I have enjoyed reading many lists of the trials and tribulations and downsides and dilemmas of being a coeliac. I enjoy them not because the things within are fun or nice but because I can identify with them and it feels better that they are shared and that there is a community of coeliacs that support each other with advice, encouragement and empathy.
I have not ever encountered a list of good things about being a Coeliac though so rather than add another list of the negatives, I decided to take a go at that.
Caveats, Disclaimers & Context
This is a list of “silver linings” rather than an argument that being a coeliac is good. I would absolutely prefer not to be a coeliac. No doubt.
These are my *personal* 5 Best Things. I do not argue that they are or should be true for others.
There are several things which strongly shape my perspective which are going to be shared by some people and not others. These include:
- I feel great pretty much all the time – I credit my microbiota, they seem happy
- The villi in my lower intestine (colon) have healed on a gluten-free diet
- Independent of being coeliac I am hugely interested and well educated about diet and nutrition
- I follow a whole food, plant-based, nutrient dense diet with limited highly processed food
- I have sufficient income that spending extra on higher cost food is possible
- I enjoy cooking, have decent cooking skills and prepare most of my own meals
. . . enough context, now for the Big 5!
1. Dietary Mindfulness
People arrive at a Coeliac diagnosis after very different journeys. To some it brings relief that there is finally a confirmed root-cause of long-term health issues. Even though the condition itself is absolutely unwelcome the certainty it provides *can* be helpful and enable a person to begin making positive health choices which they could not confidently make pre-diagnosis.
I arrived to diagnosis very differently to most. I had no notable issues and therefore the discovery that I was Coeliac arrived as a complete shock. The impact was an invitation not just to eliminate gluten but to ask and answer questions like these.
- What goals do I want my diet to support?
- Which dietary template is best aligned with those goals?
- Which foods and sources of foods feature within that template?
- What kitchen skills, equipment and time are needed to make meals from these foods?
- How and when will I make the changes that enable the new dietary template?
- How and when will I review how well the template is supporting the goals, and the goals themselves?
All these questions *can* be asked and answered without the ten-ton hammer of a case for change that is a coeliac diagnosis. They are also prompted by diagnosis of other chronic conditions. However without that ten-ton hammer it is very easy to ignore all of them for a very long time. Hopefully ignoring them does *not* lead to diabetes, coronary heart disease, obesity, cancer or another chronic illness but all these things are certainly influenced by our diet and lifestyle choices.
Coeliac diagnosis both demanded and provided that I take the opportunity to really think about making positive choices aligned with my diet and life goals. Five years following diagnosis I eat a wider variety of foods than I ever have, enjoy eating more than I ever have, have better kitchen skills and have become a passionate ‘foodie’. It is possible that none of these things would have occurred otherwise.
In fact, beyond food, beyond diet, I am now more interested and better informed about the things that influence my healthspan and longevity than ever before. The Coeliac diagnosis certainly provide a spark, a short sharp shock, that contributed to my current outlook and outcomes.
2. No ‘Band Aid’ Drugs
For many conditions there are drug treatments available. For coeliac, at least at present, there are none.
Why is this good?
I have read extensively about the pharmaceutical and medical industry including the processes that lead to the market release of new drugs and the practices that influence drug prescription. If you have not but have interest, I do recommend getting started with Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre. I have the opinion that whilst drugs can be essential or enormously helpful they also present many dilemmas of their own including side effects, questionable effectiveness, high cost and dependency. Worse, drugs often address only the symptom of a condition and not the cause and thus allow poor lifestyle choices to continue and quite possibly lead to further issues and the need for more drugs.
I therefore do not have the dilemma of evaluating the pros and cons of taking a drug or drugs for life. Instead my only treatment is to follow a life-long gluten-free diet and this treatment addresses the root cause of my disease, not the symptoms. Of course the gluten-free diet can be a gluten-free junk food diet or a gluten-free whole foods diet and anything in between. This is also within my control though.
