I Must Eat Gluten Free. I Choose to Eat Healthy

When people hear that I eat a gluten free diet because of celiac disease, there's one common reaction: statements like, "You must eat so healthy!" or "I wish I had your willpower!"

Sure, these people might mean well. And, yes, they are right on two points: 1. Not wanting to have extreme stomach pain or fatigue (plus other unmentionable symptoms) is a great motivation to eat gluten free. 2. I do eat healthy foods.

Is a gluten free diet healthy? The truth is, I must eat a gluten free diet...but I choose healthy foods to eat. Here's why a gluten free diet shouldn't be equated with a diet for weight loss, plus steps you can take to eat a healthy diet that works for you.

The problem with their compliment? Yes, I must eat a gluten free diet...but I choose to eat healthy. Confused? Here's exactly what I mean. 

"Gluten Free" Isn't Synonymous with "Healthy"

One of the most common errors in today's understanding of the gluten free diet is a simple one: people often equate gluten free food to a "diet." And in some ways it is. One of the definitions of diet is "food or drink regularly provided or consumed," according to the Webster dictionary. So am I on a gluten free diet? Yes, due to celiac disease, I only consume gluten free foods and drinks. However, I - like many other gluten free eaters - am not using a gluten free diet to lose weight. As a result, eating gluten free is often not a diet in the sense of being a "regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight." Nor is a gluten free diet the secret to eternal youth or perfect health.

In fact, recent research has found that eating gluten free can increase some people's risk of heart problems. Experts have also reported that gluten free foods commonly contain more calories, more sugar, more fats and less vitamins than their gluten-filled counterparts. So is a gluten free diet healthy? Sometimes...but often not.

Is a gluten free diet healthy? The truth is, I must eat a gluten free diet...but I choose healthy foods to eat. Here's why a gluten free diet shouldn't be equated with a diet for weight loss, plus steps you can take to eat a healthy diet that works for you.
This cinnamon roll is gluten free and vegan. Healthy? Not so much.

So What Is the Gluten Free Diet Really For?

I can't ignore the fact that some people do lose weight on a gluten free diet. However, those who do usually aren't actually eating "gluten free." They're just not eating the processed gluten-filled foods - ranging from bread to cakes to cereal - that they used to regularly enjoy. 

In fact, the gluten free diet really isn't really a "diet" at all. It's a form of medicine - the only medicine available - for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. One in 133 Americans has celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which ingesting gluten causes intestinal damage. I'm one of them. 

Celiac disease has over 200 symptoms, ranging from digestive issues to skin rashes to brain fog. If celiacs continue to ingest gluten for a long time, they can even experience long-term health complications like cancer, other autoimmune diseases and gluten ataxia (brain problems). 


I Must Eat Gluten Free. I Choose to Eat Healthy

But what about all the people who eat gluten free but don't have celiac? After all, the number of Americans who reportedly avoid gluten has tripled in the last five years...even though there's still only around 1.76 million Americans with celiac disease. While many of those people are probably fad dieters, others may have something called gluten intolerance. What is gluten intolerance? Basically, it's when people don't have celiac disease but gluten still makes them feel like C-R-A-P

The medical community has long disputed the existence of gluten intolerance. However, this is the bottom line: recent research reports that some people experience a leaky gut and chronic inflammation, both of which benefit from a gluten free diet. (And, on a personal note, my mom has gluten intolerance, so I've seen firsthand how much gluten can hurt some people, even if they don't have celiac disease!)

Do you feel cruddy every time you eat wheat? Then a gluten free diet may be the "healthiest" way for you to eat. But if you don't have any of the medical issues that could benefit from a gluten free diet, think twice about ditching whole wheat for gluten free bread.

So How Can People Really Eat Healthy?

Honestly, one of the most frustrating parts of people equating "gluten free" to "healthy" is that they are discounting all of the work I do to eat healthy. Because, to be blunt, eating a healthy diet takes work. 

It takes self-control to choose a veggie-loaded smoothie bowl over a gluten free cinnamon roll for breakfast. It takes preparation to have grilled fish and roasted veggies ready for me after my college class instead of hitting Chick Fil A for the second time that week. It takes time to retrain your taste buds and honestly prefer eating homemade granola for a night snack instead of ice cream.

I Must Eat Gluten Free. I Choose to Eat Healthy
Like my favorite Zucchini Bread Nana Ice Cream...

