Eating gluten free by choice differs greatly from eating gluten free by necessity. Put another way, people who physically cannot tolerate gluten live with an inability to eat gluten without risking harm to their bodies. That risk is not controllable as long as they eat gluten. Those with a physical intolerance to gluten (those with Celiac Disease) damage their bodies one way or another when they eat gluten. The extent of damage depends on the individual. The only control over this fact is to accept the intolerance; learn how to remove gluten from their diet; and stay gluten free for life to the best of their ability. Those who choose to be gluten free, even though a physical need to be is missing, are in a different position. They have a choice.
Having a diagnosis is like living with a label. Yes, it helps clarify a situation. It can guide us in making healthy choices of what to do to be healthy and what to avoid to prevent getting sick. However, it can make it very challenging to feel “free” or perhaps, “in control” or “independent”. It can make us feel “trapped,” “helpless,” “dependent” or sometimes….downright “ick-y”! A diagnosis of gluten intolerance can seem defining of who we are (at least who we are as an eater!). We start to see ourselves as an “ic”..or in the case of gluten intolerance as an “ac”, a Celi”ac”. But just because our language can label an individual an alcoholic, a diabetic, an egomaniac or a Celiac, does not mean that that label defines who a person is as an individual. It refers to “what” someone lives/lived with NOT “who” they are as a person.
For all who live with Celiac remember a few important points to feeling freer with food, more independent with eating choices and in control of your well-being:
- One door closing allows others to open. All the foods and products that someone with a gluten intolerance CAN enjoy are growing. (Just walk down the aisles of Price Chopper!) Many delicious gluten free options are available for your eating pleasure!
- Eating gluten free is a challenge, not an obstacle. OK….it is sometimes tricky to know just what to prepare for the family or when you have guests (do I work extra and make a separate meal for me alone?)…to know how to verbalize your needs when you are invited to someone else’s home, to know what to look for when food shopping or eating out-but it is always possible to figure it out. And once you do, you will have met the challenge and will feel stronger. Speaking of feelings…
- Accepting your feelings is freeing. Feelings are what they are to be expected. Do not judge them. They are not bad or good. It is what you do with them that counts. Understand where they come from. Express them in a way that is helpful and healthy. Having feelings that direct eating or get in the way of healthy life choices is not the way to go.
- Focus on the person not the condition. The person (you, a friend, family member, colleague, etc.) has the gluten intolerance, not the other way around. Remember all of what makes you who you are. We all have strengths, limitations, and live with some circumstances we did not choose, none of which fully define us. In other words, our view of ourselves depends on how we choose to look.
Take care of your nutrition,