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Myth: Gluten-free is for Celiac patients only

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The choice to go gluten-free is personal and one that I’ve found generally comes out of medical necessity for most people. The majority of people I’ve met who are GF eliminated gluten after receiving a diagnosis of Celiac Disease. And though GF lifestyles are becoming more common, it appears Celiac diagnoses are still relatively infrequent. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 85% of people with Celiac Disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions, and the average time it takes for a person to be accurately diagnosed is 6-10 years!

If you’ve noticed, gluten-free foods are showing up even in mainstream grocery stores and even some restaurants are now offering gluten-free menus. Thanks to organizations like the Association for Celiac Awareness, many restaurants (including some Chicagoland establishments) have trained their staff to ensure the gluten-free meals they serve are free from cross-contact with foods that contain gluten. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer their customers GF resources and label many of their gluten-free foods in their stores, suggesting the GF customer base is on the rise. This past summer an all gluten-free bakery (Cookie Bar) popped up two blocks from my house.

So why are gluten-free diets so popular today when diagnosed cases are often slow to occur? My guess – which comes mostly from being a part of this gluten-free movement and talking to many, many gluten-free individuals – is that people are starting to take matters into their own hands by simply eliminating gluten and self-determining that this ingredient is the culprit for their symptoms. Symptoms associated with both Celiac and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity can vary  and may include digestive issues, joint pain, fatigue, eczema, headaches and fogginess, and the list goes on and on and on….

I’ve personally never received a diagnosis for Celiac but my reactions to foods that contain gluten have made it quite clear that it does NOT belong in my body! You name the symptom, I’ve experienced it – depression, eczema, chronic joint pain, severe irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, nausea, fibromyalgia and migraines.  My husband jokes that through my 20’s all I ever wanted to do was take a nap – and he’s just about right.  I had difficulty staying awake during the day even after getting upwards of 12 hours of sleep the night before. My symptoms plagued me from my early teens through my 20’s yet I had no apparent health conditions – on paper I was healthy. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that a healthcare provider suggested that I try eliminating some foods, including those that contained gluten, to see if my symptoms improved. And so I did and I figured out rather quickly that when on a gluten-free diet, my symptoms significantly improved. Whenever I’ve re-introduced gluten to check if it really is toxic to my body, the symptoms re-appear.

Moral of the story: You don’t always need a diagnosis to move forward in healing yourself. If you suspect a food like gluten is causing or contributing to your health problems, take it upon yourself to eliminate it. If you feel better – congratulations! – this likely means you’ve unlocked at least one way to contribute to your overall health! In my case, gluten-free living did not require a Celiac Disease diagnosis…rather just my willingness to pay attention to how I felt with and without gluten in my diet.