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Raging Against the Gluten-Free Fad

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Gryphon Myers

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In a recent article on the Science 2.0 blog titled “Celiac: The Trendy Disease for Rich White People”, a blogger named Hank Campbell rants and raves about the current gluten-free, or as he sees it, celiac disease fad. He begins, “Are you white and a little resentful that black people get their own cool disease, sickle cell anemia? There is good news for you. Celiac disease is all the latest rage and you can be any color at all and claim it”. He keeps this tone up throughout the entirety of the piece: he is bitter, but it would seem that he is bitter about the general behavior of “liberals”, rather than fad dieters specifically.

While Mr. Campbell is likely just a grumpy old man who we shouldn't pay any heed to, his views seem to echo certain opinions within the celiac disease community. Many celiac sufferers do (often justifiably) feel that the “fad” status of the gluten-free diet has robbed them of their credibility: they feel that even though they HAVE to adhere to a gluten-free diet to stay healthy, they now run the risk of being perceived as fad dieters (by people like Hank Campbell). Hank mentions “real Celiac victims”, but it's almost as if he doesn't believe they exist, because he seems to think that a meaningful number of people are not just adopting the gluten-free diet, but pretending they have celiac disease. The brunt of his critique falls on the 'fad celiac disease sufferer', if such a thing even exists. I am sure he would have you believe is the majority of people on the gluten-free diet right now.

The problem with Mr. Campbell's writing (and really, his opinion) is that he is raging against a stereotype that I am not sure exists. Who is pretending they have celiac disease? He spends a lot of words trying to prop up a straw man, and to what purpose, I'm not really sure (some commentators have posited that he has a political or pro-vaccine agenda). But he is minimizing the fact that celiac disease is a real disease and many people HAVE to abide by a gluten-free diet in order to preserve their health. It is not a “trendy disease for rich white people”. 

The real message we should be taking away from Mr. Campbell is that celiac disease is ultimately a disease, not a club. The gluten-free diet may be experiencing an explosion right now, but when you think about how hard of a diet it is to stick with, the reality is that many of these fad dieters will quickly lose interest and drop it anyway. Ultimately, the “gluten-free fad” is only helping the celiac community, as more people than ever are getting diagnosed. It is hard not to be embittered by people who adopt a gluten-free lifestyle halfheartedly, and only to stroke their own egos, but that will pass, and if it helps more people get diagnosed, that is very positive thing.

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Fad diet huh? Many people consider vegetarianism a fad diet.

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Guest maitrimama

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Comparing following a vegetarian diet to a gluten-free diet in response to celiac disease is like comparing apples to coconuts, it doesn't make sense.

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I believe it was a stab at me, because I am a vegetarian and it says so in my bio. It saddens me though, because if she read my post she would have seen that I am not calling the gluten-free diet a fad diet. I acknowledge that there are fad dieters (which there are, you can't deny that), but overall I am commenting on people who call the gluten-free diet a fad diet, and who dismiss the very real needs of sufferers of celiac disease.

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I have long thought that gluten-free eating has become a fad but there are advantages to this, such as, much more gluten free food available for those of us who really are sensitive or allergic to gluten. Manufacturers always jump onto food fads, even healthy ones. And right now that is a very good thing for us.

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It doesn't help people who must follow a gluten or allergen free diet, when the docs on 'The Doctors' TV program tell people who just want to avoid excess calories when they eat out, to fake a food allergy. They actually gave that advice last season. That sure makes it harder for us to be taken seriously, when we say there are foods we can't eat, because they make us sick.

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Guest Emily Becker

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Since I cut gluten, I've reversed my Alopecia. And I am middle class which means, in this economy I'm broke.

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I am a chronic celiac disease sufferer you don't want to be in my shoes not even for a minute the slightest detection of wheat or gluten is a hospital case 10 minutes after swallowing you feel suicidal and just want to put a knife through your stomach to remove whatever is hurting. I lose control of my bowels, vomit and start losing function of major organs except my hearing. Be in my shoes for a day before taking about fad diets.

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It really is a shame that someone would waste time and publish an article like that. Celiac disease is very real, very difficult to manage and very scary. I wonder if this is just a way for him to get attention or if he is just a complete moron.

 

Living gluten free isn't some trendy fad. Actually it's great that some celebrities are helping to promote awareness to the disease and the benefits of the lifestyle!

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About a month ago I went gluten-free after a friend (who has celiac disease) saw my face as I came out of the bathroom. I have spent the last 2 years examining what I was eating and trying to figure out what was making me so bloated/tummy upset by noon everyday. She suggested that I eat as normal, but eliminate gluten entirely for 2 weeks. I now feel much better, have more energy, am not bloated, etc. That being said, I recently ate one slice of pizza in a moment of weakness... I spent the rest of the night throwing up, have been exhausted all weekend, and no appetite. I think, even without a test, I am definitely gluten sensitive... it's not easy to adapt, and for those who declare it's a diet trend, I agree with the article... they won't make it... it's very hard and it's even harder to have someone ask me if I'm trying to lose weight when all I'm trying to do is feel better!

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I'm thin to begin with, but when I weighed in at 95 pounds after months of feeling horrible, I went to a holistic doctor - the blood test wasn't cheap but yes, I'm gluten intolerant. I am taking repair-vite to heal my guts and I have been eating proteins and fruits and veggies for weeks now and feel sooo much better. I will be able to have dairy and rice/potatos soon! Another year of gluten in my system and I would have died from mal-nutrition or cancer for sure!! Gluten-free isn't a choice-it's a necessity.

