Forgive me, father, for I have glutened.

h-armstrong-roberts-young-girl-saying-prayer-praying-loaf-bread-wheat-field-backgroundDid you see this conversation over at Gluten Dude’s blog? I am totally oblivious to pop culture, but from what I can tell, this Dean McDermott guy is a public figure who a) has celiac disease and b) regularly eats gluten anyway.

Good former Catholic that I am, this whole McDermott thing got me thinking about sin. That is, how is gluten like sin? How permanently do we blemish our immortal intestines when we gluten ourselves wittingly or unwittingly? And ought the community to strive, shepherdlike, to bring lost celiac lambs back to the flock?

There’s a perception that Catholics can sin as much as they want, because they can always confess later and be forgiven. Even if this idea wasn’t plucked directly from the limb of the tree of knowledge, it isn’t totally unfounded: confession does offer an opportunity to cleanse oneself of unrighteousness. According to doctrine, your sins—intentional and unintentional, venial and mortal—can be forgiven. But, you aren’t supposed to be finishing up your Hail Marys already planning your next coveting session. You’re meant to learn from your mistakes and fully intend to do better.

Similarly, I think that some people with celiac disease “cheat” on the basis that they can always go on the diet and be healed. They, too, aren’t entirely off: on a strict gluten-free diet, symptoms of celiac disease almost always resolve. As long as you’re good for long enough, your intestines can be good as new, too! I can see how it’d be easy for someone who is asymptomatic or who experiences only mild symptoms to indulge in a cookie here, a slice of pizza there—as a person might tell a lie here, steal a few dollars there—with the intention to get clean later.

Is this such a bad attitude? If so, why? For one thing, there’s refractory celiac disease to consider. Continuing to eat gluten may increase the likelihood that you’ll destroy your intestines for good. You could also wind up with an associated disease, like cancer, that you won’t be able to cure by avoiding gluten. As with eternal damnation, at either of these points there’s no coming back.

Habit-building is another piece of this. Every time you “cheat,” you’re hurting your ability to ever be able to adhere to the diet properly. Willpower is like a muscle, in that training it over the long term improves self-control. The repetition of even venial sins and BelVita bars engenders vice. A gluten-free diet for treating celiac disease requires strict compliance: as in penance, you must whole-heartedly orient your life and heart toward redemption. You must turn away from and repugn your past weaknesses. You must exercise rigid control from then on. If you’ve spent years harming your self-control along with your villi, true compliance may be tough.

Finally, Gluten Dude’s post and a lot of the responses point out that Dean’s gluten habit may be hurting his family and the general community. This brings me back to sin, which the Catholic catechism defines as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity.” Eating gluten while diagnosed with celiac disease is like that: It offends against medical reason and scientific truth, as well as right conscience, if perverse attachment to certain gluten-containing goods does in fact harm your neighbors. All this means it is, if not sinful, at least pretty sucky.

Of course, we’re all responsible for our own health. Sinners gonna sin, smokers gonna smoke, McDermott’s gonna eat. Maybe he doesn’t operate up to his highest possible capabilities on a daily basis, and maybe he’s doing insidious damage to himself that will take a long time to heal if he ever decides he wants to. But we make choices about what to define as best health, and we make choices about how seriously to take our own definition. Every day, we decide to hit the gym or not, to eat a balanced breakfast or not, to smoke or drink or stress ourselves out or not. If Dean doesn’t suffer many symptoms himself, then maybe the benefits of eating gluten outweigh the risks for him. From what I can tell, the medical community recommends staying gluten-free even if asymptomatic in order to protect against future complications—but of course, doctors caution against smoking and drinking to excess, too, often while carrying on their own substance habits to deal with the pressure of their jobs. Perhaps if Dean’s health begins to go downhill, he’ll change his ways.

In the meantime, his public callousness does make the rest of us look awfully picky. Is it off-base to be upset by this? People in the public eye always face greater approbation for their failings, whether it be Sanford for his affair or Lohan for her carousing, because it reflects badly on the conduct of governors and child stars in general and sets a bad example for the rest of us. Celebs like Dean must be at least some part of the reason that we get asked, “Can’t you have just a little?” or “Aren’t you taking this a bit far?” Then again, I do wonder to what extent people outside of the celiac community actually internalize McWhatsis’s behavior as a reflection on celiac sufferers in general. And, as Amanda has reminded me, celebrities have been known to do far worse things than any of the above.

Still, I do think that Gluten Dude made a lot of valid points. I think it’s fair to be annoyed at Dean and others like him, and I think it’s fair to try to educate them. I also appreciate that Dean’s folly served as an ideal jumping-off point for this half-baked homily, perhaps proclaimed to the chirping of internet crickets in the pews. I’m ready to step down from my wobbly pulpit and will leave the rest to you: How do you respond to situations like this? Do you hate the gluten, not the gluten-eater?

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17 thoughts on “Forgive me, father, for I have glutened.

  1. SStitches says:

    I hear that! The worst thing I constantly hear is: “Oh, you’re Celiac? That just means you can’t have gluten, right? Like, just a stomachache?” just. JUST. Yes, just. Just like a Diabetic can only not have sugar. Not that it means there are major parts of your body which do not function. Not that, if you don’t follow this strict diet (which is harder in today’s world of Let’s-throw-wheat-in-everything!), there are major consequences, including organ failure, cancer, and even death. That’s right, I have a tummy ache.

    Esposito is whiney because she can’t commit to a grueling shooting schedule, I’m lazy because I work from home, preparing weeks in advance, instead of “getting a real job” because I can’t be sure I can be where I need to be on time everyday (Educating your children isn’t a real job?! Oh, I forget. Teachers are whiners, too.), and McDimblebum gets a snack bar because it’s not a big deal. He makes our struggle that much harder.

    I need to take off my grump pants today.

    • Molly says:

      By the way: McDimblebum, hilarious! And no worries, grump pants are always in style.

      • SStitches says:

        I have them in many colours!

        I just know this sort of idiocy exists; my sister-in-law knowingly fed me gluten because someone who said they were Celiac was on “Come Dine with Me” and then ate bread. She said, “I thought it was okay sometimes.”

  2. ethan says:

    i’m of the mind that maximizing negative liberty will lead to a freer and more open society for everyone. it is frustrating (if i read your post correctly) that some people in the celiac community are more interested in dogma (no pun intended) than they are in respecting the individual health and dietary choices of other people. you’d think if any community got the message on not trying to enforce certain eating habits it would be celiacs. attempting to control what other people eat is not only a dictatorial approach; it implicitly signals to others that that kind of behavior is acceptable. with all respect to sstiches and the feelings of intense camaraderie obviously present within the community, each sufferers struggle is ultimately personal, not a collective effort.

    • SStitches says:

      I agree 100% that each struggle is personal, but it doesn’t prevent nay-sayers from doing the same thing to me. Because someone who chooses to be in the public eye for entertainment also chooses to come forward about his disease (You don’t give an interview to an allergy magazine if you want to stay private.) AND eat outside of the prescribed diet, others will tell me that it’s clearly no big deal and I should be able to eat it, too. I’m certainly not saying he CAN’T eat whatever he wants, and I would never, ever try to tell someone what they can and cannot eat; however, his doing so in public reduces the private argument and has consequences, often for other sufferers.

      I’ve always said that I don’t care what folks get up to in their own bedrooms. Maybe I need to amend that to include kitchens!

      • Molly says:

        Yeah, libertarian is as libertarian does. Negative liberty is okay except that we don’t lead our lives in a vacuum. I don’t totally know where I feel the lines need to be drawn, but I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as “everyone’s struggle is ultimately personal.” (But then, I’m also relatively rah-rah about soda bans, etc., etc…it’s about sending the right message and helping people to do right by themselves and others. Is that SO fascist?)

