By Rachel Sircy
When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I got some really bad advice from a well-meaning, but very misinformed dietitian. She said that I shouldn’t allow myself to go hungry just because I needed to eat gluten free. She said, if push came to shove, that I could just eat a sandwich or get a burger from McDonalds. Her primary concern was that I not feel that the gluten free diet was impossible and she thought that if I felt hungry, I might just give up altogether. She really did mean to do right by me, unfortunately, she advising me to start thinking in a really unhealthy way about my condition. She was teaching me that it is okay to cheat sometimes. However, cheating, when you are a celiac, isn’t the same as cheating on your diet when you’re trying to lose weight. The stakes are much higher and the damage that you will be doing to your body will be long lasting.
This story about my encounter with a dietitian highlights two of the most common problems that I have personally faced as a celiac. The first mistake sort of leads into the other, so I think it’s important to talk about them together.
Mistake #1: Letting yourself get hungry.
This is difficult, I know. The world is basically a food desert for celiacs and the gluten sensitive, especially when you’re travelling or in a hurry. So, what do you do? You become that person who always has food on them. People sometimes laugh at how much food I tend to carry with me, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s never a good idea to let yourself get really hungry because that leads to eating things that you know you shouldn’t eat out of desperation. As bad as it is to go hungry, it truly is worse to cheat. You will never feel better if you are constantly setting yourself back with poor eating choices. Also, you are putting yourself at risk for damage that may take years to heal or may not heal at all, let alone the fact that you are increasing your risk of colon cancer, etc. Who wants to live like that?
And the worst part about making poor food choices is that it leads to mistake #2…
Mistake #2: Deciding whether you’ve had a reaction to gluten based on how your stomach (or body) feels.
This is one of the most detrimental mistakes I think that we celiacs make. While celiac disease does affect your stomach and intestines, it is really an autoimmune disorder. This means that the primary issue with celiac disease is not that your tummy hurts, it’s that your immune system doesn’t work right. It mistakenly attacks you instead of doing what it’s supposed to do, which is to protect you from germy invaders. Sometimes when your immune system attacks you, your stomach will hurt, or you will have constipation, diarrhea, headache, etc. But, sometimes when your immune system attacks you, you won’t feel anything. Your body, however, will still be damaged and that damage will cost you in terms of your health.
And, I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again: don’t trust any supplement that promises to relieve a “gluten attack” or to alleviate symptoms of a gluten reaction. There is no scientific evidence that these supplements work. Remember, a reaction to gluten isn’t just an upset stomach, it’s an immune response. If those supplements make your stomach feel better, then go ahead and take them if you’ve mistakenly eaten gluten, just realize that they cannot reverse or even stop the damage that your immune system is unleashing on your body.