What exactly IS Celiac Disease?

Me: Does that have gluten in it?

Friend: Umm what?

Me: I have celiac disease, so I can’t have gluten.

Friend: That’s like where you can’t have bread right?

(cue eye roll)

Yes, Oprah, I can’t have bread. Well, at least, not the bread you love, and we all know how much Oprah loves bread.

Very few people understand Celiac Disease. They think it’s simply a wheat allergy, or that it is an allergy, which it’s not. Celiac Disease in the simplest terms is when a person’s body cannot process the protein of Gluten, which is found commonly in wheat, rye, and barley.

This is different than an allergy because Celiac Disease is considered an auto immune disorder. An auto immune disorder is basically where your immune system goes all Jewish Mother on you and grossly over reacts to what it deems to be dangerous to your system. Like how I wasn’t allowed to watch batman until I was 18. (Sorry mom, love you, mean it!)

But like, what does that even mean?

Well it means that when I eat gluten my body starts attacking itself. This is where it gets tricky. Not everyone’s Celiac behaves in the same way.

I am not a doctor, I am just a gluten-free potato in a sea of onion rings- because you know, I am Jewish and Irish and I can only eat Gluten Free and potatoes are gluten-free…. This analogy is getting out of hand, I digress.

Some people get rashes, others get really bad gas or bloating, some people throw up, or get headaches, the symptoms really run the gambit. (For a complete list of symptoms and co-morbidities, you should probably read this. ) But the overarching theme is, when someone with Celiac Disease ingests gluten, even a very tiny amount (like a crumb) they have a reaction.

The villi (which is a really cute word) in the stomach essentially are what allow nutrients from food to get to the rest of your body shrink away when they sense gluten and have a hard time doing their job. This damages them and creates inflammation throughout the body. If left unchecked, or if someone with celiac doesn’t keep to a gluten-free diet all that inflammation can make the rest of the body very sick, like, colon cancer sick.

So when your friend says… I can’t eat gluten I have celiac disease. Take them seriously. If you don’t you’re basically telling that person you don’t care if they get cancer… (OK this is a little dramatic, but like, it is kind of how it feels when someone doesn’t care.)

Sometimes I just like pictures when I read… I thought you would too. This is a Teote Bowl from Teote in Portland OR.

So what does that mean for me if I don’t have Celiac? What can I even do?

I am so glad you asked, you are so sweet! Gold star! Well if you have a friend or family member with Celiac the best thing you can do is talk to them. Most people who have Celiac are exhausted with having to advocate for themselves and constantly having to educate EVERYONE around them, often against the other parties will. We do this literally so we can survive. Not because we want to be annoying. It’s a disease, it’s not something any of us wanted.

It means so much to me when a friend goes out of their way to make sure I can eat safely and tries to educate themselves about my condition. Believe me, I know its a lot to learn and it’s annoying, I live with it every day.

At the end of the day, people with Celiac just want to be included and to do all the things you Gluten- ingesters can do. (If anyone knows a fun word for that, like Muggles for non-magic folk drop a comment below.) So next time you have a dinner party maybe consider making one of these awesome recipes from Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, or Good for you Gluten-Free. Your gluten-free friends and family will LOVE you for it!

Also if you want more gluten-free tips on how to act around friends and family members with Celiac click here, or if you would like some more information on how to navigate travel as someone who is gluten-free sign up for my mailing list located to the right-hand side of the screen!

1 thought on “What exactly IS Celiac Disease?”

Leave a Comment