If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you've probably heard your share of ridiculous statements from others about your condition — I know I have. Many seem to deal with the utter impossibility of giving up gluten-containing foods, or the seeming strangeness of a condition that's treated through diet, not drugs.
In most cases, these statements aren't really mean-spirited (even if they seem that way at the time). But they probably don't go over well with someone who's new to the gluten-free diet (and maybe struggling a bit with it, too).
In the interests of helping you come up with a quick response to these types of comments, I've come up with this list of seven things not to say to someone who can't eat gluten, and my (occasionally acerbic) responses.
1. I could never give up my bread — I can't see how you manage it. Of course you could. I didn't want to give up pizza from the all-you-can-eat deep dish pizza buffet down the street (my once-upon-a-time favorite food), but you know what? My health depended on it. If your health depended on it, you could give up gluten-based bread, too (and there are plenty of decent gluten-free breads available these days, anyway).
2. A little bit of this won't hurt you. Er, yes, it will. It really will. Most of us react to mere crumbs of gluten, while some of us react even to microscopic amounts (see How Much Gluten Can Make Me Sick? for the details). So one tiny bite of that gluten-filled cookie or casserole is plenty to make me quite ill. Thanks, but I'm not interested (and please don't wave it around near me).
3. I made this specially for you — I can't believe you won't eat it!. I'm sorry, but it took me years (literally) to master the gluten-free diet and finally get my health back. It's not a diet you can learn in a day, which is why I tell people upfront that I never eat food prepared by friends or relatives. I'm sure what you've made for me is wonderful, but I just can't take the chance — my reactions are too severe.
4. Isn't there a drug you can take for this so you don't have to follow this ridiculous diet? Unfortunately, right now the only treatment for celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity is the gluten-free diet — there are no approved drugs for either condition. That may change in the near future (see Celiac Disease Drugs in Development for the details), but for the time being, I need to stick with the diet. Truly.
5. Gluten-free is very trendy right now — is that why you're doing it? Yup, the gluten-free diet is all the rage — celebrities ranging from singer Miley Cyrus to tennis star Novak Djokovic have touted the health benefits they won by ditching gluten. But I'm not following it because I'm a copy-cat. I'm following it because I have a medical condition that requires me to eat gluten-free (as do many of those celebs, by the way). Not to mention, I feel awful if I cheat.
6. You'll get sick of this diet soon enough and start eating normally again. You're quite wrong. Sure, there are times when it's tough to eat this way (although the increasing availability of gluten-free menus at restaurants and gluten-free-labeled products certainly makes it easier). But I've come to view eating gluten-free as "normal," and honestly will never go back.
7. Do you have an eating disorder? I've heard lots of people who eat gluten-free really have an eating disorder, and I never see you eat anymore. No, I don't have an eating disorder — I have a condition that requires me to avoid gluten, which is in many, many food items. Therefore, when we go out, I frequently eat beforehand and just order something to drink. So you're right: you probably don't see me eat that often anymore, but that doesn't mean I have a problem (for more on this subject, see Have You Ever Been Accused of Having an Eating Disorder?).
We've all heard these comments (some of them about a thousand times), but they don't stop getting, well, annoying. There are plenty of times I've needed to bite my tongue to prevent myself from saying something really snarky in response (I just keep telling myself that they're well-meaning, but could benefit from some additional education on living gluten-free).
Hopefully my responses to these statements can help you think through ahead of time what you want to say to people who say insensitive things to you about your medical condition, your diet and your eating habits ... and maybe even encourage a few of them to look into celiac disease or gluten sensitivity as a possible cause for their symptoms, as well.
For more on what not to say, check out this great compilation involving many, many different health conditions, plus areas in which people are trying to improve their health: What Not To Say About Health Issues.
Have you heard a comment about your condition or your diet that's so annoying/ridiculous/incredible you just have to tell someone? Share it in the Readers Respond section below!