  3. Amanda says:

    I am probably in the minority, but I just don’t care what other people do, say or think especially when they’re so far removed from me on my general sphere of influence. Haha! I feel almost guilty saying that; but maybe it’s from knowing one too many addicts, or seeing people in general do awful things. I just can’t be bothered to care what other people do. People who have lung cancer routinely return to smoking cigarettes, drug addicts continue to poison themselves … their bodies, their lives. It’s frustrating that it sends mixed signals to OTHER people, but all I can do is speak for myself and educate those around me. It would be nice if famous people could be advocates for at least their own diseases, but it honestly doesn’t bug me at all when they’re not. At the same time, I can see why it would bother certain people, or why people would internalize it. We all have different ways of coping! I’m really bad at articulating myself right now because I’m about to leave on vacation soon but hopefully you get my point!

    • Molly says:

      Yeah, I feel bothered by people in the public eye doing things that send mixed or just-plain-wrong messages, but it’s also true that the modern default response to public figures is “bunch of crooks” in the case of politicians and “bunch of idiots” in the case of celebrities. So I don’t know how much, say, Dean McDermott’s actions are really swaying anyone either way. What’s much more annoying to me, on both a personal and public level, is doctors who spread stupid messages/don’t bother to keep up with the latest findings (and, I suppose, the medical system that doesn’t allow them the time to keep up).

  4. The main problem I have with this Dean guy eating gluten is that according to an article in the current Allergic Living magazine, http://allergicliving.com/index.php/2011/11/22/winter-2012-u-s-edition-2/ “Dean McDermott, aka Tori Spelling’s husband, on his plans to be a gluten-free entrepreneur.” So, he evidently WANTS to be public about his celiac and WANTS to cash in on the whole gluten-free craze. Apparently he wants to do that while eating gluten. Terrible example and reeks of being money-hungry. I don’t know what he’s going to be selling, but I hope the rest of us celiacs don’t buy it!

    • Molly says:

      Hmm…but what if he were making maple bars? Just the way you remember them? 🙂

      I don’t generally make a habit of researching the faces behind the products I consume, although I suppose I should. It seems as though a lot of the big gluten-free brands do have faces attached to them, which would make it easier…but to be honest, I don’t know if it’s something I want to prioritize. At a certain point, you can find a reason not to support the person behind just about anything, can’t you?

      That said, I trust that if Mr. McDermott does ever open a company, my friends in the blogosphere will make sure I know he’s the one behind it—and I agree with you that I’d feel awfully itchy about supporting his brand knowing his personal habits. (Bet his products would be overpriced anyway, if other celeb brands are any indication!)

      • oooh, hit me where it hurts Molly! 🙂 No I don’t make it a habit of researching people behind products usually, but sometimes I do. If I have the choice of not supporting someone that is obviously an ignorant hypocrite, I do. 🙂 Yes, I bet his products will be overpriced anyways. Probably the people that buy them will be all of his fellow “gluten-free to lose weight” celebrities. 🙂

  5. I think it’s still a personal choice, what you do with your food choices (and intestines), just like everything else in life. I don’t have Celiac, but I adhere to strict GF diet as I’ve seen the difference it made in my life, not even mentioning not wishing to experience the side effects eating gluten even one time can bring.

  6. The question I wonder about is what does it take for a person to do what is in their own best interest for their health? None of us should be eating processed food and tons of sugar, yet most of us do. The desire to heal from Chronic Lyme Disease was a powerful motivator for me to give up gluten, sugar, diary & alcohol but it isn’t a motivator for everyone.

  7. rachelmeeks says:

    You are an amazing writer, that’s all I can say. I just adore reading what you post.

  8. […] to avoid making the rest of the community look bad? I touched on this topic way back when in this post about Dean McDermott, but now I’ve reopened the case. I hope you’ll check it out and […]

  9. […] more blasphemy from me, read this oldie but goodie about sin. Alternatively, for more on why Passover actually is pretty cool for those with GRDs, try this […]

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