This article, Making Peace With Celiac Disease, was first published in April 2017 and has been updated in September 2019.
I remember the day so clearly. I was sitting in my car and eating a six-inch roasted chicken sub and sipping on a Diet Coke from Subway when I got the call.
“You have celiac disease,” my doctor told me.
At the time, I was scared — no, I was crushed — by those four words that changed the trajectory of my life forever.
Today, however, I truly believe those four words saved my life. And I’m better, stronger, wiser and more fulfilled in life than I ever had been before.
Making Peace with Celiac Disease
After living with celiac disease for more than seven years, I have made peace with celiac disease. I like to say that while celiac disease is never easy, it does get easier with time. I can attest to that wholeheartedly.
Today I want to share 15 bits of wisdom I would have told myself on that fateful “diagnosis” day. As you read it, you’ll quickly realize that I’m talking to myself.
After you read these 15 bits of wisdom, please leave a comment and share what you would have told yourself back then before you embarked on this gluten-free journey.
1. Giving Up Gluten Will Take Strength and Willpower
I know that the idea of giving up gluten for the rest of your life is an overwhelming thought… however, know you can do it. You have the strength and willpower to do most anything.
Remember, there are much harder things in your life that you will face, much harder things than giving up gluten. Just do it and reap the rewards when you do.
2. Gluten is Addictive
You are going to have a hard time thinking straight in the weeks and months after getting diagnosed with celiac disease. Wheat is addictive and comes with awful withdrawal syndromes including overwhelming fatigue, brain fog, and even depression.
3. There’s No Magic Pill for Celiac Disease
There is no quick fix or magic pill to make celiac disease go away. When you are diagnosed with celiac disease, you will have it for the rest of your life. There is no cure for celiac disease.
Only by following a strict, life-long gluten-free diet will you be able to manage your symptoms. Our world’s dependence on prescription medication is often doing more harm than good; that’s why you’ll be happy your disease can be helped by diet change.
4. Don’t Listen to Gluten Bullies
There will be many people who make fun of your gluten-free diet. You know the ones – the late-night comedians making jokes about their difficult gluten-free friend, or those so-called “friends” of yours who order “extra gluten” when you go out to eat with them just to be funny.
You’ll also find “friends” who pressure you into eating gluten – “Just this once won’t kill you,” they’ll say. They have no idea!
Remember, people who love you will never question your diet nor make you feel bad for eating gluten-free.
5. You’ll Make New Gluten-Free Friends
One of the best parts about being diagnosed with celiac disease is that you will find people who share your disease, diet and/or lifestyle. You will bond with new and old friends who intimately understand what you’re going through (because they go through it too).
You’ll also learn who your true friends are — they are the ones who will go above and beyond to make you feel welcome at their gluten-free dinner table. (Read How to Host Your Gluten-Free Friend for a Meal)
6. Giving Up Gluten is About Gaining Health
I know it’s hard to see now, but when you give up gluten, you gain so much more… you’ll be gaining HEALTH. Health is wealth. It’s everything. Without it you are but a shell of yourself.
Your bloating, gas, skin conditions and other sources of inflammation (including those darn canker sores and geographic tongue) can now be solved with a new diet – how amazing is that?!? This mindset shift is important to surviving and thriving in your new life.
7. Gluten-Free Does Not Always Mean It’s Good For You
If you eat a lot of processed and packaged gluten-free foods, you’ll probably gain weight and remain unhealthy. Gluten-free packaged and processed foods, just like regular packaged and processed foods, are going to make and keep you sick. Sugar, after all, is gluten-free. So are pork rinds and Lucky Charms.
If you want to get healthy, you’re better off choosing naturally gluten-free foods – like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, and lean proteins. You’ll crowd out the bad stuff while healing your gut and whole body.
8. You Will Be Frustrated
Having a disease that is solely managed by food can be very frustrating, and there will be times when a night out on the town brings you to tears. (Read The Emotional Burden of the Gluten-Free Diet.)
I had a breakdown during my cruise vacation last fall, which you can read about in my Ultimate Gluten-Free Cruise Survival Guide. Traveling is hard, but you will adapt to any situation not because you have to, but because you are stronger than you think.
9. Read Labels to Uncover Hidden Gluten
You’ll learn that the onion soup mix you’ve been feeding your family for years not only contains gluten but also MSG. You may not like what you learn, but you’ll be better off knowing than continuing to live in the dark.
10. Give Your Body a Chance to Heal from Celiac Disease
Your body knows how to heal, so give it a chance to do what it knows how to do. Removing gluten isn’t enough.
You may need to limit other irritants, like sugar, white refined grains and dairy, and then add good stuff back in like green juices, seeds and nuts, and moderate gluten-free whole grains, if you want to truly feel better. Read how I put celiac disease into remission.
11. People Have “Issues” Around Food
You’ll come to learn that people are extremely attached to food. When someone finds out you eat gluten-free, you’ll usually hear something like, “I could never give up gluten,” and they’re usually right. Most people lack the willpower to give up something they are emotionally and physically attached to even if they know it’s not doing them any favors to continue eating it. (Read Why You Still Crave Gluten)
Some people might even send you articles touting how gluten-free diets are bad for you, usually articles spun by people who have spent little time studying gluten-free diets. You’ll have to stay true to what you know and not let their issues with food bring you down.
12. Invest in True Health Care
You’ll quickly learn that investing in health care means spending more on where it counts – like spending money on clean, organic and whole foods. In contrast, sick care is spending your hard earned money on doctor’s visits, medication and procedures that could have been prevented if you had invested in health care.
Remember this mantra, “Pay now or pay later.” You can choose to spend your money now on healthy foods and a gym membership, or you can pay later in the form of costly doctor’s visits, medications and procedures.
13. Feel Lucky
Getting diagnosed with celiac disease is your body’s way of telling you something is desperately wrong and then showing you how to fix it. It may be hard to see now, but you are one of the lucky ones. You have the key to turning around your health for the better. Don’t let this information go to waste.
14. Embrace Change
You will embrace the change in your diet and even find your calling as an integrative health coach and gluten-free blogger. You will go through transformations that bring you personal and professional satisfaction like you’ve never experienced before.
15. You’re Going to Be Just Fine
I know it seems like you have such a mountain to climb, but it really does get easier with time. Getting diagnosed with celiac disease gave you the most precious gift of all — the chance at good health and longevity (without years of potential mortality). Don’t waste it.
What Would You Say?
If you could go back to talk to your pre-gluten-free self, what would you say? Please share in the comments.