Tuesday, July 26, 2011


This week I am taking aim at people who take aim at gluten sensitivity.  This mama grizzly got you in her METAPHORICAL crosshairs... since I don't advocate actually shooting anything. Sorry, Dick Cheney. 

A recent article on Slate, Throwing Out The Wheat: Are We Being Too Tolerant Of Gluten-Intolerance?, focuses on the glutards of the world. The author suggests that we call shenanigans on this whole g-free thing, since more people adhere to a gluten free diet than just those with Celiac disease.

Here's the relatively innocuous passage that annoyed me most from this article:

"According to Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland and a leading expert on the disease, almost half the people who show up at his clinic are on the gluten-free diet before they've even been tested for celiac. For every patient whose intestinal biopsy turns up positive, he says, nine or 10 more test clean but commit to going G-free all the same."
Here's a timeline for ya: In my experience, doctors generally suggest exclusion diets before they suggest biopsies. Exclusion diets = free; biopsies = $$$. After all, what is the point of doing a biopsy ($$$) if you try the exclusion diet (free) and it doesn't make any difference? At that point, you'd be testing for something that doesn't seem to be related to your presenting symptoms. People with great insurance can be tested for long shots; people with shitty insurance don't generally get that luxury. As for the biopsy procedure, you have to consume gluten in order for the test to be accurate. Its like a two-for-one! Risk getting sick AND get intestinal biopsy! 

The author goes on: 
"These patients are described as having "gluten intolerance," a nebulous condition that amounts to something like celiac-lite: They feel pain or discomfort after eating wheat, rye, or barley but lack the hallmark signs of intestinal deterioration. The notion that you can have the symptoms of celiac but not the full-blown disorder is based on the idea, first proposed in 1992, that a person's reaction to gluten can be plotted along a sensitivity spectrum—with celiac patients falling at the most vulnerable extreme. Since there's no way to "prove" a case of gluten-intolerance in the lab, the diagnostic criteria are rather lax. To qualify for the condition, you need only discover (with or without medical supervision) that going "G-free" makes you feel better—in body or mind or spirit." 
The author also suggests that some people on a g-free diet feel better simply due a placebo effect, that self-fulfilling prophecies might be involved, and that the g-free diet can actually be bad for people who are not Celiac. While I agree that the world of non-Celiac gluten sensitivity is a bit "nebulous," that doesn't mean that the sensitivity doesn't exist. Let me drop some more knowledge on ya: Lots of things occur on spectrums, like psychological disorders, and (gasp!) even other allergies, food or otherwise. Also, there aren't tests for every disorder. Some things, like Parkinson's disease, are diagnosed by trying out different treatments or by exclusion. 

No one seems to take issue with people with peanut or shellfish or soy or other food allergies. Why is the gluten free diet perceived as such a threat to people? 

Here's my theory:
1. Moreso than other any other food sensitivity I can think of (and I've spent 15 seconds thinking of other food sensitivities), as noted below, g-free is marketed as a lifestyle. Unlike shellfish or nut allergies, some people opt into the g-free diet in hopes of losing weight, relieving Autism, and a bunch of other reasons that don't relate to sensitivity. 
"The fact that "going G-free" means eating fewer cupcakes and less pasta suggests another source of relief. It is, after all, an elaborate diet—and so delivers all the psychological benefits of controlled eating and self-denial. "Once G-free, you are no longer simply robot-eating bag after bag of pretzels," writes Hasselbeck, in a chapter of her book titled "G-Free and Slim as Can Be!" Gluten intolerance may be a medical condition, but according to Hasselbeck, it's also an approach to eating—like South Beach or Skinny Bitch—that's supposed to make you lose weight and feel good about your body."
Lactards and eggtards (people with dairy and egg sensitivities, respectively), don't bear hatred because of feelings toward vegans, though. And yet glutards deal with anti-g-free sentiment. You may dislike the prominent people who choose this diet for themselves, but that is not a good reason to be rude to me or anyone else who falls along the gluten sensitivity  spectrum. 

2. Moreso than other any other food sensitivity I can think of, our diet is a pain in the ass. Staple foods and many favorites are out of the question for us. There's hidden gluten all over. It is effortful to truly live g-free. I get it. But we appreciate the effort. We really do.

I could go on and on, but let me end with this: Don't let a bad apple or two ruin the barrel. You may find Elisabeth Hasselbeck (see mention of The Drop technique in the article) and Jenny McCarthy annoying, but for plenty of us gluten sensitivity is a reality. I am personally enjoying the explosion of awareness and gluten free accommodations, and the opportunity to discuss all things g-free with you on the interwebs. As long as we try to be honest, patient, and considerate of each other, whether pertaining to diet issues or anything else, I think we can all get along fine.  


  1. Well-said. I am convinced that people get incredibly attached to their particular diet and are offended when somebody else doesn't eat like they do. There's a tendency among people who don't do a good job of self-reflecting to assume that you are condemning their choices by living differently.

  2. Well-said in response to your well-said!