Gluten Sensitivity: My Experience of Discrimination

SifterAbout a year and a half ago I went on a gluten-free diet. I did this reluctantly since cutting out gluten is a major commitment and can be more than challenging in many situations.

As a result of the diet change the arthritis in my hands stopped progressing, which was extremely helpful in being able to write, and use my hands without pain, although the damage that was done is still evident. If I inadvertently have gluten I have severe pain in my hands for up to a week so avoidance of gluten is not optional for me if I want use of my hands without pain.

These last few months I’ve done a fair amount of travel for conferences, and various speaking engagements and it is curious to me how insensitive and intolerant many individuals and restaurants are to those with food sensitivities.

Restaurants

If you go to a restaurant and ask about gluten they will either look at you with that “deer in the headlights look,” ask if you have Celiac Disease (CD) or tell you they have no idea what the food contains with an air of being put-out.

I have a whole new empathy for those with CD and do not know how they survived all these years without options.

If I tell a server I don’t have CD, they don’t take my sensitivity seriously and I am left with trying to navigate on my own.

If I ignore their question and just say avoidance of gluten is essential they will give me a “look” and succumb to asking the kitchen for help. Most of the time they come back and give me a few options but tell me they are unsure about many things that “may” contain gluten. This scenario has happened at both low and high-end restaurants.

Of course there are gluten-friendly restaurants around that are more than accommodating but it is not the norm, especially in cities outside of LA.

One restaurant I called ahead of time outside of Boston told me to call back in a few hours since one of the waitresses who had CD could answer my questions. I wonder what they would have said if she did not work there.

Parties

 Although I eat most other foods, you would be surprised at how much gluten sneaks into many of our foods in terms of dips, marinades and other non-starchy foods. I was at an outdoor BBQ and the grill was being used to grill beef with a marinade that had gluten, buns, etc.   The dips and dressings had gluten in them and the rest of the food faire was not food I would normally consume such as chips.

What was interesting about this is although I did not mind at all, and went and got a yogurt and fruit out of the refrigerator (with permission from the host of course) a few at the party were wondering what was wrong with me and thought I had an eating disorder. Hmmm…

Travel

Airports can be the most challenging since there are fast food options and one never knows what they contain, not that I would eat them anyway. Little kiosks contain sandwiches and wraps, yogurt with granola on them, candy, chips, etc.   A few had nuts, and some older looking bananas and apples so one meal consisted of a bag of almonds and a banana.

Although many choose to go on a gluten-free diet for their “health,” for others it is a medical necessity.

We are inundated with cartoons and jokes about being gluten-free which at times are justified given the amount of press gluten receives, but it unfortunately bleeds onto others for whom gluten is a trigger to health issues.

Research is in its infancy with respect to gluten and inflammation. Since the gluten today is different from 50 years ago, it can trigger our immune system, causing health issues that did not exist previously. Gluten has been significantly deamidated and hybridized which creates inflammatory issues (see this link for details).

Not a lot has been proven but for me the proof was in the pudding of health.

So what do I do to navigate?

My food world is quite large at home but with traveling and eating out I accept options are limited.

I bring food with me all the time. If I’m about to fly, I bring yogurt (small to get through security), nuts, a hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit.

I have nuts in my purse at all times.

If I go to an event or party I eat ahead of time more than a snack in case there are no options or ask ahead if gluten-free options are available.

I continue to ask lots of questions at restaurants even if servers are unpleasant.

Although sad at times I can’t have a bite of the yummy dessert at the table, or some entrée I would normally order since the sauce has flour in it, I’ve accepted this is my way of life for now.

Others may not understand or subscribe to my diet but that’s okay. Many types of discrimination have been around for centuries but hopefully intolerance of food sensitivity will soon be a thing of the past.