Eva Santiago

Guest Blogger

Can We Talk? We Need To Talk. About Gluten.

Humans are social creatures. We have a psychological need to connect with others. We crave relationships, social networks and family networks. The relationships with your bridesmaids, your soon to be husband, and more importantly… your caterer. There are many things that relationships can go without, – BUT –  if you want a relationship to thrive and empower you as a person it absolutely, positively, unequivocally, needs one thing first: Trust.  

How’s  your relationship with food?

I’m Puerto Rican, I have a love affair with food. My mom spent a lot of time in the kitchen but I can not recall her ever baking. If we wanted something sweet she pointed to the apples in the fruit bowl. Cake and pastries were reserved for special occasions and we weren’t rewarded or comforted with sweets and snacks. My diet was relatively gluten free but it was more out of discipline than healthy eating. Either way that was the beginning of my healthy relationship with food.  

Food, food, food.

Wedding shower food, rehearsal dinner food, and wedding caterer food. Everywhere…food. Who’s got what allergy? Who doesn’t eat meat? Who’s bringing their own salad in Tupperware? The way you eat and how you feel about it affects your relationship with food.  


There are so many things that can affect your relationship with food, some are more subtle than others. My top offender is the fad diet that restricts and bans whole groups of food. Removing food groups – or even worse – entire macronutrients, like proteins, fats, and carbs, will catch up with you quickly. Fad diets are not truthful. Every decade has had their own front runner. 80’s was fat free, 90’s sugar free, 2000’s carb free and now we have gluten free. They can be like flaky boyfriends. They promise you things, big things. But in the end they’ll leave you disappointed and hungry for something else.

Gluten Free. A fad diet? Is it? Or isn’t it?

If you have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease don’t eat gluten. And that means being medically diagnosed by a doctor, not by your girlfriends. But if you DON’T have Celiac Disease which is about 99% of the rest of us, you can probably eat gluten with no adverse effects.  

How did Gluten Free become all the rage?

In 2011 the book “Wheat Belly”, by cardiologist William Davis was published. It basically says wheat will kill you and wheat was labeled a “perfect, chronic poison”. It became a bestseller.   

Right around that same time Peter Gibson of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, published a study that found that gluten could cause gastrointestinal distress even in those not suffering from Celiac Disease. This led to the rise of the term “gluten sensitivity”. What most people didn’t know was that he questioned his own results and did another study to see if he could come up with the same results. He couldn’t. His subjects were “gluten sensitive”, but they didn’t have Celiac Disease. He found the same results no matter how much gluten the diet had. A lot, a little bit, none, a placebo diet – the subjects reported negative symptoms usually associated with gluten sensitivity to a roughly equal degree. He found no specific response to gluten. This is classic “nocebo” effect: because people expected the food to make them feel worse, it frequently did.  

The carb free movement was starting to die out and we all needed something new…And BAM…   “gluten free” starting becoming all the rage. Here’s an example of the nocebo effect. A real conversation I had with a friend. A dude.  

Dude: “Last night convinced me I have to stick to my gluten free diet. I can’t ever eat pasta and bread again. We ate at that Italian restaurant and this morning I could barely get out of bed. It zapped my energy”.  

Me: “Did you drink wine? Did you have dessert? Did you go out afterwards and continue drinking?”  

Dude: “ Yes”  

Me: “Soooo, maybe is it possible, that it wasn’t actually the gluten? Maybe the 2 bottles of red wine you drank, the spicy Italian sausage, the cheese and sugar overload in the Tiramisu, the additional drinks after dinner, lack of sleep, dehydration and your hangover? Could that be the reason your energy is zapped and not the gluten?”   

Dude: “No, it was definitely the gluten”.  

This was an especially unique conversation because it was with a man. Historically it’s women who struggle most with the love/hate relationship with food. We all get tired of our old habits and we want something new, a new promise, a new way to do things. And we all know how easy it is to find these promises alluring.

I jumped on the gluten free bandwagon for a brief moment, not because I cared about eliminating gluten, I just wanted to see what the hype was all about. Incidentally, gluten free meals can easily have fewer calories, more vegetables, fewer refined processed carbohydrates and less alcohol (beer has gluten). I’m all for that. It can also influence you to not eat out as often, and require you to spend more time preparing your meals at home. Do you know what happens when you consume less calories, less refined carbs, less processed foods, eat more veggies, drink less beer and not spend so much money on eating out? It can make you feel really good.

Let’s be as honest as we can with our relationship with food. If you do not suffer from Celiac disease and you have an overall feeling of wellness because you have eliminated gluten, could it be that it’s because you’re incorporating healthier foods into your diet? You don’t have to answer that.  Just think about it.  

Most of the time “Gluten Free” is a feature not a benefit. Marketing has done it’s job well and swayed the public in believing that the term “gluten free” is synonymous with healthy. That’s about as accurate as saying “carb-free” and “fat-free” are synonymous with healthy. They’re not. Making foods gluten free usually requires more processing, more sugar, more fat, more calories and that makes it no longer balanced.  

So WHY? Why are you suddenly eating only “gluten free”? The same reason you’ve mentioned “kale” more in the last 72-hours than you have your fiance’s name – it’s popular and everyone else is doing it.  Kale and “gluten free” must have hired the same make-over team, because America loves the hype that they’re being spoon-fed.  

I’m all for gluten free if it’s coming from whole foods that are naturally gluten free and part of a balanced diet.  But I don’t call them gluten free foods, I just call them good foods. If engaging in a gluten free diet encourages you to eliminate donuts, Little Debbie cakes, and excess amounts of bread, then keep on keepin’ on. But remember what we eat really, really, matters. Your body is a machine and needs the right fuels. It’s ok for it to be not “fat free”, not “carb free” or “sugar free”. Moderation. So before you start deleting your body’s fuel source think about why you are doing it, let those reasons be based on truth.  

Restrictive diets…let the truth set you free… for better and for worse.