Is your diet affecting your mental health?
It is important to shine a light on the impact of coeliac disease on mental health for many different reasons.
Firstly, undiagnosed coeliac disease is associated with depression and anxiety. Many people suffer with debilitating symptoms for years until they get a diagnosis (it takes on average 13 years to get one). Many also struggle with digesting food, which evidently impacts their relationship with food. I have even seen people get misdiagnosed with an eating disorder due to not wanting to eat food when the actual cause was having coeliac disease – gluten was making them so sick they did not want to eat at all.
For those diagnosed with coeliac disease, mental health can still be significantly impacted. We know that the more restrictive a diet is, the more it impacts mental health because people have to behave differently in social situations around food as well as being constantly vigilant.
Since less than a crumb of gluten can cause symptoms and damage the small intestine of people living with coeliac disease, they have to constantly check food labels for gluten, be vigilant at home about gluten cross-contact (even things like not putting gluten-free bread in the same toaster as others at home), and ask questions about how food is prepared when eating out.
Evidently, this also applies when travelling, visiting friends and family, or attending special events like weddings.
We have a lot of research that highlights the burden of living with coeliac disease because people need to follow this strict gluten-free diet for life, and there is no other treatment for their condition. This is why it is so important to acknowledge that the diagnosis can come with frustration, negative emotions, and feelings of being left out. But it’s essential to understand that a lot of this can be improved with the right support from both psychologists and dietitians with adequate expertise in coeliac disease because they can make your diet more inclusive while also improving your mental wellness.