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How would you react to changing your diet?

Posted By Alison On May 9, 2008 @ In Babies & Kids,Emotions,Food Allergies,Gluten Intolerance,Symptoms | 8 Comments

Nobody wants to have a food allergy or gluten intolerance and have to eliminate something from their diet. But what I find interesting is the reaction that people have if it is suggested that their or their children’s health problems (like rashes, eczema, asthma, stomachaches, gas, colic, reflux, headaches — the list goes on) or behavioral/developmental problems in kids (clinginess, tantrums, excessive, crying, delayed speech, attention deficit disorder, and more) or emotional/psychological problems in adults (depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsiveness, addiction) could be due to a food sensitivity.

I have observed people having the following three types of reactions:

Reaction #1: “No way, not me”

For most people, believing that food could cause the above symptoms is difficult. Why is it so hard to believe that what we put into our bodies could actually affect our whole bodies, including our brains (last time I checked, this was part of the body)? Food is our nourishment — we need it to survive — so surely it can’t be harmful. I have heard people argue, “but food is natural.” OK, I say, but some mushrooms are poisonous — go ahead, I dare ya!

Sometimes a person tells me about a problem and how it is affecting his/her life or the life of the child. When I gently suggest gluten intolerance or food allergy, suddenly the problem is “not that bad.” Let’s see, so the problem is bad enough to go to a doctor, it’s bad enough to take medicine for it, it’s bad enough to see a specialist, it’s bad enough to make someone miserable, but it can’t be bad enough to have to change one’s diet… that would be AWFUL!

When I have suggested to someone that they might be gluten intolerant, I have heard the no-way-not-me variation of “Well, I don’t really eat that much wheat anyway.” I challenge anyone to see if they are not eating wheat at least 3 times a day, including snacks. People eat so much wheat! And dairy! And now soy because it’s in everything. Most people are simply not aware of what they are eating. Before I was diagnosed with celiac disease and had to begin to carefully read labels, I thought I ate a very healthy diet. I now realize that I didn’t really know what I was buying or eating.

Some no-way-not-me people do come around after a while and begin to have Reaction #2 below. Many do not (and continue to be miserable).

Reaction #2: “Hmm… I’ll think about that.”

These people know that something is not right and once food allergy is suggested, they are open to considering it as a cause. They may sit with it a while, observe, talk about it some more, read about it, and/or plan it out, and then they may get testing done or do their own elimination diet. However they approach it, sometimes a change is made and ultimately, hopefully, an answer is found. Most people with the I’ll-think-about-it type of reaction feel that changing the diet is a sacrifice that they are willing to make for their own, or their children’s, health.

I’ll-think-about-it people often end up having Reaction #3 below, although some waffle between Reactions #1 and #3.

Reaction #3: “I’ll do it!”

I am always surprised by the people who are willing right away to try eliminating something from their diet. They just do it. They don’t make a big deal about it, they don’t stress over it, they just do it. I don’t know why I am surprised, since I was one of those people. Once I knew that celiac disease and gluten existed (from reading about it on the web), I began eating gluten-free that very minute. When my doctor told me not to go gluten-free until I took a blood test (because it could affect the test results), I cried. I didn’t want to eat gluten ever again!

Still, I am impressed by the mother who stops eating dairy while breastfeeding to see if her infant becomes less colicky, the guy who stops eating gluten to see if his eczema goes away, the mother who stops feeding her baby gluten and dairy in hopes that it will help with seizures, and the many others who removed something from their diet in an attempt to feel better. They decided it was worth a try — if it worked, then hooray! If it didn’t, they were no worse off than before.

Why these reactions?

I have wondered, does the severity of the problem determine a person’s reaction? In my experience, not necessarily. Yes, some people with very serious health problems may be more willing to try a change in diet because they haven’t found answers elsewhere. But I know parents with sick children — and I mean very sick — and people who are suffering with undiagnosed health problems who will not try a gluten-free diet, will not try eliminating dairy, will not make any dietary change to see if it makes a difference.

What drives these reactions, I think, is whether one believes or not. This is also true of doctors — if they themselves don’t believe that food can cause ill health, then they don’t suggest it to patients, and in many cases make patients feel silly (stupid) for asking about it.

So what’s your reaction?

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