Mental Health Impacts of a Gluten-Free Lifestyle
The mental health impacts of a gluten-free lifestyle are vast. Gluten is in what feels like everything! Overhauling your lifestyle and living a completely new one overnight is bound to have an impact on mental health.
And that’s what happens when you’re diagnosed with celiac disease. You get the diagnosis and are expected to live gluten-free 100% of the time from that point on, talk about overwhelming.
Basically, a gluten-free lifestyle is not a walk in the park. In fact, studies show that sticking to a gluten-free diet (or living gluten-free) can feel more burdensome than lifestyle treatments for other common conditions.
So you can see how there are mental health impacts of a gluten-free lifestyle.
How Does a Gluten-Free Lifestyle Impact Mental Health?
It can trigger feelings of:
- Social isolation – because so many social events involve food, food that we can’t often eat.
- Stress – because there are so many things to consider when it comes to living gluten-free.
- Overwhelm – because overhauling your life is a lot.
- Fatigue – whether it be related to gluten exposure or due to adapting to a completely new way of living.
- Depression – this can be due to a lot of things, like the other triggered feelings. I know I mourned the foods I couldn’t enjoy anymore for a while.
- Restriction – because living gluten-free means you need to adapt a lot of things to be safe.
- Loneliness – because again, food is so deeply rooted in our social culture but also because it might feel like no one understands.
- Distrust – due to fear of gluten exposure.
- Anxiety – again, likely related to gluten exposure or how someone will react to celiac needs.
- Loss of confidence
Any restrictive diet can have a negative impact on mental health. Living gluten-free is not easy and takes up a lot of headspace, especially in the beginning. If you’re struggling with mental health impacts of living gluten-free, know that it gets less hard.
Coping With the Mental Toll of a Gluten-Free Diet
Because there are so many mental health impacts of a gluten-free lifestyle, it’s important to be able to cope with them. Below are a few ways to cope with the mental burdens of living gluten-free.
Finding and accessing support for your new lifestyle can be incredibly beneficial in easing celiac disease and mental health impacts. In fact, studies show that when people are supported they are more likely to have higher quality of life scores.
This means that when people following a gluten-free lifestyle have solid support, they feel less burdened. If they feel Less burdened, they are likely to stay gluten-free and enjoy their life more.
If you need support, join my Celiac Support Group.
We know that a gluten-free lifestyle can come with a wide array of mental health stressors. Stressors that can quickly empty our cups. We can’t pour from an empty cup which is why it’s so important that we are filling it so that we can better handle the stress thrown our way.
This is where self-care comes in. How do you fill your cup you ask? Self-care. Check out this post on Self-Care and Celiac for inspiration.
Another way to combat the mental health impacts of a gluten-free diet is to exercise. Why? Because moving the body has been shown to have countless mental health benefits.
In fact, in a recent study done in 2020 on the beneficial impacts of movement on stressed out college students, researchers found that just 16 minutes of moderate intensity movement boosted the student’s mental health.
A meta-analysis from 2019 on the impacts of aerobic activity on mental health found that adults engaging in regular exercise were less depressed.
This is unsurprising, as exercise releases endorphins that boost the mood and stimulate circulation which stimulates the brain.
Take home message? While a walk won’t fix the fact that living gluten-free is hard. It can help shift your mindset or at the very least, end the stress cycle… which ties into my next tip which is:
End the Stress Cycle
Part of dealing with the mental health impacts of a gluten-free life must include addressing the stress that comes with it. In the book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” by Emily Nagoski, the stress cycle is described as the cycle to which we experience stress, react to stress, and resolve stress.
Emily goes on to explain that as we’ve adapted over the years, our stress response has started to be activated to everyday things like stress at work, stress from classes, or I would say, in the case of gluten-free living, stress around food and food events. Today, sometimes we get stuck in the stress cycle, never-ending it for the day or the event and we carry it with us.
Often we find ourselves stressed and worried for our safety around food (which is natural, gluten is a harmful substance and we must take care to avoid it) but it’s important we don’t get stuck in the stress response.
So the importance here is to find things to do to end your stress cycle, if not for anything else but for stressful food events. There are 6 general things Emily says end the stress cycle:
- Deep breathes
- Casual conversation
- A 6-second kiss or 20 second hug
Of course, these aren’t the only things that can end the stress cycle but they are a place to start. Learn more about celiac burnout here.
Mental Health and A Gluten-Free Diet
Because food is such a huge part of our life, there are many mental health impacts of living gluten-free. From the social isolation of the many ways our ability to connect with our community, culture, and traditions are disrupted. To the exhaustion and grief of trying to navigate an entirely new way of living.
Just as food is not just fuel. Food is comfort, connection, community, culture, tradition, joy, celebration, and more. A gluten-free diet is not just a diet, it’s a lifestyle that changes all of the ways food once served us.
And that is hard. And that comes with many mental burdens.