Resist That Urge to Cheat

in Celiac
Published: December 5, 2013

The holidays are a special time to gather with family, celebrate with friends, and eat. In keeping with the spirit, we allow ourselves to forget the calories and indulge in six weeks of overeating. In fact, it’s downright expected that someone who is “on a diet” will sneak a scoop of sweet potato casserole by the end of the night.

For the typical person, this type of cheating usually provokes a mental slap on the wrist and a half-hearted vow to be stronger next time. However, for someone with celiac disease, cheating carries far more severe consequences. It is critical that you avoid those foods that will make you sick.

Throughout the year, you make the effort to stay gluten-free: you use a separate toaster for gluten-free bread, label condiment jars to avoid confusion and clean any shared prep spaces before cooking your food. Cheating at holiday time not only undermines that hard work, it can have a real impact on your health, beyond the immediate symptoms you may experience.

Poor dietary adherence can lead to continuing symptoms and persistent intestinal inflammation. By cheating, you could prevent your intestine from fully recovering, which research suggests can even shorten your life.

This is a pretty convincing argument for why you shouldn’t cheat but in day-to-day life, there are other factors that may make temptation harder to resist.

The Mental Battle

It takes a lot of willpower to decline your favorite holiday foods. While it’s easy to do so in your home by simply not making a dish, it’s hard to avoid the inviting smells when your cousin is serving up that food.

Then there’s the feeling of deprivation. You can no longer eat some of the foods you once enjoyed, and this is never more apparent than when you’re face-to-face with that nostalgic pumpkin pie.

Finding the willpower can be especially difficult for those who have no detectable symptoms of celiac disease, as one bite may not seem that harmful. Likewise for children who are too young to understand the consequences of eating a wheat-based dinner roll, even if it’s just once.

There’s no single formula for how to deal with these moments. Some reach for a safe, gluten-free option. Some recall memories of how bad they felt when they used to eat gluten, and how good they feel when they avoid it. Some eat before the party to reduce the risk of temptation.

I prefer to focus on the incredible gluten-free foods that I can eat: homemade cranberry sauce, apricot and cheese dip, balsamic glazed figs. If the menu is short on gluten-free options, I offer to bring a dish that everyone can enjoy. Instead of stewing in frustration, I put my energy toward looking on the bright side, sharing my own delicious food, and enjoying time with my family.

Next: You Cheated. Now What?