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Jane Anderson

Have You Ever Been Accused of Having An Eating Disorder?

By March 24, 2014

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It's becoming more and more common: someone (usually a young woman) says they have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity and begins eating gluten-free, but then is accused of having an eating disorder instead.

This happened to singer Miley Cyrus back a couple of years ago when she started eating gluten- and dairy-free and lost tons of weight. And the campaign periodically seems to escalate: I've seen numerous articles with titles like "Gluten-Free Diet ... or Veiled Eating Disorder" and "Does Eating Gluten-Free Mask an Eating Disorder?"

Guess what? Many people are going gluten-free because it makes them feel better (regardless of whether they have the official blessing of the medical community). And it seems some in the medical community -- doctors, nutritionists and others -- are fighting back by accusing those who eat gluten-free without an official diagnosis of suffering from a mental disorder.

"Gluten-free has become the latest clarion call to those who fear food, advertised wherever food is, announced from labels in the aisles of supermarkets, and making us think that gluten-free is a necessary part of life," writes rheumatologist Dr. Mark Borigini on the website Psychology Today. "Suddenly, the person claiming a sensitivity to gluten is now a patient with orthorexia nervosa--a term used by some scholars to describe individuals who develop an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. This focus may turn into a fixation so extreme that it can lead to severe malnutrition or even death."

Now, it's certain that a few people are in fact using the gluten-free diet as a way of limiting their calories ... and obviously, those people need help (Susan Cowden, About.com's excellent expert on eating disorders, can help you sort out out whether you should seek help -- to start, see her page on Symptoms of Eating Disorders).

But to make blanket statements that accuse the vast majority of people eating gluten-free of having a psychiatric disorder is, frankly, unspeakable and ridiculous. As a rheumatologist, Dr. Borigini should know the array of rheumatologic problems that go hand-in-hand with celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (joint pain, anyone?).

And many of the others talking about using gluten sensitivity as a "mask" for an eating disorder should know better, too. Yes, it happens. No, I really don't think it's particularly common.

Most of us are pretty well obsessed with avoiding gluten-containing foods, not because we perceive them to be unhealthy for us, but because they are unhealthy for us. I don't think I'm much different than the vast majority of people eating gluten-free ... we're doing it because gluten makes us sick, not because it's a more socially acceptable way of being anorexic.

Keep up with the latest in the celiac disease/gluten sensitivity world -- sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook and Google+, or follow me on Twitter - @AboutGlutenFree.

Photo Getty Images/Chris Andrews

February 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm
(1) Michelle says:

I have not been accused of having an eating disorder, and if you’ve seen me you’d know why…I am not one of the “skinny celiacs”. I have, however, been accused of being a hypochondriac (by nurses no less)which, to me, is just as insulting and demeaning! I’m not one for being militant about anything, but am starting to think that might be the only way to get others to see those with CD as people with an actual medical condition rather than whiney, new age, hippies on another band wagon!

February 8, 2013 at 9:51 pm
(2) maryjane shurlds says:

I’m another one of those pleasantly plump Celiacs, especially around the mid section. I also have right much inflammation which my be explaining why my weight is on the rise:(

February 11, 2013 at 9:48 am
(3) Debra says:

A lot of people WITH apparent eating d/o are using labels such as celiac to justly their illness of an eating d/o. This is mich larger than the stats on diagnosed celiac patients. You lady are enabling people with NO dX of celiac to maintain an eati g d/o with this type of article. If you can not help please stop being a part of the problem

February 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm
(4) celiacdisease says:

Debra, I respectfully disagree. As I said in the article, I’m certain that there are some people with eating disorders who are masking them by saying they have a problem with gluten. However, there’s absolutely no evidence that this practice involves a huge number of people. Meanwhile, some of us who need to follow the gluten-free diet because gluten makes us sick instead are being accused of having eating disorders. The medical community should know better.

March 28, 2013 at 5:26 pm
(5) GlutenMakesMeSick says:

I am constantly being accused of having an eating disorder, even though I’m NORMAL WEIGHT! I have been gluten free for 5 years, because going gluten free made my fibromyalgia (that I had for years) go away!. I was underweight for a year due to medical problems (unrelated to gluten), years after going gluten free. Ever since then, doctors have been insisting that I have an eating disorder and that I’m “restricting” by not eating gluten. I know it’s nothing but bulls*** because I have no body image problems and I hated being underweight (I had bones sticking out, gross!). NO, I’M NOT RESTRICTING, I just don’t want to have fibromyalgia EVER again! and this is the ONLY reason why I’m gluten free.

April 19, 2013 at 8:19 pm
(6) Ngallizioli says:

We learned last July of our 16yr old daughters EDNOS. So many doctors (Stanford Childrens Hosp) not diagnosing what was causing symptoms (acne, hair loss, stomach pain, dizziness, herniated stomach muscle, cold hands & feet) none of them caught her E.D.-she told us! She was admitted to the hospital for malnutrition we asked how processed foods-without fruits & veggies passes as a complete dinner was going to help her be renurished? A:This is the kinds of foods that are popular & kids eat!
I found a Acupuncturist/Nutritionist who helped others recover from eating disorders. His advice: To reverse malnutrition from purging the body needs to absorb nutrition. from the stomach through the intestines have not been used for a long time-so they have to relearn how to absorb nutrition from foods:
1.Cut out as many chemical foods as possible
2. eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies-especially pickled and fermented ones are very good for keeping a healthy gut.
3.Drink 1/2 cup of Miso broth before eating to add probiotics and prepare/relax the digestive system before each meal.
4. Remove all gluten or none of the above things will work. Gluten lines the stomach and attaches itself to the intestines preventing absorption of the nutrients. Gluten is good for helping wall paper stick to walls & don’t lick any envelopes-it’s in there too!

April 19, 2013 at 8:20 pm
(7) Ngallizioli says:

Several Western Med. Doc’s warned us that this was all her E.D.-but the hospital nutritionist & other “Licensed Nutritionist” are just NOT looking at this from a chemistry standpoint. Gluten blocks one from getting renurished as soon as possible, no wonder it takes many people over a year to have stable vitals-they can’t absorb what they need to heal!
I’m happy to say it’s been the only thing that has help her make a steady recovery physically-emotionally ED’s are a long process to recover from…we are still working towards daily.
I’m hopeful that this info may help others who are searching for what is best for them . We all have struggles & do the best we can with the information we get-but question authority! The government/hospitals/docs are the ones who are profiting from those who take the longest to heal :(
If you’d like the name of our acupuncturist-nutritionist who has practiced from over 25yrs, please email me-I’m happy to share.

May you all be well :)

July 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm
(8) Christa says:

It trally doesn’t matter how much you weigh. It does matter if you are healthy at your body weight. Can you run stairs? Do you sleep well at night? Are the food choices you are making good for YOU? If so, then all is right in the world. TYPE 1 diabetes, and celiac disease.

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