Celiac Disease Anyone?

Ginger Vieira Health Guide
  • Ten percent of Type 1 diabetics have celiac disease -- an intolerance to "gluten," which is the protein found in wheat (white flour), barely and rye. I was diagnosed with celiac a year after my diabetes diagnosis, and over the past few years, I've learned to stop telling people about it.


    Gluten is a huge part of the American diet (and many others, of course). There is an aisle in the grocery store that is literally 95 percent wheat products, and I don't usually bother to wander down it.


    I'm fortunate enough to have "Silent Celiac," which means I don't get most of the harsh symptoms many people experience when they ingest gluten, such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, fatigue, weight-loss or weight-gain, diarrhea, muscle cramps, itchy skin...the list goes on and on. The symptoms can be instant reactions from simply having bread at lunch, while others are a result of continuous consumption over a longer period of time.

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    So I can eat a bit here and there and basically not notice... but it is still bad for my small intestines (which is the organ that has trouble digesting the protein), and I avoid it as much as possible...with the exception of some birthday cake every now and then.


    I don't usually tell new friends or new co-workers about it anymore because of one major reason: It seems to give everyone the right to tell me what I can and cannot eat (even though they're often completely wrong), and they tend to question everything I eat as if they think I'm "breaking the rules."


    "You can eat that?" they ask me as I put a spoonful of rice or corn or mashed potato or oatmeal into my mouth.


    I used to just say, "Yes, there is no gluten in this...it is not wheat. Corn is corn. Rice is rice. Different plant. No gluten."


    Over the past few years, as my patience has drastically thinned, I've begun to respond with a bit more of tenacity, specifically to give the impression that these comments and essentially overbearing and mothering questions are not appreciated or necessary.


    "Gin, should you be eating that?" gasped a fellow co-worker at the sight of my steamed chicken and vegetables from the Chinese restaurant across the street. I'll repeat: STEAMED...in other words, as bland as a bland can be.


    "Do you see any wheat in this bowl?" I asked him. He stopped to think for a minute and couldn't come up with an answer. These kind of conversations are driving me crazy.


    It's also simply none of anyone else's business, another reason why I'm so impatient lately. Between the diabetes and the celiac, I was asked five or six questions about my health and food choices the other night during work.


    "You can't eat sugar. Do you eat chips? Why do you eat so many vegetables? Can you eat salt? Oh my god, you can't eat bagels? Spaghetti? Spaghetti has wheat in it? What about popcorn, you can't eat popcorn, right? Diabetes is caused by sugar, isn't it? And you'd probably die if you ate cake, right?"


    No. No. No. No. No. No.


  • Having acquired a very healthy diet over the past few years, people also balk every time I open a Tupperware container of vegetables or eat an apple.

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    "How can you eat that every day? You eat so healthy."

    "She has to," said another employee, "or she'd probably die."


    Great, thanks for that information. Can I eat my dinner now?


    I hear these kinds of statements ALL THE TIME. I'm not kidding -- at least a few times a week, if not more. It's incredibly sad that the sight of a healthy meal shocks people and results in a dozen questions. And yes, sometimes it's purely because they're interested... but sometimes it's just plain obnoxious and involves ignorant accusations rather than curious questions.


    And while some of these people are trying to check up on me as if they're doctors, they're smoking cigarettes and eating more greasy food at lunch than I've had in the past year. They don't take vitamins. They don't exercise regularly, and I doubt they've memorized the nutritional panel on the back of a yogurt container simply because they've looked at it so many times.


    And I don't harass them with questions every time they eat a nasty slice of pizza. I should ask them, "How can you eat that? What are you doing! You'll die! All that cholesterol! Ah! PUT IT DOWN! AH!"


    But being someone with two chronic illnesses, I know it's annoying when other people try to tell you how to take care of yourself. Perhaps, my new response to some of these questions might be simply a question for them....


    They'll ask, "Why do you eat so many vegetables?"

    I'll reply, "Why don't you eat any?"


    They'll ask, "Doesn't that have sugar in it? Should you eat that?"

    I'll reply, "Don't your cigarettes have nicotine and poisons in them?"


    If there are any readers with celiac, please let me know and we can talk about the disease further!


Published On: July 16, 2007