More than 3 million Americans lead a gluten-free lifestyle, but there’s still plenty of misinformation floating around about wheat and other grains. If you’re reading this and going, “Huh? What is gluten?”, I’ll give you a quick rundown.
Gluten refers to the proteins found in many popular grains, including wheat, barley, rye, oat, and spelt. These proteins are safe for some people, but they trigger unpleasant — and sometimes even fatal — reactions in others.
Here are some common issues associated with gluten intolerance/sensitivity:
• Gastrointestinal distress • Brain fog • Joint pain • Neurological issues • Fatigue
Gluten doesn’t just cause physical symptoms, though. It can also trigger episodes of depression and anxiety, and it incites rage in some folks with severe intolerance issues.
Well, not everyone seems to think so. Many people mock folks who can’t eat gluten, and they don’t seem to understand how much gluten sensitivity or intolerance can impact someone’s life. Sure, some of these critics have good intentions, but many of them are just rude for the sake of being rude.
Regardless of your intentions, your feedback isn’t necessary when it comes to someone else’s dietary habits.
1. I’m so tired of this gluten-free fad.
Drinking lemon juice mixed with cayenne pepper for 10 days is a fad. Eating cabbage 3 times a day for weeks at a time is a fad. Complaining about millennials is a fad.
You know what isn’t a fad? I’ve got several examples:
• Celiac disease • Gluten intolerance • Gluten sensitivity • Wheat allergy
Yep, that’s right. Most gluten-free people don’t avoid wheat and other grains just to be trendy. There’s nothing cool about battling symptoms like explosive diarrhea, severe joint pain, and a swollen esophagus when you consume gluten.
Do we tell you we’re tired of diabetes being a fad? How about your trendy high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
No, so stop acting like going gluten-free is something people do for fun.
2. Wait, I thought you couldn’t eat that.
News flash: Gluten-free bread is a thing. You can also bake or buy gluten-free waffles, gluten-free muffins, gluten-free cake, gluten-free cookies . . . you get the idea.
If you see someone who is gluten-free eating something that looks like it contains wheat, don’t panic. The majority of us are perfectly capable of choosing foods that don’t contain gluten.
And if we mess up? We’ll figure it out. We don’t need you to micromanage our food intake (unless we’re a toddler and you’re our caregiver).
3. Do you have celiac disease?
Maybe. Does it matter?
If you decline a side of broccoli, do we ask if high-fiber veggies make you poop? Do we demand to know why you didn’t order a side salad with your lunch?
No, because it’s none of our business. Some of you seem to think you need proof to justify someone’s gluten-free lifestyle, and celiac disease seems to be the only thing many people are familiar with.
Celiac disease is not the only reason why people give up gluten. Some people have allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances. I’ve also seen people advised to avoid wheat if they have IBS or similar conditions, and some psychiatrists warn patients with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder to say sayonara to gluten.
Gluten also affects the brain, so some medical professionals recommend limiting or avoiding wheat products after a brain injury. Sometimes neurologists also advise people with conditions such as fibromyalgia to get rid of gluten.
4. So, is this an allergy or an intolerance?
Maybe it’s neither.
Please review the response to the question above since it works for the allergy/intolerance inquiry, too.
5. What happens when you eat gluten?
Great question. Why don’t you follow one of us gluten-free folks into the bathroom and find out? Make sure you bring some air freshener.
Gluten doesn’t always cause potty problems, though. It can also make you exhausted, sore, and depressed.
Oh, and let’s not forget what it does to your esophagus and/or the surrounding organs if you’ve got GERD, LPR, or any form of peptic disease. And the burning pain from neuropathy. And the wheezing if gluten affects your respiratory system.
Gluten causes different symptoms for everyone, which is why one person might end up in the hospital after gluten consumption while another seems okay. But remember, just because someone seems okay doesn’t mean they aren’t battling silent symptoms.
6. It’s all in your head.
My head is filled with plenty of nonsense, but an aversion to gluten isn’t part of the mayhem. Gluten sensitivity/intolerance is a very real thing, so please don’t minimize someone’s symptoms by acting like they aren’t real.
But for the sake of argument, let’s just pretend you’re right. You’re familiar with the placebo effect, right? Sometimes fake pills are just as effective as real medications, so the mind is a powerful thing. If giving up gluten makes people feel better, even if they’re supposedly imagining the benefits, then what’s the problem?
7. What does your doctor think about this?
Our doctors are typically aware of our medical histories, but thanks for your passive-aggressive comment disguised as concern.
I’d offer to let you call my healthcare professionals, but you’ve probably heard of HIPAA. But hey, I’m willing to add you as an authorized contact if you promise to pay some of my medical bills when you call.
8. People have been eating wheat since the Biblical days, so why do you think you can’t have gluten?
That’s between us gluten-free folks and Jesus, buddy. Also, nowhere in the Bible does it say that every single person ate wheat.
I won’t even get into the whole GMO/pesticide/vaccine debate in this article, but there are people who believe some — or all — of those things are connected to gluten issues. Feel free to discuss/debate these things in the comment section later.
9. You’re going to be single forever.
Whew, thank goodness! Who needs a significant other to complain about our dietary habits when we have helpful friends and acquaintances to do it?
My ex survived on fast food and Mountain Dew. If I could put up with that, I’m sure someone can handle a person with a gluten-free lifestyle.
10. So what the heck do you eat?
Pretty much everything you eat, minus the wheat.
There seems to be this huge misconception that gluten-free folks are starving to death because they can’t eat anything. Here are some things they can eat:
• Fruits • Vegetables • Eggs • Dairy products • Hamburger • Chicken • Turkey • Tofu • White rice • Hershey’s bars • Gluten-free baked goods • Peanut butter • Almond butter
You get the idea. Gluten lurks in foods with wheat, rye, barley, and similar grains. It’s not hiding in every food on the planet, although I’ll admit it feels like it is when you first go gluten-free.
11. Nobody is actually allergic to wheat.
You should probably tell your doctor that. Apparently millions of people have been misdiagnosed by medical professionals who spent like 10 years in college.
For those who don’t know, wheat is actually one of the top eight allergens. That’s why you see it listed on candy bars, potato chips, frozen foods, etc., right below the ingredients. Look for statements like “May contain wheat products” or “Processed on equipment that processes wheat” next time you eat something that isn’t homemade.
12. Oh, you’re one of those people.
This comment is usually spoken in irritation and accompanied with an eye roll or a sigh. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I’ve heard it a lot, and others who are gluten free report the same issue.
It seems to be linked to the whole “giving up gluten is just a fad” mindset.
13. How do you afford gluten-free food?
The same way I afford other food: With income from my career. Some people pay for gluten-free food with food stamps or grow fresh produce in their gardens. We all find ways to get what we need.
Keep in mind that many regular foods are gluten-free. It often costs more for specialty items like gluten-free bread and gluten-free cookies, but everything else is the same price. After all, there aren’t specially labeled gluten-free apples or carrots in the produce aisle.
14. Just pick off the croutons — you’ll be fine.
I follow the five-second rule — okay, maybe the 500-second rule — when I drop some tasty food on the floor and then pretend to carefully wipe it clean. Gross, I know, but that’s totally different than telling someone to pick the croutons off their salad. You can’t just wipe the gluten off the lettuce and carry on with your meal.
15. I could never give up bread.
Well, you’re in luck because none of us have asked you to give up bread. In fact, many gluten-free folks still eat bread. It’s just made with different ingredients than your bread.
Oh, and most of us don’t have a choice when it comes to giving up gluten. This comment implies that we somehow have more willpower than you. We gave up gluten-filled bread out of necessity, not by choice.
16. Why do you need gluten-free shampoo? It’s not like you’re going to eat it.
You obviously haven’t met my kids.
Aside from that, don’t you ever get shampoo in your mouth while you’re rinsing your hair? Maybe I just suck at hygiene-related tasks.
Also, some of us are adversely affected by external contact with gluten. Going gluten-free is a lifestyle, not a diet.
17. Why do you believe everything you read on the Internet?
Okay, let’s not even go there. And for the record, I don’t believe everything I read on the Internet. I didn’t ask Dr. Google if I should give up wheat. I followed the advice of a healthcare professional, just like most other gluten-free folks.
But since you mentioned the Internet, I’m happy to report that it’s packed with information about the negative effects of gluten. You can find this data on reputable sites and in numerous reports written by medical researchers.
18. Don’t you know it’s dangerous to give up wheat?
You know what’s even more dangerous? Listening to medical advice from random people instead of trusting your body and your doctor.
You don’t have a clue what’s dangerous for someone else, so please stop lecturing people on the dangers of going gluten-free. It’s way more dangerous to eat something you have an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity to than it is to eliminate it from your diet.
19. You don’t need to lose weight.
Thanks, but that’s not why most people go gluten-free anyway. Yes, weight loss is often an unexpected benefit of a gluten-free lifestyle (unless you’re shoveling down gluten-free snacks), but most people don’t give up gluten to get skinny.
20. It won’t kill you to just have a little bite.
Actually, it might. You don’t know why someone has eliminated gluten from their diet, so don’t make assumptions about the way it affects their body.
And even if it won’t kill someone, do you really want to see someone you care about in pain? Don’t bully people into eating gluten.
21. So-and-so is gluten-free, but I served her wheat and she was fine.
I’ve been hearing comments like this a lot recently. Sometimes people accidentally serve someone a gluten-filled recipe; other times, they sneak it into a dish in an attempt to prove someone is lying about gluten intolerance.
The negative effects of gluten are not always instant. It can take several days for symptoms to appear, and what makes you so sure that you’ll hear about them? Is someone really going to call you and say, “Hey, I think I got glutened at your house. I’ve been on the toilet nonstop for days, and my joints are killing me.”
They might, but it’s far more likely they’ll suffer in silence. Sometimes that’s easier than dealing with people who think they‘re experts on your medical history.