Let’s not just criticize the marketing that promotes gluten-free.
The last thing that I’ve noticed, both in the articles and in personal responses, is that people focus on how inconvenient a gluten-free friend is to them. They find it annoying that their friend now orders gluten-free food at a restaurant, that they can’t eat whatever their friends eat. Granted, this would be bothersome for if you had friends who are gluten-free one day, vegan the next, and the paleo the day after. But I see this attitude displayed towards anyone — even those who have severe health issues that are improved by a gluten-free diet.
When nothing else works
Take this conversation I had with a friend of a friend. We all knew a lady who had been diagnosed with a severe form of an autoimmune disease. It was so severe that many days she was unable to get out of bed because of the pain. The medical doctors didn’t give her much hope; they just tried to help alleviate some of the worst symptoms. She decided to take back her health and used a healing diet to see if it could reverse any of the damage. Her diet went beyond gluten-free, though that was part of the protocol. And it worked, though it took patience and time. Eventually, she was retested. She was no longer found to have markers for her autoimmune disease and was living a thriving life again. It was an amazing story of healing and of a reclaimed life.
Our mutual friend wasn’t impressed though: “This is so hard for all of us,” she said in response to the diet change. “We don’t even invite them over for dinner anymore because it’s too hard to feed her.”
I’m sure she is a real fan of the Time magazine article.
This is the type of shaming that should stop. Everyone has the right to explore ways to help regain and retain our health. If a gluten-free diet is one tool that helps — as bothersome as it can be, friends should respect that. I say, gluten-free diet eye-rolling needs to stop because you probably don’t know the circumstances behind the decision, and just because you can happily eat gluten doesn't mean everyone can.
Related on MNN:
- Gluten-free: What's all the fuss about?
- If I eat a gluten-free diet, why am I still experiencing allergy symptoms?
- How a gluten-free diet helps me be greener and healthier