Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.

By Krista Lample, M.Ed
Center for Change Outreach Specialist

I had to have surgery last year. It was a day surgery but was a long, extensive reconstructive type of deal, so I was under general anesthesia for over four hours. When I woke up, the nurse wanted me to eat. Understandable—I was on pain meds and general anesthesia can cause nausea in some people. Here is the problem. I have Celiac Disease, but the surgical center had nothing gluten-free to offer me. They had cookies, crackers, dry cereal, bread – none of which were safe for me to eat.

For those who might not know, Celiac Disease is not a food allergy. It is an autoimmune disease that is caused by an immune response/reaction to ingesting gluten – which is found in wheat, barley and rye. It causes inflammation/damage in your gut (can cause inflammation all over the body, actually) and inhibits your ability to absorb food over time by destroying the villi in your small intestine. The diagnosis involves bloodwork and an endoscopy. People who have Celiac Disease who continue to eat gluten have an increased risk of intestinal cancers and lymphomas, as well as a host of other issues including vitamin deficiency and osteoporosis. The only cure for Celiac Disease is a gluten-free diet. Ingesting even a tiny amount of gluten can cause a reaction and inflammation somewhere in the body.

When I am accidentally exposed to gluten my symptoms can include severe vomiting, diarrhea, migraines, stomach cramping, chills, joint pain and swelling, skin rashes and mouth/throat ulcers. It can take me 3-4 days to recover from a gluten exposure and be able to eat normally again. Long story short—I try to avoid it and when I can’t—well, it’s not good.

I work in the field of eating disorders now and, in my opinion, traditionally we have been terrible with dietary restrictions treating most as if they were just “part of the eating disorder.” Don’t get me wrong, I know food fears/avoidance can be a part of an eating disorder. But as a person in recovery who also has Celiac Disease, it has always bothered me that so many of my complaints were always dismissed as “in my head” or “part of the healing process for my digestive system”. I was supposed to just sit with the discomfort/pain and keep eating things that I felt were making me sick, or at least that’s the message I got. It took me years to shed that.

As a person with Celiac Disease AND a person who has recovered from an eating disorder, I am beyond thrilled that Center for Change has taken the steps to become a Gluten-Free Certified facility. I actually teared up when I heard the news. A person struggling with an eating disorder who also has a dietary restriction like Celiac Disease has an additional barrier with food that requires knowledge, education, and compassion to help them overcome this hurdle. I am thrilled that CFC will be able to provide assurance that patients who need this accommodation are seen and safe in our care. Even if the meal choices are limited at first, most of us would choose this over the uncertainty of worrying about whether our food is safe.

Research is showing the correlation between autoimmune disease and eating disorders. Whether we see them more because the prevalence is increasing or because we are better at diagnosing is debatable. The reality is that eating gluten-free is extremely difficult. You have to be hypervigilant. Read labels. Understand wheat derivatives. Look for hidden sources of gluten. It’s easy to be obsessive and you kind of have to in order to stay healthy. Instead of asking these patients to fit into a treatment mold, Center for Change is providing an individualized safety net for these clients that need the reassurance that someone else is being vigilant for them while they are in treatment, which can give them the space to work on recovery. At the end of the day, this is one of the many reasons that make me proud to work here. It just happens to be a very personal one. 🙂