“Wow, if I couldn’t eat bread/drink beer I’d be sooo skinny!”

Have you heard that one before? It’s one of my favorite reactions when someone learns what gluten is – and that there are lots of people who can’t have it.

When I say one of my favorites, what I mean is one of the most irritating – there’s just no easy way to respond to a statement like that.

However, the belief that gluten-free = good for weight loss is as pervasive as it is erroneous. Forbes writer Meghan Casserly recently wrote about teen girls disguising their eating disorders as gluten intolerances, and got quite the reaction from the celiac community.

Casserly tells an anecdote about a trio of teen girls who hid their anorexia under cover of gluten intolerances. She also pulled some disturbing information from a pro-anorexia “support group” online, specifically a post encouraging people to use gluten intolerance/celiac as an explanation for why they couldn’t eat in public.

Now, there were parts of Casserly’s article that I found misleading, and parts I found offensive. The diet isn’t easy, but it isn’t “incredibly restrictive” as most people who have been gluten-free for more than a few months can verify. The “writer’s aside,” in which she bemoans the difficulty in making conversation with a thin woman who was both vegan and gluten-free, is just plain stupid.

The community is demonizing her, but there’s an element of truth to Casserly’s article that shouldn’t be overlooked. The more that the gluten-free diet enters the mainstream, the more people will try it out solely as a means of losing weight. Some people will simply switch from standard frozen pizza to gluten-free, from cookies to ice cream, and their weight won’t budge at all (or will go up). Others will use the gluten-free lifestyle as an excuse to eat healthier – more whole foods, fewer empty calories, etc. – and they’ll find their bodies react accordingly.

Still others will use it to mask serious problems – whether they already have an eating disorder and have simply found a new ‘cover’, or whether they begin by restricting foods and end by developing the disorder. And some percentage of all three groups will find that they were in fact sensitive to gluten, and they’ll have done themselves a favor in at least one regard.

One thing is clear it’s a complex issue, and one worth taking the time to think about. You can take a read through the comments to find more and lengthier dissections of the article, and also some of Casserly’s thoughts and motivations.

Have you seen gluten sensitivity and celiac disease misused in your own community?