Carolyn Hax: Facing down a gluten-free gladiator

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 22, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My sister-in-law recently discovered, not by talking to a doctor, but by her own decision, that she is allergic to gluten. She cut it out of her diet and claims that she feels 1,000 percent better. I’m very happy for her, but . . .

I do not believe I am allergic to gluten. And I’m getting very resentful of her claiming that everything that’s wrong in my life is due to eating it. If I’m tired, it’s because I didn’t sleep well last night (and again, my insomnia is not due to eating gluten!). If I have the sniffles, it’s because I’ve been around people with colds, not due to my diet. I have tried telling her firmly that I don’t have a gluten allergy, and my husband also told her to knock it off, but nothing seems to make a dent in her crusade.

What can I do or say to get her to leave it alone? If it makes a difference, I think it’s silly that she self-diagnosed, but I haven’t said so to her, and if she really feels better, then, fine.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Gluten Police

Resentful? Not just annoyed?

She found a hammer, so everything looks like a nail, and that condition might predate even gluten. If it helps, you’re picking up a hammer yourself: an impatience with what you perceive to be dietary fads.

To deal with someone’s fixation, your choices are limited to riding it out, avoiding it/her, batting it away with gentle humor — or taking it seriously. Why not, right? It’s just food. Here’s a link I found useful, (bitly.com/hax-gluten ), discussing gluten and making a good case for going easy on the self-diagnosers.

Another why-not-right? suggestion is to stop telling her “that I don’t have a gluten allergy,” since that’s just fighting one false certainty with another. You haven’t been tested either, presumably, so try this tack instead: “I hear you, and realize you feel strongly and want to help. I believe this topic is coming between us, though, more than my diet comes between me and good health. Is there anything I can say to put it to rest for good?”

Might not help, but at least you’ll have a “last word” on the record, freeing you to say things like, “This is me walking away from this conversation topic . . .,” ideally with a smile and a wave, as you leave the room.

Hi, Carolyn!

How do you find the line between compromising and settling? When is it worth putting in effort and energy to address problems and when is it better to just walk away? I’m thinking about this in relation to romantic relationships, but it also seems applicable to work, platonic friendships and family relationships.

Compromising vs. Settling

The key to a good decision: a clear-eyed assessment of how effective the “effort and energy” will be, how long you’ll have to keep at it, and how open you are to the idea of maintaining that level of work indefinitely/for the rest of your life. Also useful is not being blinded by wishful thinking about what you have and where things are headed.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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