I’ve noticed a lot of backlash recently towards people with gluten sensitivities and towards “bandwagoners” who appear to be adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, allegedly because it’s trendy. Because let’s face it, here in LA, food trends are kind of our jam.
A lot of this weird aggression comes from my food industry friends—chefs and servers alike—who get unbelievably up in arms due to situations like this: Person A is gluten-free and orders a gluten-free meal. But Person B, with whom Person A is dining, orders something that ISN’T gluten-free, and the two proceed to share.
Okay, I understand that cooking gluten-free isn’t exactly easy—I do it every day of my life. And I see how choosing to eat a meal that is half gluten-free and half NOT seems a bit pointless. But this notion that the only people who “deserve” to have food service workers accommodate them are the ones who nearly die when they eat gluten is ludicrous. For one thing, we have been accommodating special food requests for decades—just look at airlines offering vegetarian meals on flights, or scope out how many restaurants now make note of which of the menu items are vegan.
So someone who doesn’t die when they eat gluten—but is nonetheless trying to limit her consumption of it—is not a jerk. She is not necessarily just a blind sheep following some evangelical anti-gluten guru. She likely ordered her gluten-free meal because that’s the only thing she can control about her experience dining out. Until you eat Gfree, you have no idea the pressure people put on you to “just taste a bite,” or how much less fun it becomes to go out with friends when everyone is preoccupied that your weirdo food allergies may mean the group can’t go to the restaurant it prefers.
Taking a “cheat bite” or sharing the meal with a friend because its easier than making a big deal about it is just like a person on a diet taking a bite of her friend’s chocolate soufflé. It’s called being human. You don’t hate the gal on the diet for her moment of weakness, or slam her back in the kitchen to your work compadres for having the gall to order a low-calorie dinner and then sneak a bite of dessert. And if you do, then I hope you enjoy the view from that pristine glass house of yours.
Our gluten free gal, whom the rest of the world assumes just can’t think for herself and has succumbed to the hype, probably understands this. Human beings cannot properly digest gluten. That’s right. I can’t and you can’t. In fact, the only mammal that can digest it has four stomachs and chews its own cud. And get this: besides gluten, there are 23,000 different proteins in modern wheat that can produce inflammatory reactions in the body!
Now you personally might not have any symptoms whatsoever when you eat gluten. Good for you. I hope you’re eating a pizza while you read this. Or you may have some sort of health problem for which you take medication, but because the problem is not “digestive” in nature, you haven’t made the connection between it and your gluten consumption. Gluten has become known as the great masquerader; it can create over 300 symptoms and conditions you wouldn’t think to attribute to it—from skin issues, infertility and depression to headaches, liver disease and cancer.
I’ve also had people scoff at the idea that I diagnosed myself. That’s because people who self diagnose are usually called hypochondriacs. But because a perfect test for gluten sensitivity or celiac disease does not yet exist, an elimination diet is the one way that even people who test negatively for celiac, but still don’t feel good, can attempt to get to the root of their health problems.
During an elimination diet, common allergenic foods are removed and slowly reintroduced. A modified version of this diet can take place over the course of 10-14 days. I did mine for 71 days. You can read about it here Challenge 2013: Elimination Diet a.k.a. Food Allergen Cleanse and here An Elimination Diet-Friendly Chinese “Chicken” Salad: Debunking the Deprivation Myth. And yet the way I felt after only two weeks of not eating gluten did more to convince me of the power of this crazy little protein strand to make or break a person’s health than any doctor-approved scratch test ever could.
An elimination diet isn’t easy, but it can be life changing. It takes discipline and it absolutely requires planning ahead. When caught off guard without a meal plan, falling off the wagon is nearly inevitable. But fortunately help is out there. If you’re in the LA area, you can make use of Wellness Chef Jennie’s weekly meal delivery services. I specialize in customized Elimination Diets of all durations and will provide prepared meals, recipe ideas and shopping lists to accommodate any client’s needs. I’ll also provide you with resources if you’re simply interested in learning more.
In the meantime, be kind to your gluten-free friends. Those of us with dietary restrictions certainly have an obligation not to be a**holes, running around expecting the world to bend to our needs, but if the person with whom you’re dealing isn’t acting like that, well then it really shouldn’t matter one iota whether her reasons for eating the way she does make sense to you.