Soften Saturday: I’m Gluten Free. You Got a Problem With That?

I'm Gluten Free.  You Got a Problem with That?

There’s been a lot of chatter on-line, in the newspaper, even on Good Morning America this week about the validity of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS).  It’s everywhere I look this week.  Initially I got fired up, even spouted off on a friend’s Facebook status after he declared gluten-free food a marketing scam.

All of this chatter was brought about by one study of thirty-seven people. 37.  That’s so incredibly conclusive, right?  (Did you hear my eyes roll?)  This one study declares there is no such thing as NCGS.  I could rant for hours about this ridiculous study, how inconclusive it is, how much it hurts those who are benefiting from a gluten-free diet that don’t have a conclusive medical diagnosis. But I’m done ranting for now.  For those who want to argue about Celiac, NCGS, or simply choosing to eat a gluten-free diet, I just want to know why do you have a problem with how I eat? I’m not asking you to change how you eat, I’m not forcing grocery stores or restaurant chains to eliminate gluten.  Nothing in your life has to change because of how I choose to eat.  So why do you care?

I spent perhaps too much time this week trying to figure out why people so strongly want proof that NCGS doesn’t exist, that there’s truly no need to eat gluten-free.  I really can’t wrap my head around it.  Perhaps people are afraid they will somehow be required to change how they eat, perhaps they are fearful that we have found a path to health and are judging them for not getting on the same path, perhaps they are just mean-spirited.  I don’t know.  Mostly I found myself yelling at the TV and computer screen, “What’s it to you?  These are my food choices not yours!  Why do you have a problem with how I eat?”

Most of my life I have been vegetarian.  I’ve heard thousands of dull and boring vegetarian jokes, I’ve been told how unhealthy my choice to not eat meat is.  I recently dined with someone who told me a meal without meat isn’t a possibility for them, refusing to try a veg restaurant.  I try to smile every.damn.time someone makes some bacon joke in an attempt to get a rise out of me.  But vegetarianism is a choice for me, I get that.  Eating gluten-free isn’t a choice for many people.  I just can’t wrap my head around questioning anyone’s food choices if those choices make them feel better.  As my favorite fella says, “You don’t have a dog in the fight.”  If gluten doesn’t make you sick and you want to eat a loaf of triple gluten-y bread a day, I’m not going to criticize it.  I’d appreciate the same from you in return.  Why do you have a problem with how I eat?

Instead of spending any additional time worrying about the naysayers and Negative Nancys, I sat down to write five Softer responses to use the next time someone questions why I am eating a gluten-free diet.* It’s my belief we will go a whole lot further in educating folks with a Soft approach than by becoming defensive or inflammatory (things I *may* have done earlier this week).  This is challenging and I found myself in a less-than-soft spot this week.  I’m printing out this list and pinning it to my bulletin board for reference…just in case I get caught up in the media whirl again.

Five Softer Tips for Dealing with “Why are you eating a gluten-free diet?” 

  • 1.  Q. Why are you eating gluten-free? I heard it’s just a joke/lie/marketing scam/fad diet.

A.  I appreciate your concern.  I just feel better when I don’t eat gluten.  It’s okay with me if you eat in a way that works best for you.

  • 2.  Q.  I heard eating gluten-free food really isn’t healthy anyway. 

A.  Just like any diet, there are healthy and unhealthy versions.  A Vegan diet can be unhealthy if you just eat Oreos and French fries all day.  Likewise, there is gluten-free junk food.  I’m eating a healthy gluten-free diet because I feel better.  I think it’s cool you’re concerned.

  • 3.  Q.   I heard it’s not really the gluten making people sick anyway.  Why do you buy into that?

A.  I don’t feel good when I eat gluten.  I’m making decisions that work best for me.  It’s okay with me if we don’t eat the same way. I just want to feel amazing and be healthy.  Thanks for understanding.

  • 4.   Q.  Oh, it’s just a fad.  I remember when I was eating low-fat/no-fat/high-protein/only cabbage soup/diet drug-or-shake du jour.  I got over it real quick.  You will, too.

A.  For me, it’s not a fad. I’m making a commitment to my health.  Sure, there are some eating gluten free as a fad. I’m not one of them. But if I were, that would be okay, too.  I eat in a way that works for me, you eat in a way that works for you.  We’re both awesome, we just don’t eat the same way.

