What gluten means to me…mathematically

Once upon a time, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Though I wound up in publishing instead (less public speaking), I hung onto some shreds of the dream. Most recently I’m turning them to—possibly—good use as a volunteer SAT tutor.

If you’ve ever wondered whether anything is harder than going gluten-free, teaching is. Apart from being confronted with your lack of any sort of coolness recognized by a high school junior, you also become intimately aware of every gap and shortcoming in your own training and memory. It’s humbling to flip through the tutor manual and realize you’ll need to reteach yourself the math before you can teach it to anyone else.

The manual, donated to the tutoring program by Kaplan, tells me to present the material in a way the kids can relate to. The same tactic comes in handy when reeducating myself. There’s a surprising amount of parallels between the SATs and gluten-free life. For example, “If you don’t know, skip it, because you’re only penalized for getting it wrong” is true of both unfamiliar food and unfamiliar SAT questions.

This also works for understanding specific concepts. Here, for example, is a thorough reintroduction to “systems of equations,” using gluten. If high school is a ways behind you, and your math score, like mine, was <800, you too may appreciate the refresher.

The problem: Solve the system of equations for gluten.


To start, pick either equation, like this one:


Next, subtract gluten from all sides (you got this) in order to isolate celiac (aww).


So a celiac is an unhappy person without gluten. Sounds about right. Plug this definition into the other equation in place of celiac, like so:


Clean it up…


…and isolate gluten. Subtract the unhappiness from both sides…


…and divide by –2 for the answer.


Looks like gluten equals divided feelings, mostly negative. True enough, but we’re not quite through. Since the opposite of happy is unhappy, we can change the negative smiley into a frown…


…add them up…


…and cancel the twos for the final answer:


There you have it. Gluten equals unhappiness. I’d say we don’t even have to check that answer.

Don’t worry, I’m not teaching the kids using gluten metaphors (talk about uncool!). Have you ever tried teaching or tutoring? Did/do you like it? How’s my math? And do you agree with the equations’ conclusion?

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15 thoughts on “What gluten means to me…mathematically

  1. Amanda says:

    i love you because this is awesome.

  2. You are so creative in your posts that is why I love reading them.

  3. Though I am genuinely impressed with your boundless blog post creativity (not to mention your altruism), my lifelong fear of math forced me to skim over the majority of your equations 🙂 which I’m sure were perfectly sound, in addition to super clever. Those kids have no idea how lucky they are!

    • Molly says:

      Fair enough, Dana. Don’t worry; I don’t like math enough myself to force it on you too often (and the most important bit is the answer; even the SAT doesn’t make you show your work!). Thanks so much for the comment.

  4. jodi stewart says:

    Believe it or not, I actually followed along with all of these. Woah, I’m very impressed by me. 😉
    You totally need to share a link to this on Freedible. I’m Pinning and Tweeting now.

    • Molly says:

      Thanks, Jodi! I didn’t think that many people liked math so I didn’t want to scare everyone away…but maybe I’ll share anyway, on your recommendation. 🙂

      • jodi stewart says:

        I read your post immediately after teaching a trig lesson to my 16yo. I’m not a math lover, but the second time around has given me a new appreciation.
        And besides, it’s a funny post. All of your posts are so well done. I’m always impressed. I’m not going to haunt you with a “share this on freedible” message every time, but you really should share a link to every post. Top quality stuff. 🙂

  5. shaina says:

    OK, so I promise I’m not a crazy stalker, but when I first found your blog I was like oh hey, crazy, another NYC girl that just got diagnosed with celiac and who likes to laugh at her newfound ridiculous fear of noodles (and breadcrumbs! oh god breadcrumbs!), and lives with her also-celiac sister (although I don’t anymore)…but seriously, this is a new level of ridiculous now: I’m volunteering for that exact same Kaplan SAT program. I’m sure at a different site, haha, but I don’t know whether that’s awesome or scary…I do keep discovering new symptoms of celiac, but I never expected a doppelganger to appear : )

    Hope you’re enjoying the tutoring! I got assigned to tutor english only, thankfully – I used to tutor both for a long time as a side job, and my brain is SO EXCITED to finally be allowed to forget the math, haha.

    And thanks for making me laugh about celiac stuff here, it’s so lovely to laugh at all the absurdities that go along with this disease – i don’t think celiac wins any prizes for easiest condition to live with, but it’s definitely up there for goofiest : )

    • Molly says:

      That’s crazy! I mean, I don’t think YOU’RE crazy (or a stalker), but what a crazy coincidence. What a tiny, tiny gluten-free world. And speaking of tiny, yes, breadcrumbs are the most terrifying thing known to man. I step into the break room at work and they assault me from every surface.

      I’m enjoying the tutoring; I haven’t had a steady volunteer thing since college and I missed it. Hope you are, too! Lucky you, no math.

      I’ll have to quote you on that last line sometime. Couldn’t agree with you more. If you’re in NYC, are you part of the NYC Celiac Meetup? I always seem to have conflicts with the events but am trying to go to more. It’s nice to have like-intestined people to commiserate and laugh with. 🙂

      • shaina says:

        Haha phew, glad I didn’t send you running screaming for the hills! (With a backpack full of Kind bars and gluten free sandwiches to survive off of, of course). And I know, if I had any film-making talent I’d be tempted to do a remake of The Birds, but with bread crumbs swooping at me from every surface as I try to flee in terror to the safety of my own kitchen, lol.

        I’m loving the tutoring – it’s my first real volunteer thing since college too : ) Being off the hook for the math is awesome, although about half of my kids are non-native English speakers so the reading sections are a whole new world of challenging. I ended up spending a lot of the last session just explaining what common words in the questions meant, like “emphasis” and “drawback” and “consequently” – I think math might have been simpler!

        Yup, I do go to the NYC meetup events when I can (and I keep trying to find a Brooklyn meet-up that will work for my schedule, since that’s where I live) – like-intestined people are indeed wonderful to find. : ) I think the next one I’m signed up for is at the One Stop Beer Shop – maybe the gluten-free world will get tiny enough I’ll bump into you sometime soon!

        • Molly says:

          I totally would spend my life’s savings on Kind bars if I had to run for the hills. Popchips, too, because I’ve heard that potatoes are one of the best foods to survive off of in the wilderness, and that’s obviously the same. If you ever make that film or get someone else to make it, I want to see it.

          I’m sure we will bump into each other at one or another event. I’m considering the One Stop meetup myself, but Greenpoint is a ways away from home for a weeknight.

  6. […] I’ve been SAT tutoring for a while now, and if there’s one thing SAT tutoring will do, it’s turn everyone involved off of […]

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