Coping With Gluten Free Life: Case Study
When Loula celebrated her fortieth birthday recently, with a large party for friends and family, her birthday cake was wheat and sugar free, and nobody even noticed.
She was told she had wheat intolerance in 2001, but it was a diagnosis she resisted for a further five years. Eventually, when she was being treated for an eating disorder in 2006, she accepted the idea that her general depression might be related to diet and changed her food intake to exclude wheat and sugar. She describes it as “the most liberating experience I’ve ever had”.
Gluten Exclusion And Comfort EatingWhilst removing gluten from her diet has changed her life, Loula admits that it hasn’t always been a easy route. At first she found it difficult not to “get sucked back into eating carbohydrates,” especially around the time of her period, but each time she binged on wheat products it made her feel worse. Whilst her sugar allergy made her mentally aggressive, wheat made her confused and depressed. Together they were damaging her health and her relationships.
The Cost Of Gluten IntoleranceThe symptoms of her wheat intolerance were both mental and physical: she had a major depression around Christmas 2006 which led to her gluten exclusion diet. At her lowest point she describes herself as being “near suicidal” and, as a result, she would indulge herself by eating bread and sugary sweets, which made the situation even worse.
Once Loula had removed wheat from her diet she found that other life-long problems disappeared. She’d always had a swollen tongue, which would become painful and cracked, and she had constant joint pain that she’d associated with her weight, but when she removed gluten from her food intake, both conditions vanished without requiring further treatment. In addition much of the bloating she’d experienced in her life simply went away. She admits she still “plays with sugar” but she’s not tempted to indulge in wheat because she realises now it was the cause of much of her unhappiness and physical discomfort.
Friends And FamilyCoping with an exclusion diet is easier, she claims, than coping with the ‘old Loula’ and her family and friends are relieved to have a ‘normal person’ around them, rather than a “food-schizophrenic”. Balancing dietary restrictions with her lifestyle is not an issue– she says, “Today, you don’t need to eat wheat – you can have a fantastic diet and other people will help you if you tell them. I’m really into my food and there are shops, cafes and chefs willing to help you enjoy a varied diet.”
It’s not always straightforward though – she says that people are much more tolerant of her saying that she doesn’t like wheat than if she says she has an allergy which can elicit one of two negative reactions: either people think she’s jumping on a bandwagon and they are irritated by her ‘faddy’ behaviour, or they feel that they are entitled to be excessively interested in her diet and to ask personal questions about her food restrictions, weight and condition.
To cope with this kind of behaviour, she’s learned to plan ahead, being selective about where she goes and what she does, but she feels there has been a benefit to her wheat intolerance too – it’s made her more aware of her diet. She’s learned to be confident about proposing changes to an advertised menu and when talking to cooks about substitutions and alterations to a dish that would make it possible for her to eat alongside friends.