An Open Letter to People Who Think I’m on a Fad Diet (Why I Eat Gluten Free)

If you can eat gluten, I’m happy for you. I really am.

If you don’t have any reactions to food, your life is easier. Believe me. Your. Life. Is. Easier. What I don’t understand is why it’s all the rage to make fun of people who, for whatever reason, choose not to eat gluten. Google the words “gluten-free” and “fad diet” or “gluten-free jokes” and see for yourself.

If people feel better on a gluten-free diet, then why aren’t you happy for them?

Fad Diet Gluten Free title final

I recently read an article appearing in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics questioning the “medically necessity” of the gluten-free diet. I rarely care much about what people think of my dietary choices, but when I hear so-called experts in the field of nutrition lump me into the land of the “crazies” that follow the “fad diet,” I get fired up. I stand up a little taller to defend my right to make what I believe to be healthy choices.

The last straw was seeing several of my good friends recently post satires on social media making fun of the gluten-free lifestyle. I don’t think it’s funny. For many, it’s actually rather serious, especially if you have celiac disease. For bloggers like Gluten-Free Girl, celiac disease and gluten intolerance is not at all comical. She has experienced heart-wrenching physical and emotional pain trying to discover a celiac diagnosis for her daughter. Read her touching post, No Laughing Matter.

It’s time I write an open letter to all who believe I’m too radical and have taken innocent bystanders captive with my position on gluten. They say I’m too extreme. I could be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals by not eating my daily slice of “whole-grain goodness.” They say I’m contributing to a growing chorus of food phobics that question the modern food system and it’s technological advances. Why don’t I just keep my beliefs about wheat, GMO foods, industrial vegetable oils, and CAFOs (confined animal feed operations) to myself?

Because there is too much at stake – my heath, your health, even our nation’s future. I will not be silenced. The gluten-free trend is not just a fad. It’s part of a larger movement questioning the status quo of our food economy.

Why should you examine the wheat you eat and the bread you consume? This letter is for you. After you read it, pass it on.

(I realize my letter could be construed as too fiery for some readers. :) For a different take on the gluten-free lifestyle, read Should Everyone Go Gluten-Free or Grain-Free? by The Nourishing Home. I appreciate her reflective spiritual perspective.)

To People Who Think I’m On a Fad Diet

You might think that my gluten-free diet is unnecessary and silly.

  • Trust me, I did not choose my life of food sensitivities because it’s fun or easy. When faced with the choice to change my diet OR take anxiety drugs and antacids for the rest of my life, I chose diet modification. Wheat was the first thing to go. It worked. Within three weeks of starting a gluten-free diet, I saw improvements, including increased energy and better digestion. In the following months, I experienced even more positive changes. For more details, see My Health Story. Read another inspiring personal journey about overcoming depression and chronic intestinal pain from Natural Living Mama.

You might think it’s all in my mind.

  • Do you really know what it’s like to have daily reactions to food? I suspect not. You can eat anything you want, and not feel a thing. I know that my food sensitivities are not in my mind. Whether its belching, bloating, shortness of breath, headaches, or itchy skin that I cannot keep from scratching, they are physical reactions. I hope one day to heal my gut lining, so that I can eat more foods, but for now I have sensitive, permeable intestines and an over-active immune system. See my post, My Gut is Leaking!

You might think the gluten-free diet lacks important nutrients.

  • rutabagas from garden

    Freshly-harvested rutabagas from my garden!

    No, I’m not deficient because I don’t eat wheat (or grains). My diet is actually far more diverse than it used to be in my wheat-eating days. Do you know what a rutabaga is? How about kohlrabi? I do. I added far more vegetables to my diet when I went gluten free. I also eat a variety of pastured meats, eggs, and healthy fats. I would argue that a more extreme and detrimental diet is veganism. I don’t see many major medical journal articles about the dangers of eliminating all meat, dairy, and eggs. Is that because it’s not politically correct to pick on vegans? (No offense to my vegan friends.)

You might think gluten is safe for everyone, except celiacs.

    • That’s just not true. Yes, certain people can tolerate wheat better than others. But you can’t dismiss the fact that our modern wheat strain is NOT the same as its ancient ancestors. It doesn’t look the same; it doesn’t act the same. It’s been hybridized so much, that it has far more gluten and chromosomes than it used to. Dr. Alessio Fasano, one of the leading researchers in the world on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, says that no human can properly digest gluten. Gluten proteins cannot be fully broken down and assimilated for usefulness in the body.
    • I challenge you to read the book, Wheat Belly, by cardiologist, Dr. William Davis. You may disagree with his conclusions, but you cannot disagree with his thorough summation of the history of wheat. Modern wheat is not all that it’s cracked up to be. (Pun intended.) Millions have been helped by the gluten-free diet, even if they don’t have celiac disease. In my case, I have both gene markers for celiac (HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8) from my parents. When I was tested for the disease several years ago, it was inconclusive, since I had already been on a gluten-free diet for a year. I may have celiac disease. I may not have celiac disease. I don’t wish to go back on gluten to get re-tested. By eating gluten again, I may inadvertently turn on those genes, if they haven’t been turned on already! It no longer matters to me that I don’t have the “disease” label. The only thing that matters to my body is that I feel better on a gluten-free diet, period. I know there are hundreds, if not thousands upon thousands of people, that feel the same way.
    • There is also research emerging that gluten can cause inflammatory flare-ups in people with auto-immune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism (which I have), lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

You might think gluten sensitivity is primarily a digestive condition.

  • Once again, not true. Dr. Tom O’Bryan, a specialist in celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, quotes from the Journal of Gastroenterology. “…for every symptomatic patient with celiac disease, there are eight patients with celiac disease and no gastrointestinal symptoms.” That means that a huge number of people with gluten intolerance have NO presenting digestive problems. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity can manifest itself in dozens of non-digestive-related symptoms, some including skin rash, hair loss, low thyroid, seizures, and even dementia. The sad part is studies show that 97 percent of people with celiac go undiagnosed for years because doctors don’t recognize the connection the between their symptoms and the disease.
  • My husband is a great example. For years, he suffered from debilitating knee pain. His doctors had no clue what was causing the inflammation. They said he was getting old! He attempted a gluten-free diet for my sake when we were dating. It had unexpected and amazing results! His knee pain faded and today it’s almost non-existent, unless he eats gluten or rice (yes, a non-gluten grain!). We were both rather surprised, especially since he did not experience digestive problems. For another blogger’s family story about improving non-digestive conditions with a gluten-free diet, read Whole New Mom’s post, Gluten: No Big Deal or Silent Killer?

celiac disease no gastrointestinal symptoms theDr.com

You might think I’m obsessed with food.

  • Despite the fact that I have a complex relationship with food and blog about it, I do not think about food all the time. I’m a fairly balanced person with many interests, including music, reading, organizing, hiking, scrapbooking, gardening, and church activities.

You might think that the USDA food pyramid offers the best diet for all Americans.

  • For decades, the food pyramid has had grains at its core. Not vegetables, not healthy fats – grains! People were told to eat more bread, pasta, bagels, and cereal. We were told these foods were fortified with vitamins and minerals. Grains were good and fat was fatal! Now we are discovering that obesity and diabetes are being fueled by over consumption of processed grains. Properly prepared grains in moderation are fine for most people. A LOT of grains are not. The body interprets wheat as sugar, especially when eaten alone. The average slice of wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than table sugar! You can see why I’m not going to blindly follow government recommendations on food; that’s precisely why we are in a health crisis as a nation. For far too long, people have believed the FDA and USDA, and now we are suffering for it.

You might think that many people who switch to a gluten-free diet eat unhealthy gluten-free products.

  • Yes, finally we agree. It’s true that many people swap unhealthy gluten-containing foods for unhealthy gluten-free foods. However, that doesn’t negate the positive effects of a naturally gluten-free diet. That’s one of the reasons why I blog, to demonstrate what a healthy gluten-free diet looks like. Foods like vegetables, fruits, pastured meats and dairy, and eggs are naturally gluten free. We should be educating the masses about what REAL food looks like. Unprocessed whole foods are gluten free. The real problem here is NOT the gluten-free diet; it’s the processing!

You might think that we shouldn’t be promoting restricted diets until we have more convincing proof on gluten-related disorders.

  • Yes, we are just beginning to understand the tip of the iceberg in nutrition science. We don’t fully grasp how food interacts with every major organ. We will be learning for decades and centuries how the amazing human body works! And yes, there are emotional and relational difficulties when dealing with a restricted diet. However, if people feel better on a gluten-free diet, then the hardships are worth it! It has been for me. Living gluten free gives me the opportunity to respect other people’s food choices, as I hope they do the same for me. Living gluten free also gives me the chance to tell people about the wonders and joys of real food!
  • The reality of living in our modern world is that we MUST promote restricted diets for people to be healthy! We are healthier, when we limit processed food, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, MSG, chemical additives, and synthetic food dyes. Even the USDA cannot argue with that!

