Friday 14 March 2014

The One Where She Answers Back

As a sufferer of gluten intolerance I am a big fan of Alex Gazzola. Us 'free from' warriors can always count on Alex to have great info, to stand up for us, to give us answers and to generally keep our Twitter timelines pretty entertaining. Today Alex tweeted an article written by Rod Liddle, the associate editor of The Spectator. The article came with a health warning. I do worry about my health, but I am nosy, and nosy beat anxious this time.

Alex was right. I was annoyed by what I read. Not upset, because it is not something I haven't heard before, but definitely annoyed, frustrated, appalled and finally, inspired to fight back. If Rod Liddle can use his words, so can I.

Rod's article was based around recent research conducted at Durham University which formed a report stating that dyslexia is "a meaningless term". He then went on to exclaim the same for ADHD. In my opinion, which I am entitled to, these are harmful and dangerous claims, regardless of the research behind it.

I get on my high horse more often than not, and I see things in black and white, more often than not. So now that I am 24 and very mature I try to take a moment to assess my situation; is my anger justified? Am I being stubborn? Am I doing my usual trick of saying someone is wrong because I disagree? Well no, today I don't think I am doing that. The reason being that I was further justified in my response when Rod decided to turn his words towards sufferers of food allergies.

Food allergies. The bane of my existence. The reason I hyperventilate if someone asks me to go out for a meal. The reason my parents' shopping bills are so high. The reason I have had so many medical procedures, invasive surgeries, hospitalisations, ambulance rides, public fainting fits. The reason I missed my final exams at university. The reason I lost so much weight that I had to sleep with pillows in between my knees because my bones were digging into my skin. The reason why my weight was then monitored so closely I had to step on my doctor's scales every nine weeks. The reason why my blood is dragged so unwillingly from my arm every few weeks. Food allergies have changed my life, and the lives of the people I love, so severely, in so many ways. So naturally, Rod, now its just personal.

Rod Liddle claims that people over a certain age won't remember children in their classes suffering with Coeliac Disease. He believes that this is not because the medical terminology did not exist. He instead believes that it is a modern problem caused by over-indulgent parents, amongst other issues. First of all, my auntie who is in this age bracket (forgive me AJ) was often very ill due to gluten intolerance, showing symptoms very similar to my own, with a medical diagnosis, so clearly it did exist. Secondly, if science has advanced so much so that we can claim dyslexia doesn't exist, could it not have advanced just as much to prove food allergies do? How do we explain babies with an intolerance to cow's milk? As far as I knew, babies do not have enough of a social and behavioural awareness to fake an intolerance. An argument I heard recently against this was that an experiment was conducted on children with nut allergies being fed small amount of the nut often so that they became immune to their allergy. There may be truth in this 'experiment' in particular, but a person with gluten intolerance who continues to eat gluten becomes more susceptible to osteoporosis, infertility, stomach cancer, bowel cancer, muscle and joint issues, hair loss, the list goes on.

My gluten intolerance was not diagnosed until I was 19 years of age. My parents did not over indulge me because they did not know that I was claiming food to be the cause of my illness. I had no idea what made me so ill as a child. One doctor used the term 'sickly' to describe me, much like I was a character out of The Secret Garden. I was struck down with migraines that left me motionless in a dark room, I was often violently sick after my packed lunch at school. I would often go into anaphylactic shock after a trip to a restaurant. I experienced violent spasms and pain in my legs after accidentally using a moisturiser that contains oats. I once ended up covered in hives and unable to breathe just from standing next to a tree-nut stall at a Christmas market, and I currently have to take a wide variety of pills just to eat a meal.  My suffering was, and still is, very real.

However, it is not just Rod that harbours these opinions about food intolerances. I am faced with bemused, confused and often downright ignorant responses about my diet and my health issues every single day. Many people see a free-from diet as a fad. As a way to look 'healthy'. As a way to lose weight (total myth...we sufferers are only thin because the food we previously ate made us throw up our guts three times a day). As a way to seek attention. So now I have a question in return. If you had to have scars re-opened to investigate pains where there should be no pains (with nothing but mild painkillers to recover with) if you had to swallow a camera that had been shoved up your nose thus causing major bleeding, if you had to get off the bus to vomit in a bin, if you had to think ahead for every single meal, every single day, if you had to cancel the majority of your social engagements with your friends because your body was so weak and your intestines were so damaged that any food you COULD eat had caused you to swell up like a balloon, so much so that people started to think you just did not want to see them...well...would you keep up the facade? No, you probably wouldn't.

I also find it rather strange that someone could claim that these intolerances are caused by 'neurotic' parents insisting every food stuff their child came into contact with had to be allergen-free, when the child would be happy to eat whatever gluten, nut or dairy riddled treat was put in front of them. I was raised on the same food as my brothers, who are both fit and healthy, I clearly loved biscuits, and my parents never entertained the thought that I could have an intolerance. My illnesses were always attributed to something else by my doctors. I may have been momentarily happy eating a brownie. I may still be momentarily happy eating a brownie. Know that soon after though, I would be screaming in pain, with a stomach to match a woman in the final stages of pregnancy, before collapsing in a heap on the floor.

Now, I think, luckily for you all, my rant has come to an end. As for Rod Liddle, and any other doubters out there, please sleep soundly tonight in the knowledge that I would switch off my aversion to proper food and eat like a 'normal' person if I could. May you never know how it feels like, and may you never have to join my late-night pity party, furiously typing away against the injustice of it all, when all I really want is a Jammy Dodger.

As ever,


  1. Bless you for the mention. Nicely controlled rant. There's nothing like the experiences of a severe food sensitive sufferer to bring home the realities to deniers. Good for you.

  2. Nicely put Becca. I m coeliac since infancy, becoming ill as soon as I was weaned onto gluten - not exactly much time for my parents to 'over-indulge' me... Considering I weighed 9lbs at 9months old, I am quite lucky to be alive. It's shocking anyone could counter that CD or allergies are in anyone's head.

  3. Thank you Alex. I found his insults thinly veiled as humour to be quite distasteful, not the route I wanted to go down. I am so grateful you took the time to read it, truly

  4. Wow Emma! I am so sorry you went through that, but I am so glad you came out the other side. I do think one of the biggest challenges we face is the words of others. Thank you for reading and commenting, I hope you stay well :-)