Do You Ever Cheat?

I get asked this a lot. It makes me wonder if I have a scarlet A or G on my apron.

I’ve stopped being so defensive when someone asks me this because I’ve realized they aren’t asking me if I have secret stashes of men or women in foreign ports –or even metro ports. No, I don’t.

The question follows being outed as having celiac disease and having to follow a strict gluten free diet. It seems to be inconceivable to many that life could be good or even tolerable without a slice of seven layer cake or a “real” sandwich on “real” bread. There’s always the sly reference to a chicken biscuit affair but I deny it with a clear conscience. Even if I could dance with wheat, I’d deftly dodge a pas de deux with a chicken biscuit.  I never was a biscuit girl so I don’t miss them at all.  Blame it on being born and raised in the Garden State. That holey bagel, on the other hand, does sometimes look dreamy, especially this time of year, when the autumnal glow of a pumpkin or cranberry bagel  beckons with its toasty tan and chewy fragrance. I could sink my teeth into that tasty morsel!

Except, not really.  Cheat? On what? On whom? I’ve figured out that they mean cheat in the sense of what dieters do when they have a piece of cake after starving all week. I get that. The thing is, if I was dieting and I ‘cheated’ by committing a seven layer sin, the only thing I’d harm is the balance sheet for caloric intake.

If I ‘cheat’ and eat something made out of wheat, barley, rye or regular oats, it would be quite another story. I’d upset far more than the scale. That old addage, “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” would have to be seriously amended to “a moment on the lips, weeks of agony above the hips.” I would develop what once was mistaken for a “baby bump” by a stranger far too interested in my figure.  That inflammation they talk about taking place inside the gut? It sometimes can be visible, at least on me, likely because it creates additional bloating as the entire pipeworks malfunction.

The vain vein in me detests the “younger looking skin” on my face: younger looking as in looking like puberty all over again with red breakouts.

Okay, enough whining about me. When I worked at a university, I heard from many students who had diagnosed celiac disease that they routinely “cheated” on their gluten free diets because 1) campus dining didn’t have gluten free food they could eat, and 2) it was easier to fit in than to stand out by advocating for medically necessary gluten free dining options. It broke my heart. Fitting in was more important than being healthy. Eating glutinous food with friends was better than eating alone in their dorm rooms. Can you imagine? Heartbreaking and infuriating.

Glad to say a little education went a long way: the university adopted a gluten free dining program on campus so students at least could eat safely and healthily with their friends. Those in charge had been reluctant to try GF dining for fear of losing money and having a lot of wasted food. Their worries were misinformed. The gluten free food options proved to be so popular with the general dining crowd they had to institute special controls to make sure the kids who really needed to be GF got the GF food first.

The major gluten free diet advocacy and education nonprofits the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness now have campus training and education programs and the gluten free living magazines and blogs (check out Gluten Free College Girl over on Tumblr) regularly feature gluten free colleges.  Even manufacturers are getting into promoting gluten free friendly colleges: Udi’s ranked the top ten GF colleges last year.   If you have a resource you want to share, please post it here!

So no, no cheating here, but thanks for asking! It gave me new GF food for thought and made me grateful all over again to have a choice about what I eat and don’t eat while I wait for the call from the gastroenterologist’s office with the date and time of my endoscopy. I’m ready to get rid of this GF (non-baby) bump.