Earlier this year I wrote an article called The Emotional Burden of the Gluten-Free Diet. It was a very personal article that makes me cry every time I read it. The struggle is real… and raw.
I’m a sensitive person to begin with, but when it comes to my health, I’m extra emotional. I feel like just discussing my health with my doctor makes my eyes swell with tears.
When my doctor recommended I get a mammogram (I’m about that age), I could feel a knot in my throat at even the idea of it!
I don’t think I’m alone. I think many of you are emotional when it comes to your health.
That’s why the gluten-free diet is a hot button issue for most of us. When you eat gluten-free, you’re more-likely-than-not doing it for health reasons. I don’t think many people choose to put themselves through this major lifestyle switch for fun; we are all doing it improve our health and save our lives. There is nothing “fun” about it.
The vast majority of gluten-free eaters do it because they want to live long, healthy lives free from disease and aches and pains. They want to be here to not only see their children and their children grow up, but also to be able to be active in their old age. Nothing makes me shudder more than the idea that I could be bed ridden at 80 years old, if I can even make it that long.
10 Emotions Every Gluten-Free Diet Faces
I started to think more about the emotional burden of the gluten-free diet after publishing that first article on the topic, and today I want to expand upon the emotions I know every gluten-free dieter faces at some point in their lives.
Some of these emotional are daily struggles we face while other emotions only surface when provoked in certain situations. Regardless, I assure you that the emotions faced by those of us on a gluten-free diet are very raw and real.
Uncertainty is an emotion that plagues me every day. When I’m invited to dinner, I’m uncertain if there will be gluten-free food for me. These feelings of uncertainty come up a lot during holidays and when I’m traveling, too.
One of my clients told me that she goes to her grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving every year. Her grandmother doesn’t think her “condition” is real (my client has been diagnosed with celiac disease), so she doesn’t make gluten-free foods and insists that her granddaughter either eat the food or bring her own stuff.
While I personally think this grandmother is being rude, I also know that grandmothers and older parents weren’t raised in an age where gluten-free (or even food allergies) was a thing, and they have that if it didn’t exist then, it doesn’t exist now mentality.
So my client faces uncertainty every time she goes to her grandmother’s house for dinner. Will there be something for her? Will her grandmother be supportive or make a fuss about her not eating her food?
It’s hard to know for sure… but what I do know is that feelings of uncertainty are constant emotions us gluten-free dieters face day-in and day-out.
Along the same lines as uncertainty, many gluten-free dieters have a real sense of distrust when it comes to eating. This distrust comes from all the times when someone created a dish and said, “I think it’s gluten-free.” What do you mean you think it’s gluten-free? I need to know for sure!
It’s from all those times when we were promised a gluten-free meal, only to find a salad, sad piece of chicken or nothing waiting for us while everyone else chowed down on a spectacular four-course meal.
It comes from all those times when people made fun of us for following the gluten-free diet, calling it just a “fad”, and making light of our medically necessary diet.
Related Reading: 14 Myths About the Gluten-Free Diet
Isn’t it nice to know that people on a gluten-free diet are doing it to improve their health? We are not the ones clogging the ERs and doctor’s offices with preventable diseases. We are not the ones running up insurance costs; yet we’re the ones being disrespected and laughed at. I don’t get it.
It’s no wonder people on the gluten-free diet experience feelings of distrust. We’ve been betrayed by many people – not to mention betrayed by our own bodies – for far too long.
My anger often starts off as annoyance, but it often quickly escalates to anger.
The truth is that our anger is often misdirected. I’m not angry at everyone eating without, I’m just angry that my food hasn’t arrived yet and I feel sorry for myself. I’m angry that I put myself in this position, and I’m angry that I’ve made the people around me feel uncomfortable.
I’m angry that I have to deal with this “disease” all the time, and that it has precluded me from participating in societal norms that otherwise would have been no big deal in the past.
While I never let my diet get in the way of me doing things I love, like eating out, participating in conferences and traveling, I always have a sense of anxiety doing all of those things and more.
Will the airline have a gluten-free meal for me?
Will the conference organizers make gluten-free easily accessible, or am I going to have to advocate for myself, once again, just to eat?
