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Is it OK for coeliacs to cheat occasionally on the gluten free diet?

Updated on May 17, 2012

Yum, Yum! Looks tempting, doesn't it??

Just one bite, or just one piece of cake?

Scenario: You have coeliac disease, or some form of self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity. You know that you responded well to the gluten free diet. You're at a co-worker's celebration. The rich, chocolate cake is about to be brought out. It's home made using a traditional recipe (which, of course, includes wheat flour).

Everyone is about to celebrate and they're ready to cut the cake! They're about to offer you some of their home-baked fare. It looks so neatly made and tempting! You feel bad that you can't share in the joy of the event and detached from normal society. You feel as though you can't resist. You decide to give in, and 'gluten' yourself.

How cheating works

This is a story I have heard time and time again. It's something that people on a gluten free diet will do every day. Some who have been avoiding gluten like the plague for a dozen or so years will suddenly see temptation somehow 'sneak in', while others often will *discreetly*, but deliberately, have "just a bite"...

I was once emailed by someone regarding how I felt about cheating on the gluten free diet.

To Whom it may concern,

I have been following a gluten free diet for a little over 11 years. I'm pretty sure I have a case coeliac disease based on the symptoms I had when I was young and have excluded gluten from my diet for all this time.

I notice that when I do consume just a 'little' gluten (i.e. around than 1/100th of a piece of bread worth of gluten) at communion I don't seem to have one bit of a problem at all.

The other week, I went to a restaurant and was served croutons where the attendant told me they were gluten free. I wasn't so sure as they tasted a bit 'stale' but I kept eating away. I had some 'slight' symptoms of flatulence but I was in no way unwell.

As I avoid gluten like the plague for a vast majority of the time, I have forgotten what a normal slice of cake tastes like. This is in trying to compare it to gluten free slices of cake.

And what if I'm at a gathering? And an irresistibly yummy normal cake is on offer? And I decide to have a slice for myself?

As I have been vigilantly avoiding gluten (and my gut is in good shape) what would be the impact of taking a slice of cake for myself and eating it? It would only take 3 weeks for my gut to heal and seeing as though I'm quite asymptomatic that should be ok once a year or so shouldn't it?

Let me know your thoughts on this! Thanks.

My Thoughts?

This is extremely dangerous.

I think she'll have a lot of issues if she decides to go down this path.

Firstly, she says she suspects that coeliac disease is present. If this is the case, and she finds that she benefited from the gluten free diet in the beginning (without a diagnosis) she then needs to remain completely gluten free as she most probably, indeed, does have a gluten related disorder.

Secondly, if she has truly been on a mostly gluten free diet for the past 11 years, it is likely that her friends know about her gluten intolerance. Wouldn't you wonder if someone said they couldn't eat wheat but then decided to cut a good old slice of cake? Believe me, it happens. However, it does give me very serious doubts about one's sincerity with that attitude. Friends may take her needs less seriously in the future which I think is something that no-one wants, especially when it comes to dealing with coeliac disease.

And of course, then there are all the unpleasant symptoms to take into account. The common 'wheat belly' syndrome, the fatigue, ear infections, gut infections, atrophy, constipation, diarrhoea and more! Quite an embarrassing situation to be in, believe me. I normally find that after a gluten exposure the last thing I want to do is socialise.

Type 1 (insulin-dependent autoimmune) Diabetes

But of course, to some that won't make a difference.

I might mention something else that cheating on the gluten free diet can result in; that might not seem as embarrassing or awkward to talk about as sinus congestion, bloated belly or diarrhea; but certainly far more devastating and that is Type 1 Diabetes. We know that there is a very strong correlation between the genes related to coeliac disease and those of type 1 diabetes. In fact, just to say what I said in the last sentence is an understatement. The predisposing genes encode HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 predispose to both type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease. We already know that, based on human experience and mouse models, this devastating form of disease often occurs as a result of untreated coeliac disease and newer research (according to Dr. Peter Green) indicates that many children who go on a gluten free diet early can dramatically slow down the rate of the autoimmune attack against the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

From my experience, I have yet to see a person develop type 1 diabetes who does not benefit from a gluten free diet. After having interpreted various EnteroLab gluten/other food sensitivity stool tests of those who were newly-diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it seems like 100% of children, teenagers and adults alike had both anti-gliadin (gluten) antibodies AND anti-tTG (tissue enzyme damage) antibodies detectable at elevated levels in their stool samples.

Want to talk about ruining about your life, just for a piece of cake? Do you want to be stuck with an incurable disease all because you ate something that you knew wasn't appropriate for your diet. Because that's all it could take! Whenever the autoimmunity starts, there is a chance it could spread.


To conclude, all I have to say is that cheating on the gluten free diet (even occasionally) is NOT okay. Damage is almost certainly occurring and people do not just 'outgrow' coeliac disease. Part of the reason this condition remains so grossly under diagnosed and people don't take the needs of those with coeliacs seriously is due to this distortion that just one bite won't hurt. Trust me, it will!


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    • infonolan profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Australia

      Hi Pamela99, I can certainly understand where your brother is coming from. I used to be in his shoes back at my time of diagnosis too. I find that, in general, males tend to be less compliant. My mother always let me make my own choice on how I wish to comply, rather than telling me 'no', and through time we've both supported each other on our gluten free lives. Thanks for commenting

      Hi AliciaC and thank you for commenting. I find that different people experience different symptoms. The reason I maintain that avoiding gluten (if afflicted with a gluten-related disorder) is so important is that sometimes it will take a week for me to feel the full repercussions of even small 10mg (i.e. 1/500th of a piece of bread) exposures. Eating foods that contain gluten even just once in a great while can cause total inflammation within a few hours. I recently documented an experience of mine at a restaurant where this happened (including before and after biopsies):

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a useful and important hub, infonolan. Thank you for stressing that someone who has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid the temptation to eat gluten. The unpleasant symptoms - and the damage to the villi if the person has celiac disease - making eating foods that contain gluten a very bad idea!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 years ago from United States

      My brother has celiac disease and tends to eat some gluten products anyway. He seems to be in denial as when he gets sick he blames it on something else. He had a biopsy, so we know he has the disease but everyone has to make their own decisions. I thought this is a wonderful, informative hub.

    • infonolan profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Australia

      Not a problem, Thelma! Thanks for stopping by. I'd happily make myself a gluten free chocolate cream cake, if only I had a kitchen to work in (that is). ;)

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      6 years ago from Germany

      Hi infonolan! Your chocolate cake is very inviting and it leads me to reading your article. Just thought at first that it´s a recipe as I am enjoying at this moment a delicious chocolate cream cake. Yummy!

      Well, your hub is very interesting and informative, too. I would not cheat to myself if I have this allergy. It could be dangerous. Voted up and useful. Thanks for sharing.


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