Gluten free and vegan: diet or lifestyle?
I’ve been living gluten free for around 7 years now and the last year I’ve spent also being vegan. One of the things I’ve become increasingly aware of, and that’s partly down to studying nutritional therapy and being so immersed in the digital world of wellness, is the use of the word “diet” and how that seems to devalue the importance of anything that comes before it.
Tell me if you think I’m crazy here, but I feel like as soon as I say the words “I’m on a gluten free/vegan diet”, that diminishes the importance of my needing gluten free food for medical reasons in the eyes of some: because anything that’s a diet is a passing fad, right? A bit like the word “healthy” which I recently discussed in this article, “diet” also seems to have lost its main original meaning, i.e. being the food we habitually eat, to being thought of only as a special course of food/programme of restriction.
Now, if you feel that you’ve had success on diet plans in the past, this is by no means a dig at you; that may have been what you needed at the time. However, the diet culture we’ve grown up surrounded by, especially as women, does unfortunately conjure up a lot of ridiculous ideas as soon as you say the word “diet” (I’m looking at you, “Potato Diet”). And gluten free has become a little synonymous with “another diet fad” recently. You may have seen that I’ve been chatting a lot with Vicky at The Flourishing Pantry about all things gluten and whether I hate people that adopt a gluten free diet without needing to. If you haven’t seen our chat yet, go check it out, and the answer is obviously I don’t hate those people at all but it is a complex issue and can make it trickier for people that need gluten free food for medical reasons to be taken seriously.
So, where am I going with this?
I’m no longer going to be referring to what I do as a gluten free / vegan diet.
I refer to myself as being a coeliac rather than as having coeliac disease. And I think that distinction is kind of important. Because I don’t see the disease as being something I can compartmentalise and treat as something that is separate to me anymore. I do have coeliac disease, but it’s become entirely essential to my story and my identity: there isn’t a day where the disease doesn’t somehow star in the show. And that’s not because I’m still symptomatic, I’m happily completely symptom free and have been for a long time now. It’s because all of my choices are informed by my experience of having the disease: eating whole, unprocessed and naturally gluten free foods, which foods I’ll eat, where I’ll eat them, talking about my experiences and the business I’m quietly building from my cottage kitchen (actually dining as my kitchen isn’t big enough) table – all of these daily things come from my coeliac discovery.
But being vegan is a choice so what’s your issue with that, I hear you ask.
Well, my gluten free journey led me to becoming a “jedi level” label reader and therefore learning all about what goes into food and how it’s made led me down the path to veganism. Again, for me, that means a whole lifestyle adjustment and not just thinking about the food I eat. Whilst I feel great eating plants, I didn’t make the change for solely health based reasons and so calling it a vegan diet feels at odds with my ethical motivations.
I live a naturally gluten free life based around my vegan principles. I live abundantly, consciously and joyfully. Boiling down the myriad of choices I make every day based on being a coeliac and choosing compassion to the simple concept of “diet” is just too at odds with my outlook.
What do you think? Do you feel like the word diet has just as complex a response as healthy? Or does diet simply mean the food we eat to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue!