Isn’t Not Being Sick Enough?

Ahh, gluten, the latest bad boy of the dinner plate according to popular theory. There’s been a huge spike in the media sexiness of passing on wheat products. You can’t go anywhere without hearing the hype and seeing the products. You can’t go anywhere without someone having a hand-wringing session over it.

I’ve been around the block enough times at this point to know when a food issue is being blown out of proportion by now.

And no, it’s not that I think there’s no such thing as gluten sensitivity. If there’s a food out there, someone is allergic to it on some level. It’s more a case of stick around long enough, and some other food that a relatively small number of people have difficulty processing successfully will suddenly become the reason that ‘everyone’ is sick and become a media scare. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make anyone at all sick. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware. We just shouldn’t panic so about it.

In fact, a friend of mine was recently put on a gluten free diet by her doctor because she showed specific symptoms that can indicate gluten sensitivity. This is what we call evidence based medical treatment, and I’m wholly in favor of that.

So a couple weeks into the new regimen, the scaly hand condition that nothing could solve… yeah, it’s going away after some five or six years. She’s got more energy and less digestive issues. In short, my friend really, truly is gluten sensitive and needed to do this for her health. It’s working.

The funny thing is, that doesn’t seem to be enough for some people. Just last night, my friend and I were out grooving to a local band (as it happens, the one Mr. Twistie and my friend’s brother are in) and a couple of her friends (as in: she knows them a lot better than I do, not as in they’re people I dislike) showed up to support the band and have a nosh at the cool neighborhood cafe the band was playing. My friend told her friends about going gluten free and how much better she was feeling.

All three more or less dismissed the ‘feeling better’ bit with a desultory ‘that’s nice’ kind of comment. Then they eagerly asked if it had any other benefits. As in: how much weight have you lost?

Seriously?

The end of a series of symptoms ranging from aesthetically annoying to seriously uncomfortable are going away in a matter of a couple weeks after years of suffering, and that’s not enough for you? It isn’t a good thing until she fits into smaller clothes?

And how sad is it that I didn’t know my friend was on a doctor-prescribed regimen for a specific problem until last night? Frankly, when I saw she had a book on living gluten free and was suddenly asking in restaurants what did and didn’t have wheat or barley in it, I was afraid to ask whether this was because of doctor’s orders or because she had decided this was going to finally be The Answer to her lifelong ‘weight problem’… just like low carb, low fat, sugar free, and dozens of other food trends have been The Answer as long as I’ve known her. For the record, not one has worked for her no matter how carefully she followed instructions.

This, my friends, is a perfect illustration of how screwed up our attitudes about food, and about health are at present. I assumed a medical intervention for a specific problem was probably another trendy diet, and all her other friends discount the specific good it is doing her because it’s not having the perceived good they expected.

We desperately need to get beyond weight as shorthand for health or illness. It’s bad for everyone.

16 Responses to “Isn’t Not Being Sick Enough?”

  1. Lora September 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    So glad your friend has found something that is working for her symptoms.

    I stopped eating grains some time ago because I seem to have no control once I start eating products made from them (whole grain, processed, whatever). I end up overeating and then being bloaty and miserable for a couple of hours and decided that the easiest thing for me to end the discomfort was to stop eating them. Nothing to do with weight loss or anything else.

    When people happen to notice, there are all kinds of responses from folks assuming I have an allergy, to assuming I’m trying to lose weight, to a sneering kind of response for following trends. Occasionally I choose to explain why I’m not eating them and that simply results in suggestions in support of boosting my will-power so I can eat them without overeating. Sheesh! I just said this makes me feel better – why does it feel like a challenge to anyone else?

  2. Julie September 30, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    A good friend of mine has severe Celiac disease (he was actually discharged from the military because of the severity of his symptoms when he is exposed to gluten.) It’s amusing how many people assume he is eating a gluten-free diet to lose weight, especially since he’s gained quite a bit of weight since changing his diet. But when you see how much sugar and fat are added to the “convenience” gluten-free products, it really shouldn’t be a surprise.

  3. teteatete September 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Food is a touchy subject because this country has forgotten how to eat properly. Being pulled in too many directions has left a rudderless society in search of instruction. Instruction that the food industry and Government are all too willing to give–it’s just terrible advice.

    Michael Pollan made the very good point to eat like your grandparents. But soon, that bit of advice won’t be current. And who will remember what their great-grandparents ate? There needs to be a sea-change away from low-fat, processed food to real things like butter, lard, eggs, and cooking your own meals more often.

    Eating real food until satisfied is a much better way to live. There is some hard, solid science that is FINALLY coming to light about the way in which Western society eats that is debunking the past 30 years of advice, but it is terrifying to the brainwashed masses: fat is good for you. Sugar is not. This isn’t to say that an occasional fabulous dessert isn’t ok, it IS ok. Just not all the time because for many, many people, the insulin spikes that accompany eating sugar or carbohydrates sparks a vicious cycle of hunger.

    I’m sorry this is off-topic, but seriously people, eat the damn bacon and eggs for breakfast. Avoid cereal, toast, bagels and donuts as they won’t keep you full and you’ll be hungry two hours later. You’ll be able to get on with your day and be in a much better place mentally with all that fat greasing the wheels of your made-of-fat brain.

    Humans have only eaten grains for a few thousand years, since the dawn of agriculture. Eating what we evolved to eat in the first place: meat, plants, seeds, nuts and some fruit just makes more sense. The reason that sugar is such a desired thing by our brains is that the fruit season was short, people at their fill and then they didn’t have it available til the next season. It wasn’t a readily available commodity 24/7. Conversations about this have to happen, because as a nation we ARE getting sicker and it IS tied to nutrition. Weight is incidental to that, in my opinion. In non-Western countries who have adopted or are adopting Western diets, they’re developing the same issues our society has. It’s a difficult thing to self-examine and make the tough choices, but it really has to happen.

    Call it paleo or keto or whatever you want. I don’t consider it a fad, I consider it eating the way we evolved to eat. Incidentally, there might be weight-loss, but for me, the fact that I bound through my day not constantly feeling the need to think about my next snack or meal because I’m truly satisfied has been liberating. And, BACON!

  4. Liz September 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    Did anyone else find the teteatete comment kind of preachy? I eat Keto myself, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

  5. KESW September 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    I appreciated your comment, teteatete (talking about someone in the third person immediately after them in the comment thread strikes me as a touch rude, however).

    I think that what you had yo say is valuable information that people need to hear, especially, I think because eating in a more whole foods type of way reopens a lot of the joy of eating that our culture has denied itself with our (almost arcane) rules and rituals to deny ourselves and maintain our figures. I am not gluten free, but I think there are many peoplewho could find relief from chronic issues by reducing gluten in their diets (especially those with autoimmune or inflammatory diseases). I think the ubiquity of gluten talk nowadays is something of a two-edged sword because those who might need to hear about it for their health might just dismiss it as nothing more than the latest fad diet.

  6. Teteatete September 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Liz, I respectfully request that you dial down your offense-o-meter. Have some bacon and simmer down.

  7. Miss Plumcake October 1, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    @Teteatete: Dial it down. I’m all for Sunday morning preaching, but not on my blog.

  8. teteatete October 1, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    I really fail to see how that was preachy. It was perhaps strident, but it wasn’t intended to be any type of sermon. Especially when it’s finished with an exhortation for bacon. I think it’s exciting that there’s finally some science backing up eating traditionally, which, to my mind, is what Twistie advocates quite often. Much of the rest of what I stated is fact: i.e. only eating grains since the advent of agriculture. Which could explain why there is a significant number of people who are sensitive to gluten.

    Anyway, I wasn’t trying to start a fight. Quite the opposite; I think it’s information worth shouting from the rafters. If my tone was off the mark, I apologize, but I think the smackdown was uncalled for.

  9. aa October 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    “I’m sorry this is off-topic, but seriously people, eat the damn bacon and eggs for breakfast. Avoid cereal, toast, bagels and donuts as they won’t keep you full and you’ll be hungry two hours later. You’ll be able to get on with your day and be in a much better place mentally with all that fat greasing the wheels of your made-of-fat brain.”

    Exactly HOW is that non-preachy? How is my breakast any of your business?

    (Also “all that fact greasing the wheels of your made-of-fat brain” is… how shall I put it? Laughably pseudoscientific?)

  10. ChaChaHeels October 2, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    People somehow have become conned into glamourizing illness. Not being able to digest gluten is a sign of an illness, it is not “chic”. A gluten free diet helps to alleviate the distress and pain of eating (and I understand the value of sweet relief) but it rarely makes anyone look “great”. Allergies to various foods or environmental non-negotiables are not a sign of your unique personality and charm, they are a sign that you are ill. There has become some kind of quiet moral value assigned now to being in need of medical intervention. It doesn’t make you weak and sickly in society’s eyes anymore; now it makes you fashionable.

    It’s sad that the focus is put on masking that illness, and so people are coerced into following temporarily palliative diets, but no one tries to figure out what the heck has been done to wheat as a staple food that suddenly makes a small (but even that small number is significant) portion of the population unable to digest that food. Same with dairy. Same with fish. Same with nuts. No one is trying to restore the full health that would enable ingesting those foods (on which we’ve thrived for so long we’ve actually developed a need for them now) without difficulty. No one is trying to stop growing the altered versions of these foods which for the first time in history seem to make people so sick, after being part of the diet for millennia. People who suffer from this illness are told that they have to work hard to avoid anything that causes their bodies to react to the illness. As if the future didn’t include an ever increasing list of foods and things to avoid, since the basic illness is never actually addressed by cutting out what seems to be the source of an irritation or allergy.

    That’s my .02 cents on the issue, accuse me of “preachy” all you want. But like Teteatete, we’re all entitled to an opinion. And it is just an opinion, you’re not obligated to agree, and you don’t have to “redeem your soul” with targeted invective if you don’t agree.