An extra caveat here is that not all coeliacs are fortunate enough to achieve a healthy gut and overall health by following a gluten-free diet. I empathize especially for those driven to explore solutions to ongoing health issues, solutions such as further food eliminations and perhaps in probiotics. I wish them very well whilst also being thankful for my own relatively simpler needs.
If there are drugs released that address the root cause or reduce risk or reduce symptoms then they could be a huge boon. On that note I recommend the excellent roundup of potential drug treatments compiled by fellow blogger Our Free From Life
3. Freedom Pass from Office Cake Culture
I like treats. My favourites include artisanal chocolate, carrot cake and scones made *just right* with clotted cream and fruit conserve. I do not have an appetite for frequent consumption of cheap, highly processed junk food treats that are enormously popular in offices. Examples include the ‘sharing tubs’ sold by pretty much every supermarket, dozen packs of Krispy Kreme donuts and high-sugar cookies, muffins and cakes. Coeliac or not, I rarely wish to eat these. When they are offered around on office Birthdays, Leaving events, Joining events and similar I have the perfect excuse to politely decline. I often receive an apology that these are not suitable for me. In fact I am glad! I did not wish to eat them anyway!
Occasionally some lovely person will remember this and actually bring in something gluten-free for me specially. One ex-colleague in particular developed a habit of buying in Mrs Crimbles macaroons. Fortunately these are just as popular with non-coeliacs so was not faced with the terrible burden of having to eat them all.
4. Off-Menu Ordering Licence
My complete laundry list of dietary preferences starts with whole foods and plant-based and extends into things like glycaemic load and nutrient density. It therefore often suits me to order off-menu in order to get a delicious, safe and tasty meal of my choice. Both at restaurants with and lacking dedicated gluten-free menu options being a coeliac lends itself to an approach where the menu options are a starting point rather than a fixed list. I like that.
Maybe you are on a temporary elimination diet, or following a ketogenic diet, or some other protocol. Ordering off-menu is probably the only way to eat out and stick to certain diets. Once I realised it was “okay” to order off-menu, I have found it wonderfully liberating. I am the customer, I can ask for what I want or need and that is okay!
Before going crazy, I *am* aware that off-menu ordering can be perceived as somewhat disrespectful of the creativity and skill of the chef that has designed a menu. I do it with consideration of this and if there are dedicated gluten-free options I am often happy to experience them just as intended.
The picture below shows the quite fantastic plate I enjoyed from a recent off-menu order. Whilst on a business trip and having been inactive all day I found a restaurant with gluten-free options but all were either carb-heavy or meat focused, neither of which I wanted. The meal below was the happy result of me asking “please make me a plate with lots of greens and as many other types of veggies that you have with garlic & olive oil”
5. Coeliac Community
I have read that it is easier to change a person’s religion than it is their diet. Certainly I observe that passionate communities form around diets, with a mix of positive and less positive outcomes. One of the positives is the ready-made common interest and empathy that the diet provides. At its best this can lead to easy rapport, friendships, positive reinforcement and support.
Bring together two coeliacs who have never met and bingo, we immediately have a topic they can discuss with energy. There is a good chance this will include the holy grail of great gluten-free bread, or favourite desserts, of new amazing products or venues that have delighted us. Or we can experience catharsis through sharing of the trials and challenges we continue to face and join together in hope for a better future.
Sometimes . . . . just sometimes, we can go on to talk about things other than bread 😛
For the last 5 years post-diagnosis I have enjoyed being an organiser for the Gluten-Free London Club. This is a Meetup club for anyone that wishes to eat out with other folks eating gluten-free. Via this I have enjoyed providing opportunities for people to eat out safely, in supportive company, and relish great food. I have met people I otherwise would not have whose company is very welcome. More recently, I have begun to channel my strong and growing interest in free-from food and healthy living into Facebook group participation and involvement with the fantastic Free-From Food Awards. Also . . . . this blog, a platform for me to talk about things that I care about a lot for the pleasure of writing and sharing and potentially helping and influencing.
Alright, you have read my reasons. What do you think? Which resonate, which do not? Please share, and I’d love to hear from you.