So many unknowns make me anxious even though I’ve never been an anxious person in the past.
I worry about the future and what it will look like for me.
Will the nursing home give me a safe, gluten-free meal every day when I cannot make my own food nor advocate for myself?
Will I survive to see my children and grandchildren grow up?
Will my body betray me in the end despite all my efforts to build health in my life?
Will my children one day have celiac disease? And what about their children?
So many worries, so little time.
It’s easy to feel sad when you’re socially isolated because you cannot eat “normally” like everyone else. I’ve sat at many tables where my friends are feasting and I’m anxiously awaiting my food to arrive. It can feel very lonely and isolating to be the only one not enjoying the meal – and you often feel like you’re bringing everyone down too.
Sometimes I let feelings of sadness get to me. I’ve been known to hold back tears, on occasion, when put into situations where I feel left out, ignored and downright uncomfortable.
I’ve been known to rush to the bathroom, not because I’ve been glutened, but because I don’t want people to see my tears and how much the gluten-free diet still affects me today (even nearly eight years into it).
Celiac disease changed me. I’ve become more of an introvert as a result. I’d rather stay home that go out. I have to force myself each and every day to participate in the things that make me happy regardless of my “disability.”
If it means I have to sit at a table and watch everyone eat, so be it. I’ll at least be there, hearing the speaker and participating in the programming while noshing on my sad granola bar and apple.
This gluten-free diet business presents a roller coaster of emotions for many of us. While I’m sad at times, I also can confidently say that I am relieved that I can control my symptoms, and improve my health/life, without being dependent on Big Pharma to fix me.
I am relieved that my condition isn’t fatal, and that I can manage my symptoms just by changing my diet. It could have been so much worse for me. What a relief it’s just this.
This is a funny emotion to admit, but I, at times, am ashamed that I eat gluten-free. Perhaps it’s because there is such a social stigma surrounding the gluten-free diet, but I admit it, I am not okay with being gluten-free at times.
A British survey said that 44 percent of Brits think people on a gluten-free diet are “high maintenance” and would be “reluctant” to date someone who avoids gluten. On top of that, more than 30 percent of those surveyed said they think those on a gluten-free diet are “selfish” and 14 percent think they must be “arrogant.”
While what people think of me is none of my business, I still feel a sense of shame that I’m one of those high maintenance, selfish people.
I admit it, I experience jealousy from time to time. When my friends are eating delicious pastries for dessert and I’m eating a bowl of fruit, I become a little green with envy. While I’m not proud of this emotion, it is something I experience from time to time.
Do I wish I could sink my teeth into those fresh-baked croissants sitting on my table? Yes.
Do I wish I didn’t have to have a lengthy conversation with every waiter every time? Yes.
Jealousy is a complex emotion that rears its ugly head when I’m feeling insecure about a situation or myself. Again, not an emotion I’m particularly fond of, but one that is part of my truth.
One of the beautiful things about eating gluten-free is that you really find out who your friends are.
My friend Amy hosted us for a dinner at her house, along with 50 other people. It was a big dinner party! She had not only ordered gluten-free food for me, but she also asked me to take my food first because, she said, “Jenny always eats last, but in my house, she eats first!” What a beautiful way to show me how much she cares about me.
My husband eat gluten-free in solidarity with me. He watched me struggle and feel so isolated at times, so he insisted our house be gluten-free and that he eat gluten-free too. If there’s no food for me, there’s no food for him. He won’t eat either.
These acts of kindness so me just how much people around me care about me. There is light in darkness. You just have to look for it.
I have come to accept my “disease” and my “diet” as a part of me, and I have learned to navigate special events, traveling and eating at friend’s houses as the gluten-free warrior I was meant to be.
I am not a victim of this word. No sir!
While I cannot control my fate – and I will always have celiac disease – I can control how I live my life and how I respond to the challenges uniquely bestowed upon me.
I know the gluten-free lifestyle will be a lifelong challenge for me; a challenge I can NEVER ignore. While I can wish this disease would go away, I’d much rather eat in a way that makes me healthy. I can’t change fate, so why not be content with it?
Do any of these emotions resonate with you? Which emotions do you experience most often? Please leave a comment to share!