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Understanding Your Gluten Intolerant Teenager’s Struggles

Mother_and_DaughterThis is a bit of a philosophical comment and I hope you’ll indulge me.  I’m a Celiac as you know, but fortunately, my kids aren’t.  But from running the GFC for some time now, I realize that teenagers have a whole set of issues related to being gluten intolerant that adults may not think about.  It’s tough enough being a teenager without having to deal with special problems.

If you’ve ever been around adolescents, and most people have, it quickly becomes clear they’re very concerned about what other people think.  When I read the questions and comments written by teenagers concerning gluten intolerance, they’re often about appearances and feeling left out.  It takes a strong person to rise above peer pressure and the need to feel wanted in a “special group”.

Teenagers have raging hormones.  The adolescent years are one of the times of life when the human body grows significantly.  But unlike infancy to childhood, it’s changing from a child’s body to an adult’s body during the teenage years.  This is coupled with the normal emotional desire to experience freedom and independence and not be dependent on anyone or anything.

As tough as some adolescents want to act, the teenage years can be fragile years.  You get a glimpse of the kind of adult they’ll become, and this includes their ability to handle adversity or unwanted circumstances.  For example, nobody wants to be gluten intolerant.

Following are the kinds of issues the Celiac teenagers who contact me are concerned about.

•    Don’t want to put on weight as the body heals and begins to absorb nutrients, so are tempted to purge
•    Getting sick at parties in front of people because of eating “gluten goodies”
•    Not being able to eat the same popular foods everyone else is eating like pizza (try this gluten-free pizza recipe!) and wings
•    Feeling like a “freak”
•    Leaving home for college and mom’s not able to feed me a special diet anymore
•    Difficulty handling stress of being gluten intolerant on top of normal teenage stresses
•    Feeling depressed which is exaggerated by hormonal imbalances during growth periods
•    Feeling alone among the “normal kids”

Teenagers that begin to feel isolated because of being gluten intolerant are more subject to becoming depressed.  That’s one reason they turn to the wrong solutions for quick-fixes like “binge and purge”.  That kind of behavior just aggravates the whole situation while creating a host of new health issues.

If you’re a teenage Celiac, the first thing you have to realize is you’re not alone in any way.  There are thousands and thousands of teenagers who are gluten intolerant even if none are in your circle of friends.   In fact, other people who are or have been experiencing the trials of teenage gluten intolerance, have offered some great ideas.

•    If at college, get your mom to mail you some of her great non-gluten cookies she always made for you at home.  Not only do you get sweets you can eat, the request is sure to comfort your mother who’s at home worrying about your health.  It lets her stay a part of your life.
•    Put a couple of gluten-free snacks in your purse or pocket every time you go out.  When your friends decide to eat snacks you can pull yours out and join in the fun.  They will also help you resist the tempting smells of gluten-filled food in the cafeteria.
•    Don’t cheat even a little.  Many teenagers make the mistake believing a tiny piece of cake won’t make them sick, and it certainly might.
•    Join a local support group that has young members.
•    Research “normal” foods that come in gluten-free versions so when someone asks about places you can eat you’re ready with an answer.
•    Never try to deal with feelings alone.  Talk to your mom or dad, your church pastor, a school counselor, a teacher or anyone else who can help you deal with the issues of being gluten intolerant.

If you are a parent of a teenage Celiac, please try to talk to your son or daughter specifically about how they are feeling and what problems they’ve experienced with their friends.  It’s tough to get adolescents to talk, but it’s important to be aware of the special issues they face.

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