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People are genuinely interested in learning more about what happens when Mister eats gluten. But when I try to explain gluten intolerance, I’m dragging them down the rabbit hole of digestion, protein breakdown, genetics, intestinal integrity, drugs and behavior, modern farming practices, GMO vs. ancestral wheat, withdrawal symptoms, autoimmune processes…

Once their eyes have glazed over and I decide to cut the dissertation short, they’re all, wait, are we still talking about my morning toast here?

Most people don’t get it.

Most of the time, I can’t fully explain it.

I’ve tried. There’s just too much at work to explain gluten intolerance to most people.

And when I say most people, I’m including an advanced-practice nurse who happens to be hospital administrator…and if she can’t comprehend (or refuses to accept) the facts, then who can?

I’m kind of writing this for my own purposes – I need to sort out what I should actually say when this comes up. And we’re Italian, so holidays mean eat-until-you-bust, so believe me, it comes up.


How to Explain Gluten Intolerance – Typical Questions and Prepared Answers


So why won’t Mister have any of my blue-ribbon bread all of a sudden?

Mister had some problems that we learned might be linked to food, so we used an elimination diet to experiment. And good thing we did! We learned that gluten was wrecking his body.

Oh. I’ve never heard of that.

Some people can’t digest gluten. When they eat something containing gluten, it is not broken down into the form that the body can handle. Undigested gluten causes him problems in his skin, joints, energy levels, and even moods.

You mean to tell me he’s crabby because he ate bread?

We’ve seen studies where in some people, gluten acts as an opiate in the brain – the same brain centers activated by heroin. [This is usually where I lose them – when I liken an innocent blueberry muffin to street drugs.] He has to go through withdrawal every time, during which he may experience a few days of anxiety, depression, fatigue, mood swings…any range of things that make it tough to get through the day.

Oh, he can just have a little bit. It’s okay to cheat once in a while.

He may be hospitalized if he ate even a bite of bread on purpose. We notice problems even if a spoon that was used to stir pasta was then used to stir his vegetables. Microscopic amounts trigger the reaction, so it’s best to stay away.

But I’ve fed him all his life. He never had these problems when he was a kid.

When he was younger, his intestines were fine, but after decades of slow damage, he’s probably developed “leaky gut” which allows undigested food to pass into other parts of the body.

Look! I made these gluten-free muffins, just for you! I used all white flour because I heard you can’t have wheat.

How thoughtful! The effort means a lot to me. Unfortunately, gluten is sneaky, and there are a lot of things you might think I can have, but I can’t. It’s not your fault. It took us over a year to figure out what we can and can’t have in the house.

Wow, I had no idea. I’m glad I don’t have that problem.

Well, it’s genetic, you’re related, and you happen to be moody, anxious and paranoid. So, you might benefit from avoiding gluten, too. [Don’t say that, even if you’re thinking it.]



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