You might think I’m uninformed and base my diet on feelings, not research.

The bottom line: the gluten-free diet changed my life. It gave me the confidence to take control of my health. Step by step, I’ve become my own best advocate, not my doctors, and not the pharmaceutical companies. My journey to renewed health began with removing gluten.

The gluten-free diet is not a magic pill, but it is a positive step for many people. If someone you know wants to try a gluten or grain-free diet to help their fibromyalgia or reverse infertility or improve their child’s autism or allergies, let them have their opportunity. Encourage them for attempting a drug-free approach to wellness. Please stop teasing them with gluten-free jokes. Please stop echoing the loud chorus that the gluten-free diet is only a passing trend. If it didn’t work for you, maybe it will work for them. Each body is different. Maybe for your mother or brother or co-worker, a naturally gluten-free whole foods diet is just what they need to reclaim their health!

If you still believe I’m on a fad diet, well, you have the right to think whatever you wish. Your position on gluten will not change my path. I’m going to continue my gluten-free diet. I’m also going to continue to grow my own food, shop at farmers markets, and support my vegetable CSA…

…because the local food movement is creating responsible citizens who don’t need society’s approval or government intervention for their health and well-being.

Eating real gluten-free food six years and counting,

Tracy Rempel

This entry was posted in Celiac Disease, Digestion, Gluten-Free, Gluten-Free Living, Grain-Free, Real Food, Wheat. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to An Open Letter to People Who Think I’m on a Fad Diet (Why I Eat Gluten Free)

  1. David says:

    As a person who is NOT a fan of the gluten free diet especially, I can personally tell you we’re NOT all wackos. Also, no one is trying to silence you, no matter how much they may snicker in the corner, and as I had to learn as a child, it’s best to just let those who snicker in the corner alone. The Bible calls them scoffers. They think of themselves as critics and entertainers, but there’s a difference. Critics provide a necessary service by helping you figure out if you’ll like a product before you dive full in. An entertaining critic does this with humor and in fun, generally making it clear any comments are not to be taken seriously, and in my experience, makes himself the biggest object of ridicule on screen. A scoffer pokes fun incessantly and without reason, honestly thinking this somehow makes him better. You think you can reason with a person like that?
    As to whether your diet is a fad like adkins… well it seems to be following many of the same paths. Chucking out the food pyramid for something purportedly better, setting up the ever unpopular government as a villain and making your diet the answer to problems the world over. I know that’s not what you mean to say, but for many, that’s exactly what they hear. Not everyone who gets on your diet is going to experience the same results as Papa. Some are going to find out they need a radically different diet. After all, many people found that the adkins diet worked for them and products for it survive to this day, I know, I sell them at my store. Also, yea, the government is the bad guy… what else is new? Not much else to say there, there’s no defending the true nature of farm subsidies, they started as a decent idea as far as subsidies go, but like every government program, they grew out of control. (The government apparently recently miss-spent over one hundred billion dollars on social programs, that’s enough to give over three hundred dollars to every man woman and child living in this country, and it’s only 3.5 percent of the budget… draw that out to what they’re actual budget must be and they could give around ten thousand dollars a year to every citizen of the country… and they want to raise taxes… yea, they’re the bad guys.) The gluten free diet isn’t a fad diet for you or for the people it helps, but adkins wasn’t for the people it helped either. For those who just jump on the ban wagon… well it is a fad diet for them. You can’t be upset at folks calling a chicken a chicken. Even if it’s a good chicken.
    Fashion is always thought of as a cheap fad, but once for men, fashion was a black suite and tie with a nice hat. Just cause it’s hip doesn’t mean it’s cheap or wrong.
    Also, from my understanding, any diet can have tremendous effects on its user, especially in this country where over eating is practically a national past time. Personally, I started viewing processed foods as a dessert or weekend celebration thing only, eating mostly straight meat and fruits/veggies, and I seem to be losing weight. That could also be over eight hours of physical labor three days a week or more, but I like to think my diet has something to do with it.
    As to what might be bringing this on, I’m sorry that myself and the rest of the family were not initially accepting of your diet. When we saw my father after a few months with you, he had changed several pants sizes and was talking like the diet had saved his life. The change was tremendous, and frankly none of us were sure what to think. Papa wasn’t crippled and then walking again, he was a big guy who suddenly became a little guy. Yes, in retrospect it was a good thing, but try to understand our perspectives at the time. We knew nothing about your diet, to many of us, especially me, who hadn’t seen my father in a LOOONG time, this was weird.

