Fashion: Masochist: The Faux-Allergy Diet

Legit food allergies are no laughing matter. For those who suffer from, say, a serious wheat intolerance, a dinner roll could mean a trip to the hospital, or worse.

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But for anyone with less-than-life-threatening sensitivities, food allergies have become an affliction of convenience. The same poor souls who deconstruct their dinner order in the name of preventing hives can be seen scarfing gluten-packed slices from New York Pizza during the booze-soaked wee hours, with nary a rash in sight. (The appeal to serial dieters isn’t hard to fathom: Much like low-carb regimens, a gluten allergy bans all wheat products.)

When I decide to give gluten-free living a whirl, my first surprise is how much I have to forgo. Turns out, wheat isn’t just in wheaty things like bread and Triscuits. It shows up in anything involving basic flour (including my favorite food groups: nachos, cobblers, and muffins), plus it’s used sneakily—to thicken soups, coat onion rings, add texture to healthy-looking sautés.

But the perks quickly become apparent. In the past when I’ve explained that I can’t have cucumbers in my salad (translation: "I hate cucumbers") or that I can’t eat lard ("I’m dieting"), my requests invariably were met with rolled eyes and thinly concealed disdain. Not so with an "official" restriction, which I learn is most effectively conveyed by wielding an "I have a gluten allergy" in a tone that says, If I die right here at the table, you’ll be seriously inconvenienced.
An allergy is also better for my pride. Dining at Bouchée with a fashionable crowd, I order the burger, no bun. Before there’s time for them to judge my carbo-paranoia, I whisper, "I can’t eat gluten." They nod sympathetically. At an office meeting, I decline the cookies without hurting the baker’s feelings or getting mocked for being on another "crazy" diet.

Two approved indulgences make the diet easier to swallow. Although beer is verboten, wine and liquor are okay. Secondly, potatoes. (May I have a slice of toast? No. Greasy French fries? Yes!) But I learn the hard way: After losing 2 pounds, I’m back to break-even following a double feature of rosemary frites at Sel de la Terre.

After another week, I’ve dropped 3 pounds. With the added benefit of zero attitude from chefs, servers, and friends with higher metabolisms, I’m happy to be this allergy epidemic’s next "victim."

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  • Jennifer

    You have no idea how difficult it is to be gluten intolerant. I realize that there are a lot of people out there that think that it's just a fad and an easy way to "diet" but for those of us that are legitimately sick, this is extremely insulting.

  • Sally

    I have to agree with the above poster. As a person who suffers from celiac disease, I find this article offensive. While the opening paragraph attempts to cover folks like me, the rest of this implies that people searching for GF food are really just dieters. Also, we cannot just get fries at restaurants due to cross contamination issues. If something dredged in flour or batter is dropped into that same hot oil, we will get sick from those plain old fries. A bit of research would have been a benefit to this article.

  • Sally

    Pretend to be a cancer patient to "get away with things" and "get sympathetic looks". Offensive?

  • Kate

    Your uninformed pretending at restaurants confuses servers and staff at restaurants into thinking some things are gluten free. i.e. you say you're allergic, you eat things that aren't gluten free, like your fries, they potentially misinform other customers. flour is probably the most avoidable of worries at restaurants, try soy sauce or the hand full of cross contamination issues. Shame on the author and Boston magazine for such thoughtless prattle surrounding a real issue. The process of constant dieting must be tough, but gluten free is not and should not ever be considered a fad diet. Own up to your issues, or just say I don't like bread.

  • Khrista

    Not only am I outraged and offended as a gluten-intolerant, but also as a recovered anorexic. For years I was a wait staff's worst nightmare, declined cookies as it was my job. My recovery from that eating disorder lead me to become comfortable eating anything again. But then my allergy prevailed. I once again had to pick apart my food– and this time it didn't begin with choice. The author makes it sound as though being a celiac is a choice or, for someone wanting to lose weight, a winning lottery ticket. These two "epidemics" are not fads and do NOT go hand-in-hand. Years ago I would've refused the fresh French bread at Bouchee because I was on a "crazy" diet, but now that bread isn't even a choice; that bread would make me terribly ill. If someone wants to diet, try moderation and exercise– or at least have pride in your "carbo-paranoia." Don't give us "victims" with true allergies that are by no means "faux" a bad rep.

  • Eric

    Thanks! The more often I see idiots like you use preposterous excuses to avoid gluten, the more often I (and the three million Americans like me) are to actually get a gluten-free meal when eating out. In the past, this has constantly proved a struggle. Any attempt to raise awareness about gluten intolerance is always appreciated by the people who are, in fact, truly gluten intolerant.

  • Christina

    Posing as a gluten allergy sufferer is no different from pretending you have a disability so that you can park in a handicapped spot or get a better seat at the theatre! If you don't understnad the glue issue, and order what those of use who really suffer from celiac disease can't eat, you send the wrong message to the server that particular food it OK. That server than passes that bad information on to us, and we end up suffering for hours. Anyone who has suffered from celiac disease knows two realities: We wouldn't wish it on our worst enemies, and 2) it's a nightmare eating away from home because often we have few or no choices or are faced with people who think it's a joke and misinform us about the food on the menu. If you want to lose wait, use the old fashioned ways and don't marginalize what is a growing and difficult issue for us.

  • Janet

    Ms Baker owes an apology to all the readers who have celiac disease. She also should have correct facts. If she did her homework she would know that not all liquor is okay and french fries cooked in contaminated oil is not okay. She sent the wrong message to many people. Boston Magazine should be aware of information printed for publication. Finally, if you want to loose weight do it the old way. Eat less- move more. Don't use Celiac Disease as you "diet of the week"

  • Krys

    mixed feelings on this. I am celiac, but I recommend a gluten-free diet to many friends because it really can be a healthier way to eat. Why not try it? Perhaps an outright lie is not right, but saying “I can’t have gluten” is an ambiguous statement. It is true that others who are not truly allergic to gluten have led waiters to adamantly insist my food is gluten free, then I get sick. Why not try gluten free? Lets be honest, everyone has insecurities, dieting is a common one.

  • Chris

    Thanks for this – I don’t mean that sarcastically. I am increasingly annoyed at this new gluten free fad that women (mostly women, not men…hmmm) seem to have become involved with, when they are not really gluten intolerant. It’s nothing but “acceptable” disordered eating. Eliminating and entire food source is disordered eating, plain and simple.

    Unless you’ve been diagnosed via a blood or stool test confirming gluten intolerance, then you’re not gluten intolerant. Pretending to be makes it so much harder for those legitimately suffering from a wheat allergy or full-blown celiac disease.