Cafe Society

Reader: Bar Belle and dieters dissing gluten do a disservice to those with celiac disease

"I was really hoping you'd go on the Jason Sheehan diet: whiskey, cigarettes, and Lucky Charms," writes Mantonat in response to the second installment of Bar Belle, Laura Shunk's new series about how a food critic can indeed get fit.

In last Monday's installment, Shunk kicked gluten to the curb, prompting Mantonat's recollection of our last Cafe critic's diet, as well as this:

My common-sense guess about losing weight by eliminating gluten? It's not the gluten. It's all the bread that your cutting out of your diet. If you eliminate all the wheat-based foods that most of us commonly eat (pasta, bread, breaded items, most breakfast treats), it's really hard to replace all of those calories. For example: why does he recommend eliminating rice from the Chipotle burrito? There's no gluten in rice, but white rice is mostly just carbs, which are mostly just empty calories. And you still only get to eat half of what's in the bowl.

Eyeroll's impassioned response goes beyond common sense and into science:

I have celiac disease and can't eat gluten without experiencing severe gastrointestinal pain and bowel issues. I also can't order at a restaurant without being scoffed at by servers, chefs, and even acquaintances who think I'm making up food issues -- that my "allergy" is a euphemism for an eating disorder, or a lazy, girly excuse to attract attention to the fact I'm dieting. In actuality, I'd just like to be able to go out and eat a meal with my friends and family without the anxiety of making special requests at every single meal, excluding about 75% of the dishes on any menu, and having to obsessively research every restaurant before I go to find something I might, just might, be able to eat. And that's if I'm lucky and I don't end up in the bathroom for hours after the meal.

This post perpetuates the idea that people who can't eat gluten are just self-absorbed dieters, and I'm offended by it. The more this idea takes root, the harder it is for me to be taken seriously as someone with medical issues. Congratulations on losing weight, but don't pretend it's because you're not eating gluten. It's not -- there are no scientific studies linking consumption of gluten to weight gain. You're losing weight because you're eating fewer calories, and you don't need to do it while making it harder for real people with real medical issues.

Watch for the next installment of Bar Belle on Cafe Society this morning.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun