Gluten-Free Lifestyle Support – Why it’s important and ways to find it
Whether you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity or you have been diagnosed with celiac disease (or another condition that requires living gluten-free), support is instrumental in staying sane.
Why Gluten-Free Lifestyle Support is Important
A gluten-free lifestyle can be extremely isolating and restrictive. 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. A gluten-free lifestyle can be so burdensome that researchers found that non-adherence can be a serious problem in those diagnosed with celiac disease.
Not following a gluten-free lifestyle when diagnosed with celiac disease can lead to a variety of very serious health complications. These health complications include chronic inflammation, serious damage to the small intestine, increased risk of stomach cancer, and severe malnutrition (not to mention other various digestive symptoms associated with celiac).
Not following a gluten-free lifestyle when you have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) can lead to a variety of problems too. Problems like chronic inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, GERD, pain in the abdomen, physical and mental stress etc. Additionally, not adhering to a gluten-free lifestyle for the purposes of managing symptoms of various other conditions (like possibly Hashimoto’s) can be harmful too as symptoms can become unmanagable or be triggered.
Because strictly following a gluten-free lifestyle is so important in treating previously mentioned conditions, but espeically celiac it’s important that these communities have support.
Why is support of a gluten-free lifestyle important? Support can improve adherence rates of a gluten-free diet, overall feelings of burden, feelings of isolation, stress, etc. Support essentially can improve their overall quality of life.
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 are more likely to feel less burdened. If they feel less burdened, they are likely to enjoy their life more.
Meaning, when you follow a gluten-free lifestyle, accessing and utilizing support is detrimental to improving your quality of life.
How to Find Support for your Gluten-Free Lifestyle
Support is important for maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle successfully and happily but how can you access it? There are a variety of ways for people following a gluten-free lifestyle to access support.
Online Gluten-Free Lifestyle Support
There are a variety of places and ways to seek support for your gluten-free lifestyle online.
Facebook groups can be a great way to stay connected with other people experiencing your struggles. I currently host the:
Since starting my Instagram I have found a community of wonderfully supportive gluten-free people coming from different backgrounds. Some of them have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, some have celiac disease, some don’t know what’s going on but know that they feel better living gluten-free. I have embraced them all and they have embraced me. As sappy as this sounds, the support I have found in the GF Instagram community honestly been invaluable.
This may or may not seem like a no-brainer but Pinterest can be a lifesaver when it comes to a gluten-free life. While not your conventional kind of support, gluten-free recipe boards, and Pinterest accounts can be so helpful for keeping you inspired and in-love with your gluten-free food and lifestyle.
I have a bunch of group boards open for joining if you want to be a part of a gluten-free sharing community. I have the following gluten-free group boards:
- Gluten-Free Lifestyle Group Board
- Gluten-Free Recipes and Food Group Board
- Celiac Disease Bloggers Group Board
All of them are open for joining. I also have some Dietetic related group boards too (for all my nutrition and dietetics friends). If you want to contribute to my group boards, follow me on Pinterest and send me a DM!
Online forums can be a great way to ask questions and get support for your gluten-free lifestyle. Quora the GlutenDude’s forum both come to mind when thinking of places to ask questions and access the gluten-free community.
Joining a gluten-free email list (like the one I run) that delivers gluten-free lifestyle bits of wisdom monthly can help you stay motivated and on track. It’s a less involved form of support but can be helpful none the less.
Sign up for mine below:
Be Careful About Where you Seek Online Gluten-Free Lifestyle Support
Is it just me or can gluten-free support groups be mean? I’ve been in some groups where the mere mention of accidentally being exposed to gluten causes others to attack your ability to be responsible. I’m sorry, living gluten-free if hard (especially with the way the food industry is set up), exposure is bound to happen. I’m enduring some pretty tough symptoms right now, please support me, not shame me.
Additionally, people can be unsupportive of people who don’t have the same exposure standards or reasons behind their lifestyle. I frequently see people with celiac disease judge people who are sensitive for living gluten-free, as if people who are sensitive have a choice in their lifestyle…
My stance? As someone with celiac disease, I don’t care why you’re living gluten-free. If it makes you feel better, that is what matters.
Do you know why I think it’s so hard to find safe food? Our food system, first of all, makes it impossible to source 100% gluten-free food all of the time (it’s a fact). That’s why people often will refer to a gluten-free diet as a gluten-restricted diet. Additionally, a gluten-free lifestyle requires serious individualization. Everyone (including people with celiac disease) have different gluten exposure thresholds they react to, meaning everyone’s gluten-free lifestyle standards are going to be different. Some people might only be able to eat at 100% gluten-free restaurants and food made in entirely gluten-free facilities. Other’s might be able to handle food made in the same facilities as gluten or maybe, processed on the same equipment.
Everyone is different in their approach and requires different levels of care when it comes to exposure, celiac or not. This is why it’s so hard for people living gluten-free to find safe food. Sure, fad dieters didn’t help but people who have NCGS are not the cause and it’s unfair to blame them. They need support too.
In-Person Gluten-Free Lifestyle Support
While online gluten-free lifestyle support is important, nothing beats an in-person connection.
Finding people who are similar to you to meet-up with can be helpful not to mention makes socializing easier. I’d recommend checking MeetUp out for gluten-free groups around your area. If you’re in college, I’d also suggest looking to see if your campus has any gluten-free support clubs. If you can’t find either near you, consider starting one.
On top of that, I’d also seek support in your friends and loved-ones. Educate them and tell them that you need them in your corner.
Setting Boundaries with Loved Ones
Support doesn’t have to be as direct as joining a group and making friends with people who are also gluten-free. It can also come in indirect forms, such as boundaries.
Setting boundaries and having your loved ones respect them can be powerful. It shows that there is a mutual understanding of your needs and that can be helpful and beneficial.
Some boundaries you might consider setting:
- Communicate that you maintain a 100% gluten-free household
- Ask that people not pressure you to eat food of any kind
- Make it known that you probably will always bring your own food (just in case)
- Ask for back-up when in tough social situations the press your boundaries
- Tell them if they can’t support you living gluten-free then there’s no room for them in your life
Passive Forms of Gluten-Free Lifestyle Support
Like I mentioned earlier, not all forms of gluten-free lifestyle support have to be direct, they can also be passive. Some supportive measures you can take to support yourself passively in your gluten-free life might be to create yourself allergy cards to hand out to chefs when you dine out. This can help clear confusion when you dine out and it can make sure your needs are clearly communicated.
It might be to wear a t-shirt that advocates your gluten-free lifestyle and makes it painfully obvious that you’re gluten-free. It could be a sticker on the back of your laptop or even a button.
Whatever it be, these forms of passive support can help make advocating for yourself easier. The more obvious your needs are the more people will remember them.
Remember, advocate for yourself fearlessly and don’t ever feel bad for saying no to something you don’t know is safe.
I want to know, where do you find support? What kind of support is most helpful for you? Let me know in the comments.