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“They’re no different from cancer. Or heart disease. Or allergies. And when’s the last time you heard of anyone being judged for those?”

This is a quote that appeared at the end of an article that I had read in a magazine. It was actually a really good article that was trying to raise awareness of a class of illnesses for which those who had them faced all kinds of difficulties, including judging from their peers. However, at the end, I believe it pushed these other illnesses to the sidelines, seeming to dismiss the idea that the people who experience these illnesses face judgment and other negative feelings and behaviors from their peers. I’m sure those with cancer or heart disease can recount their own experiences, but I know where food allergies are concerned, judging and other negative 3536044-100266629_8-v1behaviors from those on the outside happen on a very frequent basis. Following are just some of the ways those with food allergies, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) face push-back from their peers and others. Admittedly, the reason for some of this push-back could be due to the fact that some of the people who should be avoiding gluten or allergens actually cheat by eating things they shouldn’t. Also, many restrictive diets based on trends or preference tend to get lumped together with food avoidance based on medical necessity, and as a result, people don’t differentiate between the two when discussing restrictive diets.

  • Children and teens with food allergies, celiac disease, and NCGS are bullied.
  • Many adults with celiac disease, NCGS, or food allergies are told that their issues are “just in their heads”.
  • Many people think those with celiac disease, NCGS, or food allergies can eat “just a little bit” of gluten or their allergen(s) and not be harmed.
  • People will play pranks on those with celiac disease, NCGS, or food allergies by giving them food with just a little bit of gluten or their food allergen to see what happens.
  • Many parents of children with celiac disease, NCGS, or food allergies either just don’t get it or don’t want to get it and continue putting their children in danger by not taking their celiac disease, NCGS, or food allergies seriously. They continue to feed them foods with their forbidden ingredients or don’t take cross-contamination seriously.
  • Adults with co-workers, roommates, family at home, etc. can face opposition as well and have to deal with obnoxious behavior when it comes to protecting their food from cross-contamination or not eating what others are eating.
  • Some staff at restaurants will not take patrons seriously if they inform them of their celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or food allergies. They may not be receptive when these patrons ask for a dish to be sent back and prepared again due to ingredients added by mistake or possible cross-contamination.
  • People with celiac disease, NCGS, or food allergies are sometimes labeled and treated as picky eaters.
  • Sometimes people with food allergies, celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity are seen as being on a fad diet to lose weight or be trendy.
  • Gluten-free jokes abound. Celebrities and others have made fun of or made light of the gluten-free diet and gluten-free dieters.

Also, statements like the one from the magazine article can lead to minimizing or trivializing the suffering of others. One statement I really hate to see people make is “it could be worse”. When I’m struggling or in the middle of something I find particularly difficult to handle, the last thing on my mind is how someone else’s situation may be worse from my own. What I’m going through seems bad enough to me, thank you very much! Also, I have to admit that someone going through a different situation who says to me that at least he/she can still eat wheat would come off as extremely insensitive. I don’t need someone else telling me that “it could be worse”, seeming to infer that I just need to suck it up and deal with it because it’s not as bad as what someone else may have to deal with. What I need is for someone to listen and to have some empathy for what I’m going through and dealing with, to realize I am dealing with something difficult, something hard to work through. While I don’t want to speak for others, I would think they’d feel the same way. They’re hurting as they’re dealing with a difficult situation, and I wouldn’t think they’d want their suffering minimized by someone telling them it’s not as bad as someone else’s. We really don’t know how bad someone has it unless we can put ourselves in his/her shoes. I don’t believe it’s always easy to do that because we’re all so different. We all face and handle situations differently. In my opinion, the best thing we can do for others is to listen, give advice only when asked, and just be there to offer support when needed. In the end, we can always pray for each other. We need to have compassion and empathy for all, no matter what illnesses, trials, or hardships they may be dealing with. We may think we’re dealing with a worse situation or that someone else is dealing with a worse situation, but what the person in question is dealing with is hard for him, and what we need to provide that person is compassion and understanding, not patronizing thoughts or comments. It’s important to come together and support each other through our various illnesses, trials, and hardships, no matter what they are, so that we all come out the other end stronger. We don’t need to be comparing our illnesses, trials, and hardships with those of others, which in the end pits one or more groups of people against others, breeds resentment, and trivializes the suffering of others.

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