  11. Teteatete October 2, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    That’s an interesting point I didn’t think of, ChaCha. I wonder though, are people reall more sick now or is diagnosis better? Was a “delicate constitution” of yesteryear actually an allergy? I’m not sure.

    Also, AA, the human brain is composed of something like 65% fatty acids, and one needs to eat enough fat to maintain proper brain function, so I’m perplexed by your pseudoscience comment.

  12. aa October 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    I know that the brain is composed to a large extent of fatty acids, Teteatete. It is also composed of water. That doesn’t mean you have to drink a bucket of water a day to “grease(or wash) the wheels”.

    Also, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids tend to be recommended in this respect – the sort of acids you can find in fish, for example.

    I just find ANY food jeremiads (of the kind “carbohydrates are EVIL”, “fat is EVIL”, “mixing protein and carbs is EVIL”, etc.) enormously annoying, particularly when they are clothed in “evolutionary” arguments. Food is not evil. Everything in moderation is the key – and I mean EVERYTHING.

  13. ChaChaHeels October 3, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    Teteatete, diagnosis is definitely not better, and I keep hearing this question being applied to all kinds of medical issues, such as autism, where again, the food issue comes up. In order for diagnosis to be “better” now, doctors would have had to have been stupefyingly ignorant in the past to miss the overwhelming numbers of sufferers today. There’s no way so much pathology could have been ignored or “unseen” by doctors practicing in the past. There is change taking place in our overall health, particularly when you consider that, as a society, we’ve never had such easy access to enough food, potable water, shelter, sanitation, and rest before. It seems the more ideal our living standards have become, the less healthy we are as a whole group (and if you’re in the “baby boomer” group, we’re actually less healthy than our parents were. The generation we brought into this world is already less healthy than we are). It has harmed us all considerably that our food culture has been destroyed and replaced by one that serves only to benefit big and powerful corporations with shoddy product to sell. We really do have a surplus of food–but the vast majority of what we’re told is “healthy” food is just not healthy for us.

    Also, omega 3′s and omega 6′s are not enough to fill the nutrient needs of the brain and the nervous system, and the brain really does need the nutrients that come from fat more than it needs any from other kinds of macro-nutrients. That’s not “pseudoscience”, it’s just plain old Chemistry.

  14. Jo October 3, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    What an interesting post, so glad your friend is improving. I thought back to when various friends of mine have variously tried or (allegedly) “been put” on diets, often of the fad type, and my own reaction when discussing it. I think I did, and to be honest would still behave exactly as you describe and assume that it was primarily about weight loss/control, rather than health. But that attitude stems from my own experience, which is to say that those diets – usually elimination ones – have been lauded by the friends as benefitting weight loss primarily, and any health improvements have been more incidental. Perhaps we react in the way that the friends would most appreciate… Perhaps that means I have the wrong type of friends too! :) (but I still love ‘em).
    .
    On a related note, my mother eliminated acidic and citrus fruits from her diet because she found that they gave her indigestion and er, lower digestive tract issues. She was later diagnised with advanced bowel cancer. I guess sometimes avoiding certain food types can mask the really serious underlying issues that their genuine intolerance can symptomise. (She is currently in remission and loving her orange juice again).

  15. Tovah October 4, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    I found this really interesting as I am 45 minutes away from a visit with my gastroenterologist. I went on a modified Atkins diet, staying away from all carb, however, I did have fruits and vegetables. That began a 3 month bout of the most horrible constipation ever. I was given so much medication to just get myself going and really, nothing was working well.

    I told the doctor about my diet and he said, “I don’t think that’s the diet for you”. I don’t know why I didn’t follow up with the question “for me? Or for everyone?”

    Anyway, thousands of dollars of tests later (Cat scan, colonoscopy, endoscopy, doctors visits) and I’m just a little bit better.

    I am going to ask him about gluten sensitivity anyway. I just feel like I’m spinning my wheels right now.

    I hope I get a clue today what’s going on.

  16. Kristin October 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    I tried going gluten-free in solidarity with my father and it didn’t do a damn thing for me with regards to health or weight. My dad was diagnosed with dermatitis herpetiformis last year at the ripe old age of 66, after never having a food allergy in his life. Now gluten gives him an extremely itchy, blistered rash all over his body, so he has to be very vigilant about what he eats. He was diagnosed shortly after my mother passed away, so he was just getting used to cooking for himself when he was hit with this. So I figured I’d try out the gluten-free lifestyle so that I could give him recipes, cooking tips, and shopping help. I did it for two months and actually felt worse – more sluggish, with frequent stomachaches and headaches, and I felt bloated all the time. Dad, on the other hand, is doing great, except for the time I accidentally poisoned him with ibuprofen (I didn’t realize some brands have wheat starch in them as a binding agent – whoops). The thing that drives me nuts is when people assume that everyone who’s avoiding gluten is doing it because it’s trendy or because they want to lose weight; I just want to say, “Yes, my elderly widowed father is SO concerned with being thin and cool .” It’s nice that there are more gluten-free products available and more awareness about cross-contamination issues, but there has definitely been a corresponding increase in scoffing at those who don’t eat gluten and thinking they’re just doing it to lose weight.