What would you tell your child (or niece or nephew or friend’s child) if they asked you whether it was okay to cheat on a test at school? No! It’s wrong to cheat! The purpose of a test is to determine what you know, not what someone else knows. Cheating is not being truthful.
Cheating on a diet is different. It’s not a test of your knowledge, but it is a test of sorts. The bottom line is that if you need to be gluten-free 100% of the time, then it’s not okay to cheat. And for many people that is the case, but it certainly can be very hard to never cheat.
Reasons for being gluten free
First, I just want to be clear that the gluten-free diet is not a weight loss diet. It may help some people lose weight, but if you are substituting gluten-free breads and desserts for gluten-full versions, then you very likely will be consuming more calories and will not lose weight.
There are different reasons why people eat a gluten-free diet. For people like me who have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is the only treatment. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which gluten triggers an autoimmune response causing the body to attack itself, specifically the lining of the small intestine. People with celiac disease must eat gluten-free 100% of the time. Regular cheating, even a small amount such as a communion wafer, can cause a serious amount of intestinal damage. For me and anyone with celiac disease, it is not okay to cheat.
Personally, I don’t want to cheat because the consequences are not worth it, but some people with celiac disease don’t have outward symptoms. For them, the temptation to cheat can be stronger. It’s important to know that even though you may not have diarrhea or feel really sick, cheating still results in intestinal damage, and there are likely other effects that might not be immediately obvious.
Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is another reason that people adopt the gluten-free diet. In this case, it is believed that reactions such as diarrhea, brain fog, and many more occur without having the intestinal damage caused by celiac disease. So, theoretically, a person with gluten sensitivity could eat as much gluten as their body seems able to tolerate. However, there are complications.
Many people go gluten free without being tested for celiac disease. Officially, they don’t have it, but they can’t be sure because once you are on a gluten-free diet, the tests for celiac will be negative. There are also people who have been tested for celiac and been told they don’t have it, but tests are not always done correctly or the wrong tests are done. It’s also possible that some people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity do have some intestinal damage. We just don’t know everything about it. Personally, I think that people with gluten intolerance should strive to be gluten free 100% of the time.
So if you know that eating gluten harms your body, why cheat? I think it mostly comes down to a matter of feelings. Why does a kid cheat on a school test? Because he doesn’t want to feel embarrassed by and ashamed of his poor test results. He doesn’t want to face the disappointment and possibly anger of others when they see his poor test results. But he does want all the feelings that go along with doing well.
So when it comes to cheating on the gluten-free diet, the feelings revolve around things like being left out in social situations where you can’t eat the food that is served, feeling deprived, longing for foods that have memories associated with them, and not wanting to cause a scene. Instead you want the feelings that come with enjoying your favorite delicious foods. Eating them can bring comfort, enjoyment, and satisfaction.
How to resist cheating
Just like the tempted school kid, you have to be convinced that cheating is wrong. If you believe that you should be gluten-free 100% of the time, then you are not being truthful when you tell yourself that it’s okay “just this once.” And we all know that the more you cheat, the more likely you are to keep on cheating.
Your conviction that cheating is wrong has to be strong enough to overcome your feelings that are temping you to cheat. Try focusing your thoughts on your health, how much better your body feels, and the fact that your treatment is a diet change rather than drugs.
Enlist support from family and friends. It’s good for those who are close to you to understand the importance of your gluten-free diet, and when they do, they can help hold you accountable.
It also helps to provide yourself with some delicious gluten-free alternatives. I know that at first it’s a real challenge because gluten-free baked goods taste different, they’re expensive to buy, and they can be complicated to make. But give yourself time. There are plenty of great options available. You can still enjoy comfort food and treats.
How about you?
As an adult, you make your own choices about what to eat. You have to be the one to decide if it’s okay to cheat, and you have to be the one to stick to it if it’s not okay. If you are cheating on the gluten-free diet, I challenge you to consider why you are gluten free and if that cheating is really okay.
So what about you? Why are you gluten free? Do you stick to it 100% of the time? Is it hard? Do you cheat? Why do you cheat? What’s the hardest part for you?