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Completely removing gluten from your life is not just a minor irritant. It’s tough. Particularly at first as you gradually realise all the implications such a change can have on your life and just how many changes you will need to make in your life.

For a while your emotions may be in turmoil, and most people proceed through a range of different moods as they gradually come to terms with their new lifestyle. Some find it harder to adjust than others, but everyone will experience some emotional ups and downs along the way.

While you may experience shock and denial at first, these will pass. Other emotions will return from time to time. You’ll adjust reasonably well, and then when you’re feeling low for some other reason, it will hit you again. Organising a life free of gluten can be a real hassle. Maybe life is particularly hectic, and having to chase around to different shops for special foods is just the last straw.

Check out the thoughts and emotions and see which ones may apply to you — they’re all common and normal, so don’t feel you’re ever alone!

Shock

‘Coeliac disease? I’ve never even heard of it?’

‘I don’t even know where to start. What is gluten anyway?’

‘I can’t believe it. I just don’t get things like that.’

The diagnosis will come as a real shock for people who develop symptoms suddenly, or are told they probably have coeliac disease after they had blood tests for something else.

Relief

‘Oh. That’s a relief. I really thought it might be cancer. I’ve lost so much weight.’

People who experience ongoing symptoms over a long period of time may have been imagining the worst possible scenario.

Denial

‘But I’ve been eating bread all my life and it hasn’t made me sick before. How come?’

‘No, I don’t think so! Bread is the staff of life. It’s what humans have eaten for thousands of years.’

‘Oh no! I’m not one of those people with allergies. I can’t stand them.’

‘There’s no way I can afford gluten-free food. I just can’t do it.’

Denial is a very normal reaction to unexpected or unwelcome news. Your brain simply can’t get around this new information so for a time you reject it.

It’s true that the extra cost of gluten-free food is a big problem for some people. Unfortunately many people have become reliant on ready-made food and have lost, or never acquired, cooking skills. If you can cook and bake for yourself using a lot of naturally gluten-free foods, that lowers the cost of gluten-free food considerably.

Anger

‘Why me? It’s not fair.’

‘But I’ve always had such a good diet. What about all those people who stuff themselves with junk food every day. They’re the ones who should get sick, not me.’

If you’ve struggled with poor health for years and been patronised by doctors who clearly think you’re imagining your symptoms, you may feel particularly angry.

‘I’ve had this problem for years. Why didn’t you listen to me? Why didn’t someone work it out?’

Because symptoms vary so widely, and the degree to which people are affected also varies, it still takes three years on average to get a diagnosis of coeliac disease. The true incidence of coeliac disease in Australia and New Zealand is far higher than previously thought, but many doctors are not aware of this and it remains under-diagnosed.

Bargaining

‘Okay. I’ll give up gluten, but not right now. I’m too busy at work to think about it or go shopping for special food.’

‘I’ll stick to the diet, but there’s no way I’m giving up my beer.’

‘If she went to all that trouble to bake me beautiful birthday cake, I can’t refuse to eat it. That would be just plain rude.’

‘I’ll only have a nibble.’

Frustration

‘I just don’t get it! I thought I could eat cornflour. Now you tell me there are two kinds of cornflour. Why is it so confusing?’

‘I’ve been so careful, but last night I just forgot to ask what was in the dessert. Now I feel terrible again.’

‘What’s going on? It says “gluten-free” on the label but there’s wheat listed in the ingredients.’

‘I’m ravenous but there’s absolutely nothing on the menu that I can eat!’

‘The bakery has sold out of gluten-free bread and they only bake it once a week. What am I going to do?’

Depression

‘This is just too awful. There’s nothing nice I can eat.’

‘My life is over. No-one’s going to invite me anywhere now.’

‘I’ll die of embarrassment if I have to tell people.’

‘I dare not eat away from home.’

Depression or sadness may kick in as you realise that this diet is for real; it’s not going away. Although depression is never pleasant or easy to deal with, it is a step in the right direction because it indicates a level of acceptance.

Discovery

‘It’s amazing how many people are on a gluten-free diet. I thought I was the only one.’

‘Mmmm. I really love this recipe. Who would have thought it?’

‘I made this fantastic mud cake and everyone asked for more.’

Acceptance

‘I feel so well now, I’m perfectly happy to stay gluten-free.’

‘There’s nothing I can do about needing to be gluten-free. Feeling miserable about it won’t change anything, so I may as well just get on with it and enjoy what I can eat.’

‘Really, it’s no big deal. Life is about much more than food.’

Endorsement

‘It’s actually a good thing I have to avoid gluten. It’s a really healthy diet and I don’t stuff myself with sugar and cream cakes at special morning teas. I used to be such a pig.’

‘I’ve had to learn how to cook for myself, and now I love cooking. I invented a fantastic recipe today.’

Researchers tell us there are many coeliacs who say they wouldn’t ever eat gluten again, even if they could.

Not everyone experiences the endorsement stage. Not everyone wants to. It’s okay to feel a little regret at never being able to eat a favourite food, or choose anything you want from a menu, or pick up a snack while you’re out. But it’s good when you come to terms with your new lifestyle, and can just get on with your life, gluten-free. That’s gluten free-dom!

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