Irreverent solutions to your real life allergy & sensitivity dramas.
I’m almost afraid to ask this—but what should I be doing about sugar? I have celiac disease and can’t tolerate dairy in milk and most cheeses (but can as an ingredient in baked goods). I’m pretty good about keeping to a gluten-free, dairy-free diet but I keep hearing that sugar can be a problem because of inflammation or something. Obviously, I don’t want to cut anything else out of my diet. But if sugar is what’s standing between me and feeling terrific, well, should I ditch it?
Dear Too Sweet,
You’re afraid to ask this question and I’m afraid to answer. Yes, I love sweets. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I was terrified of missing out. The first gluten-free food I figured out how to make was pancakes. Then cookies. Then cake.
At the time, baking delicious gluten-free options was an important part of my coping with celiac. Not because chocolate chip cookies and coffee cake were good for my body but because they were good for my emotional health, which had to be strong in order to strictly follow the gluten-free diet. Now that I’m a few years out from diagnosis, I know that all those baked goods did nothing good for my waistline or my physical health.
Whether you’re concerned about foods that cause or exaggerate inflammation or worried about your blood sugar, cutting back on the sweet stuff is a very good idea. Sugar should be treated as a sometimes food, whether you have celiac disease or not.
Listen, it’s the holiday season and there’s nothing wrong with a little indulgence. We all deserve to let loose sometimes. Those of us who can never let loose with gluten (and in your case, dairy), should feel free to enjoy some gluten-free sugar cookies every now and then. So don’t beat yourself up over those chocolate truffles. Instead, talk to a savvy dietitian about foods that heal your body so you can add healthy options to your repertoire. Focusing on the foods we can eat, rather than what we cannot, is incredibly helpful in maintaining a healthy diet.
Having read your words, pretty good about keeping to a gluten-free, dairy-free diet, I’m bearing down on my advice to review your diet with a dietitian. As a celiac, you should be vigilant—but you know that, right?
A dietitian will help you stay on top of your gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-avoidance lifestyle. Yes, you can replace your nightly slice of chocolate cake (or was that just me?) with satisfying foods and actually be happy about it. And you’ll feel better, too.
Afraid to Go Home
How do I let my family know they are not helping? I just got back from a long weekend at my parents’ house with extended family, and I’m in a ton of pain and have diarrhea. I’m so mad because before I visited, my mom told me that she had all of my gluten-free needs taken care of! She did not. I don’t know if it’s because I became gluten intolerant after I went away to college and she doesn’t understand—or if she just doesn’t care. When I visited, she cooked meals just like she always does (with gluten everywhere, even if she was making something naturally gluten-free like omelets). The only difference was she had a few boxes of gluten-free crackers and cookies for me. That doesn’t cover my “gluten-free needs.” I wound up making do with what everyone else was eating, like taking the cold cuts out of the sandwiches at lunch.
I’m afraid to go home again. I’m also upset that my own family doesn’t think enough of me to take care of me. What am I supposed to do?
Dear Black Sheep,
I hear you. Many of us think of returning home to mom and dad as a respite from the real world. We get to be taken care of and we don’t have to be on constant guard like we are in our day-to-day lives. And when that doesn’t happen, it can be a big disappointment. When that doesn’t happen and we have food issues, that disappointment is magnified by physical pain and illness. None of this is good for us—or our relationships with family.
It sounds like either your mom was trying but didn’t know how to prepare food safely for you or she didn’t consider your safety seriously. Not knowing your family dynamic, I have no idea which of these things is true. So let’s address both.
The first step I would take would be to call your mom in a calm moment and talk to her about the seriousness of your gluten intolerance. Get into details about how it makes you feel without attacking her or how she fed you (or didn’t feed you) on your last visit. Stick to the facts and present the information without emotion so she can hear and understand. If she’s open to it, offer to send her a few books on the topic, some recipes and a copy of this magazine so she can learn more about gluten and how to safely feed you. Treat this as something the two of you are doing together, so she can feel like she’s helping you, rather than being scolded by you. I know this isn’t a typical mother/child dynamic, but as an adult, you’re going to find yourself in many situations that are no longer typical mother/child dynamic. Adulting is hard.
Once you’ve clearly explained the situation and offered to help, protect yourself. The next time you spend time at home, bring your own food or hit the grocery store as soon as you get into town. Prepare your own food, keep it separate from other people’s glutenous food and take responsibility for feeding yourself. Remember to be safe and avoid food that has been contaminated with gluten. That means taking cold cuts from the package in the kitchen (after you’ve checked the label), not extracting them from a glutenous sandwich.
Again, we’re used to having parents nourish us and it doesn’t feel great to relinquish that. As a mother myself, I’m occasionally wistful for the times when someone else was taking care of me, especially when I’ve accidentally gotten glutened and I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. It’s okay to be sad—and even mad—about the loss of security and comfort. Go ahead and feel the feelings—and then move on. Embrace self care.
Remember, even best friends and close family members can make mistakes. Perhaps your mom just needs a little guidance. Why not give her the benefit of the doubt and also come packing gluten-free nourishment?
April Peveteaux is author of Gluten Is My B*tch: Rants, Recipes and Ridiculousness for the Gluten-Free (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), The Gluten Free Cheat Sheet, (Penguin Group) and, Bake Sales Are My B*tch (Rodale).