Is gluten free a trend? a joke? a fad? A weight loss plan? To people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity it's much more then that. Celiac disease affects 1% of the population and it's estimated that gluten sensitivity affects around 6% (since there is no test that is just an estimate).
As a someone with celiac disease I feel like i'm always on the defense. What do I mean by that? When I tell someone i'm gluten free I have my guard up. To often i've been met with eye rolls, mean comments, and interrogations. I'm always ready with a quick explanation on how celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition. It shouldn't matter if you're a celiac, gluten intolerant or just gluten free for other health reasons you shouldn't be made fun of for needing a gluten free diet to have a healthy life. You should be able to say you're gluten free without feeling like you have to back it up with a long explanation.
It's hard enough eating gluten free 100% of the time without having your efforts become a joke. When someone has celiac disease even a small amount (the size of a crumb) can make them seriously ill and continued exposure can result in serious cancers and a higher risk for other conditions.
Gluten sensitivity is real and now recognized as a condition, but unfortunately there is a stigma towards it. Gluten sensitivity unlike celiac disease is new to the scene (it was only discovered as a diagnosis recently). There is a lot of misinformation and articles claiming gluten sensitivity isn't real. Regardless, if someone has gone gluten free and their horrible health problems go away then why do they deserve to be mocked?
I should mention that certain gluten free people can shoulder a bit of the blame. I've seen many people claim they're gluten free only to see them eating bread or drinking beer. Please if you say you're gluten free, live it. Don't do it to lose weight, don't do it to be trendy, because that really is affecting people who have to take the gluten free diet very seriously.
I really believe that there are real consequences because of how gluten free is made light of and sometimes portrayed as a joke. I realize that many of these jokes are directed at the trendy gluten free crowd but when no distinction between the two is made then it's assumed the joke is about everyone. To me that's what needs to change.
Reason #1 Doubt
When there are mixed messages about gluten free it plants doubt in the minds of many. The media portrays gluten free as sometimes serious and sometimes a joke. Many look to the media on what to believe, so when they aren't taking it seriously then neither is the general public. There are so many different articles, websites, TV segments, and blog posts all saying different things. It leads to confusion, which then leads to doubt. We need to start spreading awareness around celiac disease and gluten sensitivity so there is no doubt around in importance of gluten free.
Reason #2 Restaurants
Many gluten free people have a lot of fear surrounding eating out. From cross contamination to a less then understanding staff, it can make dining out an anxious experience. Gluten free is now splashed across many menus. Unfortunately many of these meals do end up cross contaminated with gluten. When gluten free isn't taken seriously many restaurants wont take proper measures to make sure the meals are actually gluten free. It's important to ask the right questions and make sure where you're eating out is truly gluten free.
Reason #3 Exclusion
In a survey of Beyond Celiac community members, they found that 49% of those surveyed have avoided a life experience because of their celiac disease diagnosis or their need to adhere to a gluten-free diet. What does this have to do with joking about gluten free? If you're being judged because of your disease or intolerance that can lead to a certain degree of social isolation. I know that I have avoided some social situations because I didn't want to spend the whole time explaining my disease or facing the judgement of others.
Reason #4 Rudeness/ Bullying
Would we make fun of people with diabetes for needing to monitor their diets and use insulin? No. So why make fun of someone avoiding gluten for medical reasons? When you're gluten free you get many misguided and rude comments. Not only are adults getting these rude comments but so are kids. Bullying because of food allergies, celiac disease and food sensitivities has become a real problem.
When someone is constantly met with skepticism because of their diet it leads to a feeling of embarrassment and shame. You shouldn't have to be embarrassed about your diet. Especially when you don't even have a choice. I've avoided bringing it up to people in the past until I have to because I was afraid I would be judged.
What it really comes down to is education. There needs to be accurate information about the seriousness of gluten free for so many people. I'd like to hope that as time goes on gluten free will be taken more seriously and will be better understood. Until then spread awareness and don't be ashamed about your condition or need to be gluten free!
How has being gluten free affected your life?