There are times when I’m irked to no end about the problems and pitfalls that lie in plain view of anyone going gluten-free. Though you might not see them, I do (all the time) because of my work through Gluten Free School.
I’m often annoyed when attending celiac events at the immense focus on eating junk food. Though I get that it’s great to eat things that are familiar, most of the folks attending these events aren’t walking away to a life absent of gluten-free cookies, cakes and treats. If anything, experiences like this only reinforce unhealthy food options giving them more gluten-free junk food to pick from.
These are my own observations that come from a place steeped in concern for the message of what gluten-free actually looks like from people and organizations who set the tone for newbies and those struggling. And though I admit that I do occasionally indulge, I’m not pointing fingers at you my friends. What I’m hoping to express is my deep concern for a way of living gluten-free that’s completely unsustainable.
You might be wondering where this is coming from…
There were two events recently which really triggered this article. The first came when I picked up the Fall edition of Gluten Free Living magazine at the store because I wanted to see what they were writing about. The tagline of the magazine reads: “Leading the Way to a Happy, Healthy Gluten-Free Life” with a photo of pizza on the cover.
The main focus of this issue was “Pizza Perfected” with a nod to “Hamburgers & hot dogs you can enjoy”. As I flipped open the magazine, the first two pages display ads for Hard Apple Cider and Pizza. And though they touched briefly on “Farm-to-Table” eating as well as the growing number of food trucks in the US, there was no mention of healthier ways to make any of the headlined foods.
As for the cover story on gluten-free pizza, I can’t say that the author (and thus the magazine) made any effort to discuss the topic from a “how you can make this healthier” perspective. Instead, it was “here are 6 great recipes” that are highly processed, diabetic nightmares (which the regular GF Joe probably doesn’t even realize) for a population of folks who should be incredibly alarmed at the incidence of hormonal issues (like thyroid disease and even diabetes) within our community.
These stories focus very little on being healthy and, though it’s okay to occasionally indulge, I’m not sure how a magazine that describes itself as ‘healthy’ fills both it’s publishing pages and ad space with food that’s not in any sense healthy. Thanks to the efforts of magazines, authors and bloggers who regularly and inappropriately use the word “Healthy”, it has become completely meaningless. Its like the word “Natural”… so overly used by the food corporations seeking to sell things that really aren’t so.
Why are pizza, hamburgers and hotdogs even being discussed in a conversation supposedly rooted in “being healthy”? Because magazines (and others out there who write) know that people generally love the idea of being healthy, but really want to eat junk. Thus the two are tied together and no one bats an eye as everyone says in sync “…but it’s gluten-free, right?”
That question has become the bain of my existence and is a constant reminder every time I hear it that there is so much work still to be done in untangling the ideas of “healthy” and “gluten-free”.
And then incident #2…
In being constantly steeped in my GF Sugar Cleanse group, I read testimonial after testimonial of the folks describing how they ended up being where they are now… totally addicted to sugar and gluten-free junk food. Their suffering, confusion over what to eat and the sense that all of these folks know they deserved better, straighter answers about what was really “healthy” is eye-opening. Frankly, it makes me downright angry because I believe that GF folks like yourself have been misled to believe that if you just continue to eat the same junk (minus the gluten), you’ll be fine.
I’m also frustrated that I’ve been outright told by very well known gluten-free bloggers that talking about the ‘health’ issues associated with processed gluten-free food isn’t all that important. AND that I shouldn’t call them out for promoting a lifestyle that appears hinged on eating cakes, treats and sticky buns all day long. In my book, it sets a poor example.
I’m saddened and worried for the people in our community… too many to count… who are eating themselves into a health nightmare and feeling like there is no way out.
I’m disgusted that some gluten-free advocacy organizations out there that won’t even acknowledge the issues that I speak of because of their corporate sponsors (you know… that whole conflict of interest thing??).
On top of it all, the gluten-free category for the food product industry is booming. That often puts your health on the back burner for most companies as they try to use any sort of health claims they can to sell products (ie. “Fat Free” – translation often ends up meaning the product is loaded with high glycemic starchy carbs and sugar). Though there are some companies that do honestly care about providing honest-to-goodness real food, plenty of the processed junk labeled gluten-free is loaded with genetically modified crops (GMO), uber processed starches, bizarre ingredients (I recently saw a bread product with bamboo fiber in it – wtf???), and other random crap that is not good for you.
The saving grace of this tirade is…
I feel a deep sense of loyalty and compassion for my fellow gluten-free folks out there. I know how hard it is to make the transition to eating gluten-free (I’m from a Italian family who still makes a ton of food from scratch and has living ties to the towns in Italy where my family is from.). I’ve been questioned up the wazoo about why I eat this way and if I’m on the Adkins Diet. And I’ve also gotten sick (twice!!) even after going gluten-free from eating food that was more junk than actual food. My adrenals and digestive tract certainly thank me for changing my ways.
And I’m inspired constantly by my clients and the changes that they make with some support behind them. They are undoing patterns which are often deeply rooted and downright uncomfortable at times all in the name of taking back control. My clients make me believe in my mission even more. Their successes are truly my shining stars while their willingness to share their stories are reasons and reminders of why I can’t stop what I’m doing.
I know you’re out there…
This all said, I want to connect with other like-minded GF folks out there who are serious about having and transforming the conversation about a healthy gluten-free diet. I seek friends, partners and even medical folks who share my concerns. If you’re looking for a place to share your thoughts, your data, your experiences, I want to hear them!
And I want to hear from the regular GF folks like yourselves who also share in my dismay (and maybe even anger). What’s your story?
See, Gluten Free School isn’t about me. It’s about us as a community or tribe supporting each other to navigate through and thrive in this (finite) amount of time we’ve each got on this planet. Going gluten-free isn’t easy, but with the support, tenacity and fortitude of a community, anything is possible… and life as you know it can become dramatically smoother.
As my community, if what I’m sharing with you resonates in any way, please SHARE this post. Tweet it, put it on your Facebook page (and ‘like’ Gluten Free School while you’re at it) and leave a comment below.
I know in my heart that I’m not alone.