Adult-Diagnosed Celiac Disease: The Challenges of Going Gluten-Free
Posted Dec 20 2008 7:17pm
Previously, I discussed Celiac Disease and the unique physical and psychological challenges adults face when being diagnosed with the disease later in life. Equally, if not more challenging, is the adoption of a gluten free diet.
Adults have years to acquire eating habits and “unlearning” them can be difficult and initially even downright depressing. Converting to a gluten-free diet is not an easy undertaking when the typical western diet contains approximately 20g of gluten per day. Moreover, after years of consuming gluten, many adult celiacs develop a physical addiction to gluten and experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, cravings, shortness of breath and mental fogginess. This makes the treatment process – that of adhering to a strict gluten-free diet – even more daunting.
When I learned I had Celiac Disease back in 1999 I was initially relieved. Finally I had a name for the cascade of symptoms I had been suffering with for years. Little did I know that my battle was just beginning. A former “bagel queen”, I had to completely alter my diet. Gluten, I discovered, is not only found in most whole grains and flours, its derivatives are now used as fillers in many commercially processed foods - including salad dressings and even ketchup! Furthermore, once I adopted a gluten-free diet, it still took awhile for me to feel better and for my health to improve because it takes time for the intestinal tract to heal itself after years of gluten ingestion. Adherence to a gluten-free diet takes considerable discipline particularly when obvious, measurable results aren’t forthcoming.
Furthermore, the psycho-social ramifications of Celiac Disease can be particularly challenging when faced with a gluten-full menu at a restaurant or dinner party. It’s awkward when the office party features only pizza or when you’re at a birthday party and you’re the only one not eating cake. Living a gluten-free lifestyle also requires greater preparation and planning of snacks and meals. Celiacs must bring gluten-free food with them when they anticipate it will be unavailable, such as on an airplane flight,or when traveling in a foreign country or in remote areas.
Dealing with the challenges of Celiac Disease was one of the main reasons I decided to study nutrition. While today there is a relatively wide selection of gluten-free foods available in many supermarkets, as a celiac and a professional nutritionist I advocate a mostly whole-foods, gluten-free diet. It’s actually one of the easiest and healthiest ways to ensure gluten-free compliance. When you eliminate most of the processed, packaged foods from your diet, you don’t have to read labels to know whether something is gluten-free. Furthermore, just because a food is labeled “gluten-free” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. A “gluten-free” candy bar is still a candy bar! For more information on nutrition counseling for Celiac Disease and other health concerns, please visit my website at www.bewellcoaching.com.