Saturday, July 13, 2013


As my husband Doug and I were discussing weekend plans a while back, he referred to my celiac disease as a "nuisance."

"What?! A nuisance?! Really??"I responded. "This stupid disease has ruined my life--and you're calling it a nuisance?"

Since then, I've thought about how many aspects of my life celiac has indeed affected: I will never again be able to eat many of my favorite foods. I am often hungry, because there is frequently nothing for me to eat at parties, receptions, banquets or other public events. I am always "that guy" to waiters and cooks at restaurant and bars, being forced to quiz them on ingredients and preparation methods with every order. My friends and family often have to eliminate their personal favorites when picking a place for us to eat out--or worry about what to cook when they invite me to their homes. For one reason or another, I feel like I'm the center of attention--in a negative way--at every meal.

Here I go again, crying in my gluten-free beer!

So I started thinking about the flip-side, the advantages of having celiac disease (not that anyone would ever call having celiac disease a stroke of luck):

For one thing, I am now forced to make healthier choices when I eat. By necessity, I've eliminated from my diet most processed foods, which overwhelmingly contain some form of gluten. I've become more mindful of what and how much I eat.

The disease has also given me an instant peer group. I have made new friends in unlikely places, such as standing in line at the grocery store, where fellow celiacs have looked into my cart and started a conversation about my selections. Celiac gives complete strangers common ground from which to give and take advice and sympathy--we bond over our "war stories."

Another "advantage":  I no longer take food, especially treats, for granted. When friends or family bring me homemade gluten-free cookies, for example, I want to burst into tears at their thoughtfulness. If someone goes out of the way to accommodate me, I know she's a true friend.

Along those same lines, I've discovered the heroes in my own family. Not long after my diagnosis, my mom, in her 80s, researched recipes and surprised me with a gluten-free lemon pie. At Thanksgiving this year, my children prepared a huge dinner at my daughter's Brooklyn apartment without a speck of gluten in the entire meal.

And my husband? The one who calls celiac disease a "nuisance"? You should see this gentle, mild-mannered fellow go to the mat for me when restaurant wait-staff put bread on my plate, after we've done the whole gluten-free routine. (Not long ago he nearly assaulted a waiter at a sushi restaurant which had a gluten-free menu, but no gluten-free soy sauce, for cryin' out loud.) Celiac disease has made realize how much he loves me, as I watch, agape, when he suddenly turns into a raging animal, thinking I've been mistreated. You might even say he's become, well, a nuisance.