Saturday, 21 July 2012

When being polite makes you ill....

This is Ruth.  Sometimes she can be a bit of a moody teenager - but then what 13 year old isn't?  But she is a kind, thoughtful and polite girl, who always tries to consider the feelings of others.

Last year when she was 12, she was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease.  This was hard for her, but we were already used to the diet as Alex had been diagnosed earlier in the year and had been gluten-free for 3 months at that point, so it wasn't as much of an upheaval as it could have been.

Ruth is very eloquent, and usually very self-confident.  She often explains to her friends about Coeliac Disease, and is able to take responsibility for eating safely when she is out with friends, or invited to a party.

But recently there have been a couple of incidents where her politeness and her eagerness not to offend have led to her getting glutened.

In the first incident, her Science teacher knew she was Coeliac, and when she was giving out chocolate after using it in a demonstration, she got Ruth to check the packet to make sure it was safe.  The chocolate was fine, but the teacher cut up chocolate containing pieces of biscuit with the knife which she then used to cut up the gluten-free chocolate.  After the teacher had gone to the effort of checking the chocolate was safe for Ruth to eat, Ruth didn't want to offend her by not eating it.  So even though she knew that there was a risk of her being glutened, she ate the chocolate.  Fortunately it was only a small amount, and she doesn't react very strongly, but it did lead to a blocked toilet.  But any glutening incident is serious.  We talked about how important it is for her to put her health first and that if someone is offended by her telling them she's sorry she can't eat something because it would make her ill, then they probably aren't worth worrying about.

However, 2 weeks later it is the end of term and her form have a party as their teacher is leaving to work abroad.  There are 2 other Coeliacs in Ruth's form, and one of them brought in a gluten-free cake she had made for the 3 of them to share.  There was only one knife for them to use, and it was used to cut the regular gluten-filled cake first, before the gluten-free cake.  Ruth knew it could make her ill, but after her friend had gone to the effort of making the cake, she didn't want to upset her by not eating it.  So she had a slice of the cake (apparently it was very nice).  I was very surprised when she told me what had happened, as I would have thought that the other Coeliacs (both who were diagnosed when they were quite little so have been used to living with it for years) would know it wasn't ok to use the same knife.  Maybe Ruth felt that since they had been diagnosed a long time before her, she could follow their lead, as they would know whether it was ok.  By the time she got home she was grumpy and her stomach was gurgling.  This morning we had a blocked toilet again, this time so badly we had to call out the emergency plumber.

But obviously more worryingly, this is the 2nd time she has been glutened in a month.  Both times she knew it would probably happen, but ate the food anyway as she was too worried about hurting someone's feelings.  Before she was diagnosed, she was fairly asymptomatic so I'm not sure if she's convinced herself that she isn't doing herself any real damage.  She is very intelligent (she is starting Maths and 3 Science GCSEs in September, a year early), so it's not that she doesn't understand the mechanics of Coeliac Disease, I think that maybe she is in denial?

I'm hoping that this time the message has gone in and she really will try to put her health first.

Have any of you had a similar experience?  How do you deal with these kind of situations?  Is it something you just learn to deal with over time?

Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated :)


  1. Hi, I moderate a FB group called Gluten Free Kids - a space for kids following a gluten-free diet to chat and moan and not feel like a freak. The link is

    For the adults, there is also a FB group called Gluten Free and Me. It's a really friendly group with many parents of coeliac teenagers on it (myself included) who are always there to offer support, advice and just a place to moan. We'd love to see you there. The link is


  2. Thanks Debra, that sounds exactly what we need :) Ruth is going to have a look this afternoon & I will once I get my laptop back from her.