  • 5.  Q.  Let’s talk about this stupid gluten-free diet thing you are doing.  My doctor said there’s nothing to that, it’s a big ol’ made up thing. Why do you buy into that nonsense?

A.  How about we talk about sex instead?  No?  Well then, what about religion?  Oh, that’s a no-go, too?  Politics perhaps?  Well, okay…if you really want to talk about something as boring as what I had for lunch, let’s have at it but I’m sure there’s something much more entertaining and controversial to discuss than my salad.  (This one is best used with a BIG smile and a hearty laugh.)

I’m going to work harder in the next week to be softer to those who ask, softer to those who feel it necessary to decry someone else’s food choices.  But I’m also going to be softer to myself.  My reality is that gluten-free food is a necessity, but I can’t judge anyone else’s reality as it relates to food or anything else, including their social media rants and teeny tiny scientific studies.  :)

Have a wonderful Saturday!

*I definitely believe in educating folks who are truly interested in knowing why I eat gluten-free, those who want to know more about Celiac disease and NCGS.  I’m quick to discern if they are being rude, a jokester or big ol’ meanie.  For those folks, the time isn’t yet right for me to share with them why I eat gluten-free food.  It may never be right.  I geared my list toward that person, not the person who has a sincere interest in how I eat and why. 



  1. Celeste says

    I was a vegetarian for along time and understand the questions. Most of our conversations about food involve Judgement Food is “good” or “bad” and we’re also good or bad for what/how we eat. So when you eat differently, it can imply that you are judging other people for the food they eat, or the food itself.

    And when you don’t eat what others eat or prepare, you set yourself aside as different, and some really do consider their special, vegan, vegetarian, GF, locavore, organic, etc…, choices to be morally superior, which is not such an inviting approach. I have an overweight friend who is being arranged by an aquantaince to JUST EAT VEGAN and lose weight already.

    If everyone were as gentle and inclusive as you, maybe the whole conversation could change. But pop-science doesn’t do anyone favors with their diet-of-the day fads, and plenty of folks have become GF for no other reason, even though there are legit reasons why it can be the right choice.

    I know too many people, women especially, who turn every meal into a painful deconstruction of calories, nutritional info, and the virtue of self-deprivation, so I think you’re just stepping into already complex waters. I hope your softer approach makes a difference, my friend.

    • says

      So insightful, Celeste!

      I’ve always been prepared for the vegetarian jokes and I try to tolerate them. With gluten free, it’s not a choice like vegetarianism is for me. Yet for many, gluten-free IS a choice. That makes this challenging. I can’t recall a fad diet that also served as a medically necessitated diet ever gaining so much attention!

      Also, feel free to share with your friend who is being encouraged to eat vegan and lose weight that I weighed over 300 pounds eating a veg diet. When/if she’s ready to lose weight, she will find the path that works best for her. You and I, we could write a book together on women and food. :)

  2. Renee says

    This is a great article. I like #5. I often times have difficulty explaining to people why I don’t eat gluten as I don’t have an allergy or celiac. I think I’ll just start asking them to talk about sex instead. That sounds fun:)

    • says

      I sometimes think a bit of humor is necessary for people to understand that you really don’t want to talk about it or maybe that it’s none of their business. I’ll wait for your report back to see how it goes, implementing #5. 😉

  3. Joan says

    The first thing I noticed about all of the “sample questions” is the very negative and critical/judgmental tone-actually they are blatantantly rude. Whether the persons who had the arrogance/audacity
    to ask these type of questions are family, friends, acquaintances or strangers-my first response would be: “I will pardon your question, if you will pardon my response, but it is a personal matter I don’t wish to discuss”. I have unfortunately had to say this on several occasions and on most occasions I have received a “blank stare” as a response and then usually a mumbled apology as the realization of the inappropriateness of their question sinks in. When they did not do this and had a subsequent response of outrage/offense, etc. over my response, I replied: ,”Yes, I agree, your question was very offensive, but In the interest of maintaining civility-I said I would overlook it-so let’s talk about something else.” On the two occasions when they continued to express their outrage I had to finally just blatantly spell it out for them and tell them that some things are private and are not anyone else’s business-and just because you want to know does not mean you are entitled to know.” I have never had anyone continue to ask/argue past this remark.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Joan. I pulled together the “sample questions” from things that have actually been said to me. Like you, I rarely have anyone push beyond my initial response. You’re just a bit more direct. :) I think often folks speak before they think about how hurtful or personal their questions may really be.

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