And the key to eating healthy isn't necessarily following a certain diet, whether it's gluten free, low carb, high fat or anything in between. Yes, it's important to find the foods that make you feel your best. For someone with celiac disease, they're gluten free foods. For someone else, whole grains might be just as healthy. 

However, personalizations aside, there are steps every person can take to eat healthy, regardless of what "diet" they feel best on. Although I'm no dietician or food expert, my journey with celiac disease and healthy eating has taught me a few tricks, like:
  • Always having healthy snacks nearby because nothing says "face-plant-into-ice-cream" like being hangry and desperate. 
  • Adding veggies to every meal I can, whether by putting shredded zucchini into my oatmeal (tons of volume but no veggie taste!), replacing spaghetti noodles with zoodles, or even making sliders using roasted sweet potato rounds instead of buns. 
  • Making processed foods a staple in, but not majority of, my diet. To those who don't eat any processed foods and feel great, I'm happy for you. In my case, I don't have the time to cook everything from scratch (hello college + job + blog) and protein bars or scones help me get the calories I need with less bloating ('cause too much fiber can be ugly). 
  • Finding healthy recipes that you honestly look forward to eating. Everyone's taste buds, caloric needs and daily schedules are different, so don't expect to follow your friend's meal plan and LOVE every meal (unless they're one crazy good cook). Instead, experiment with enough recipes until you have a few solid favorites that you can regularly make and enjoy. If you actually like your "healthy" meals, you're more likely to stick to eating healthy. 
I Must Eat Gluten Free. I Choose to Eat Healthy

What I want people to know most about my gluten free diet? Because of celiac disease, I need to eat gluten free. However, it's my choice to ditch fried chicken for baked fish...and you don't have to go gluten free to make the same decision

*This post also appears at Sleek Physique.com*

Do people ever assume you eat "healthy" because you're gluten free? Can you relate to any of my points? Tell me your thoughts in the comments! 

Comments

  1. I have a best friend who has celiac disease too. She actually helps her parents on a farm they own to keep as healthy as she can. It must be so hard! I don't know if i could pass up a cinnamon roll of any kind, hah.

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    1. I definitely enjoyed the heck out of my gluten free cinnamon roll ;)

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  2. I have a friend with celiac and she often runs into the same issues. It's a need not a want!

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  3. Gluten intolerant person right here! [jumps up and down with hand raised]
    Unfortunetly because I dont have Celiac and thus can't say that I have the "disease", most people don't take my gluten intolerance seriously, which is CRAZY frustrating. I'm basically just one of those "crazy" people following the latest "trend". BUT going gluten free was the best choice for ME - and I'm not going to let someone else who doesn't experience my symptoms tell me what I should and shouldn't eat!

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    1. I think it's so sad that people don't take gluten intolerance seriously. My mom has it and I've seen first-hand how REAL it really is! As long as going gluten free is the best diet medically for you, no one should question your decision! Sending lots of gluten free love your way! <3

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    2. Yeeeeeeeeeeeees. Shared this all over. I feel like it's so trendy to be gluten-free right now that people don't actually realize that people ACTUALLY have a gluten allergy. And it's not just something they're doing in an effort to lose weight.

      Which is why, as you say, it's become tied to eating healthy.

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  4. I am not 100% sold on gluten free foods however, I have had items similar to the ones you posted and they are to die for! It's not a bad transition to All American foods, to healthy less kill you diet.

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    1. I think everyone can def benefit from eating more naturally gluten free foods like veggies, fruits, and whole grains :)

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  5. Hi Casey,
    Thank you for this informative and interesting post. I too make a choice to eat healthy and gluten free. But you are so right that there are so many unhealthy gluten free choices that could be eaten just as well. Most people think that anything gluten free is healthier which to your point in untrue. You did such a good job explaining it..

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    1. Glad you can relate, Judee, and thanks for the kind words. Have a fabulous day!

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  6. Diet is probably the wrong moniker to describe your way of life Casey 💖

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    1. Agreed. More like epically delicious lifestyle ;) Have an awesome week Ritu!

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  7. Diet is probably the wrong moniker to describe your way of life Casey 💖

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  8. You certainly look like a healthy gluten-free diet agrees with you! xoxo

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  9. So interesting and informative - I didn't know much of this before reading.

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  10. Great post. Do you find you need other foods to supplement for nutrients you might be missing from gluten products? Like not eating wheat causes a vitamin deficiency?

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