    • Tracy says:

      Thanks for your understanding David. You are right that there is not a one-size fits all approach. Not all people have to be gluten-free. My point was to show that many people could benefit from a gluten-free diet, and maybe they don’t even know it. Your dad being one of them. :) Though, it sounds like we both agree that real whole foods should be foundational principles of diet. I’m glad you are feeling better these days.

  2. I wonder about wheat, myself. Although I am not gluten-free, I do make gluten free meals sometimes, and they’re a lot better than people think. Often I’ll make something gluten-free unintentionally and realize it later, LOL! My favorite this summer is a cold rice noodle recipe with sesame dressing and red peppers. Yum!

    • Tracy says:

      That sounds delicious Bill. Yes, a gluten-free diet can be quite tasty. It just requires more creativity and time in the kitchen.

  3. Hi, Tracy. Thanks for the shout-out on my post regarding whether everyone should go gluten free. As someone who can completely relate to your experiences, it deeply saddens me when people assume I’m GF because it’s the “current fad diet trend.” As you noted, it is NOT a fad for those of us who simply cannot tolerate gluten for whatever reason. I suffered for years with several chronic conditions and went through many expensive tests without definitive answers as to why my body was essential attacking itself. It wasn’t until I completely changed my diet to a whole food lifestyle and eliminated gluten that I began to see dramatic improvement in my health. As a result, I always encourage anyone who is experiencing ongoing health issues to consider the GF diet, even if “tests” don’t show gluten sensitivity. There are so many people suffering because most mainstream doctors still refuse to believe that gluten can be the root of many health issues outside of Celiac Disease. In my case, like many others, gluten sensitivity does not present as Celiac Disease or with the typical GI symptoms, Instead it can present with other less obvious symptoms that are often related to other diseases with medications prescribed to alleviate the symptoms, rather than trying to get to the root of the issue and resolve the underlying cause of the symptoms – which often can be gluten sensitivity. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for taking a stand and providing an informative and well presented argument for the fact that living gluten-free isn’t a fad. The one thing that I always highly recommend is that individuals really make sure they are committed to ensuring a well balanced diet and that they seek the help of a trusted healthcare professional, particularly if they are novices in the whole food gluten-free approach to living. Far too many people, leap into a new dietary lifestyle with little education about it and how to ensure good health. Simply going gluten-free while relying on the processed GF foods sold in grocery stores and health food stores is NOT a health lifestyle. Instead, all diets whether GF or not, should have their foundation rooted in a whole food approach to good nutrition, as I’m sure you’d agree. Thanks again! Blessings, Kelly

    • Tracy says:

      It sounds like we have similar stories, Kelly. I became disillusioned with the conventional medical establishment because my MDs couldn’t help me. They just wanted to give me drugs to cover up my symptoms. Like you said, some doctors refuse to accept that food can be a cause for real pain, or an agent for real healing. I agree that processed GF foods should be avoided, or only an occasional treat if tolerated. Eating real whole foods, the way that God created them, is the best way to live. God bless you as well!

  4. Great informative post. I have other friends with Celiac and I have heard them vent frustrations at others who think they are just on a “fad” diet. My favorite line from this post: “Trust me, I did not choose my life of food sensitivities because it’s fun or easy.” Preach!

  5. Catherine says:

    The main takeaway here, for me, is that it’s none of anyone’s business to criticize or question your food choices. I’m vegetarian and have been vegan for periods, and it bugged me that people felt justified in slamming my choices—that I made for my own well-thought-out reasons.

    From one alternative eater to another, keep doing whatever makes you and your body feel best. Haters gonna hate!

    • Tracy says:

      Thanks for your support Catherine. Congratulations on knowing what your body needs and being true to that. I think you’re right – the problem with “haters” is that they don’t think. They don’t think about how food affects their own body and they don’t think about how their words hurt others.

  6. Pech says:

    I think the poking fun of is that while I am sensitive to some of my friends who are truly gluten free, then there are a few people who tell me they are gluten free but then after scouring very carefully at menus at restaurants to make sure there is something gluten free or putting together a food item for a potluck that is gluten free, I then see them eating something which is not gluten free. This is not that different though of how F and other vegetarians feel for people who say they are vegetarian, and then turn out to eat fish and bacon. It’s those people who are giving the diet a bad name. I would never be irritated because of your diet… unless I make sincere effort to accommodate it and it turns out you just don’t want to eat carbs or fish. Ugh.

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