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I agree Gryphon, that there is definitely a lot of "oh, you're into that" by people that think gluten-free is a fad... and on top of that, it really is frustrating to have to endure uninformed ragers such as Campbell - let alone your own friends or acquaintances that don't necessarily rage, but don't truly understand. It's an educational process that hopefully Campbell will have to understand one day as his own friends/family are diagnosed - it is rare that I say I have celiac disease at a business dinner and don't have the other person tell me they have a friend, sibling, child, or themselves, just diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. The hardest part is that it is difficult to make people understand that while we won't drop dead on the floor immediately from a bit of gluten, it's a serious systemic autoimmune reaction that occurs. I think that is the most frustrating part - that people think that a little won't hurt.

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Guest Marianne

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My main frustrations with those that eliminate gluten as a fad are these: firstly, before non- coeliacs take the last gluten-free loaf on the shelf please remember there are people whose health depends on these products and for us there is no "lifestyle choice" and leave it there! Secondly gluten-free products are not necessarily any healthier than gluten containing equivalents. The number of people I have met that for some reason think that gluten-free products have some greater nutritional value than their non-gluten-free counterparts constantly surprises me. They don't! Hate to break it to fad dieters - everybody farts! Occasional bloating is not unusual in non coeliacs. Substituting gluten-free items in a diet that is overall not particularly healthy will not make any difference to you if you are not a coeliac.

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Guest Plumbago

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You referred to the blogger as Hank Williams in the top third or so of the article. I think you meant Campbell.

 

Joy said, "I am a chronic celiac disease sufferer you don't want to be in my shoes not even for a minute the slightest detection of wheat or gluten is a hospital case 10 minutes after swallowing you feel suicidal"

 

My understanding of anatomy and physiology is that it takes some amount of time for the bolus/chyme to reach the small intestine where the Celiac reaction occurs. For a reaction like Joy's, which is instantaneous, would that not be more in line with an allergy?

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Guest Gryphon

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Haha, thanks for catching that. I actually caught myself trying to type Williams a few times when I was writing it... guess I missed this one. I guess Mr. Williams has ingrained himself in my mind as the one and only Hank, which is funny because I don't even listen to his music.

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You did not read his article Sandra. Slow down.

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Guest justinemnace

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Gluten-free foods is safe to eat. It is the food being recommended to those people who are suffering from Celiac disease. Also, it has less carbohydrates that is safe to eat by those who are on a diet.

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Interesting. I do see the young wealthy daughters of my friends going "gluten-free" - then it progresses to "mostly gluten-free." Next thing you know they have abandoned their adherence to a gluten-free diet.

 

Going "gluten-free" is a "fad" in my neck of the woods. Having celiac disease is a whole other animal.

 

By the way I have celiac and I am vegan - I find that a vegan diet, with no added fat and only a few selected grains works best for me. I feel great.

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Guest Jonathan

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I have to agree with Campbell's main argument about gluten-free diet being trendy and that a lot of people who are going gluten-free are just following the trend. While it's true he makes some far out connections that are highly debatable and borderline offensive to some. I'm neither liberal, nor a vegetarian so I saw them as humor, albeit in bad taste.

 

Also, my ex girlfriend tried to get me to go gluten-free and my mom and sister both jumped on the gluten-free band wagon for awhile. I worked at Chipotle while I was a freshman in college in Overland Park, KS. A town with a huge upper-middle class.

 

So while he may not be politically correct, my experience tells me he is spot on with his main argument but the rest of his assertions should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Guest Jonathan

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I have to agree with Campbell's main argument about gluten-free diet being trendy and that a lot of people who are going gluten-free are just following the trend. While it's true he makes some far out connections that are highly debatable and borderline offensive to some. I'm neither liberal, nor a vegetarian so I saw them as humor, albeit in bad taste.

 

Also, my ex girlfriend tried to get me to go gluten-free and my mom and sister both jumped on the gluten-free band wagon for awhile. I worked at Chipotle while I was a freshman in college in Overland Park, KS. A town with a huge upper-middle class.

 

So while he may not be politically correct, my experience tells me he is spot on with his main argument but the rest of his assertions should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Everything Campbell says is true, so I'm not sure what the problem is.

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Guest Suzanne

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Gluten free foods do not have fewer carbohydrates. In fact, some products made with white rice flour have more carbs than whole wheat products because there is less dietary fiber so the net carbs are increased. Anyone eating a gluten-free diet to try to lose weight is being silly.

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I live in the UK and have coeliac disease. The recent "trendiness" of the gluten-free diet has (on the whole) been a good thing for me - there's certainly much more choice in the supermarket.

HOWEVER, I recently visited Munich, and there were 3 American women at the same hotel. I got really annoyed to have to listen to them extolling the virtues of gluten-free food (very loudly) - how much better they feel, blah-blah-blah, whilst at the same time they were scoffing the local bread products.

We all moan because the food industry doesn't get coeliac disease - but pretending to need a gluten-free diet whilst eating vast quantities of gluten-containing products will only serve to confuse restaurants and waiting staff and cause more problems for those with genuine medical conditions requiring a gluten-free diet.

It would not have been so bad if they were claiming to feel better by eating less gluten. No, they were "gluten free", but so obviously not.

Grrr. Rant over. Happy New Year.

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Yeah I bet she just saw the bio and title and decided that was enough reading to be judgmental. Good article Gryphon!

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Everyone has the right to eat the way they want, even gluten-free. The truth is, there are a lot of very sick people out there. I suffer from an autoimmune disorder and there is a lot of research that suggests that while a person may not test positive to a test for celiac, they may indeed be sensitive to gluten, or maybe wheat in general and eliminating it from their diet may be helpful to lower the inflammation. People have their reasons, what business is it of others?

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