Having a gluten intolerance is challenging. Having any food allergy is challenging for that matter. I’ve never had an “Oh woe is me, feel sorry for me because I can’t eat bread” attitude about my allergy; it is part of who I am and I know that there are worse things that could happen to me. In fact, I have learned to embrace my gluten intolerance; since giving up gluten I have never felt better! I have more energy, I’ve lost weight, and all of my gluten reactive symptoms have disappeared. Besides that, I have discovered foods that I love, to replace what I used to eat, that are better for me and I feel great about eating them. I am obsessed with sweet potatoes, avocados, lentils, brown rice and greek yogurt.
Now this would be all well and good if all of the people in my life were gluten intolerant too, and could understand why I don’t eat it, but that is never going to happen. I have never seen a disorder that is met with as much skepticism as a gluten intolerance or celiac’s. When I politely refuse something that will make me sick that is offered to me (and by that I mean I simply say “No thank you.” as opposed to “OH MY GOD I CAN’T EAT THAT! ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE ME SICK?!”) I am immediately challenged:
“Why don’t you want a cupcake? Are you on a diet?”
“No, I have a gluten allergy so I can’t eat that.”
This is usually followed by them asking what gluten is, my explanation, and then the inevitable question:
“What happens when you eat it?”
…..I HATE THIS QUESTION!!!!! Telling you I’m allergic should be enough. I get sometimes that people are just curious, which is fine, maybe educating them about my food intolerance will help them discover that they have one as well. But I’m going to say 80% of the time they are asking me what my reaction to gluten is, they are trying to gauge if my symptoms are serious enough to THEM to be turning down a cupcake. Often times my polite, non-graphic, non-detailed explanation is met with one of the rudest responses:
“Oh, so it’s not serious like a peanut allergy, you aren’t going to die or anything?” and then I see in their eyes and from their tone of voice that they have written off my gluten intolerance as some ridiculous, high-maintenance phase that I will grow out of once I’m tired of turning down cupcakes and being difficult.
Now, I don’t want to go off on a tangent here but let me just note a few of the long-term effects of consuming gluten for someone who is intolerant:
- Joint Pain
- Thyroid Tissue Damage
- Chronic Fatigue
None of those sound too bad right? I don’t know why I would ever want to avoid any of those! Ok, that may have been a tangent. Let me get back on track…
I believe that in order to be happy and healthy while living with a gluten allergy you need a support system. My biggest supporters are my husband and my mother. After my diagnosis with a gluten intolerance, they both set out to educate themselves in order to make my life as simple as possible. My wonderful husband refuses to eat anything I can’t have in front of me, something I would never ask anyone to to do, but that makes it that much sweeter of him; and I always know there will be something I can eat without feeling deprived at holidays with my mom! She always goes out of her way to make me something special so I don’t feel left out. Do I expect this every where I go? Of course not. Does it mean a lot to me that the people I love have taken it upon themselves to make living with a gluten intolerance a little easier? You bet it means a lot!
It is having this support system in my life that helps me get through my moments of weakness when warm bread is sat down on the table of a restaurant, and my moments of frustration when my polite refusal of something I can’t have is met with “Oh, you’re still doing that? Sucks for you!” from someone who has always known about my intolerance. You need people in your life who are going to text you a picture from the grocery when they see that Pillsbury now makes gluten-free cookie dough. People who, before inviting you out to dinner, check to see if the restaurant has gluten-free options. People who are sympathetic when you aren’t feeling well because you ate something you shouldn’t have.
Does everyone in your life need to be like this? No, and if you expect that kind of genuine care and support from everyone, including underpaid waiters, Italian in-laws, and the redneck side of your own family who thinks you eat like a bird anyways, you will always be let down. But, if you have a handful of people in your life willing to eat the cookies Grandma wouldn’t let you leave without, someone who will pull the warm bread basket to their side of the table, out of your reach, and someone who will tell you about the newest gluten-free bakery opening up in town; you are going to have a happier, healthier, easier, gluten-free life!
Who is your biggest supporter?
Do you have a good story about a time someone challenged your food allergy?