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being coeliac

Misleading discussion around coeliac disease on ITV's This Morning

What happened, why it was an issue, the latest updates and my take on it.

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Well, it’s been a pretty chaotic week for gluten free and it’s only Wednesday!

If you follow Gluten Free Glee on social media, then you’ll have seen my response to what was said on the popular daytime television programme ‘This Morning’ by both Vanessa Feltz and Dr Zoe.

I cannot stress how important it is that people with coeliac disease are given the correct information, and just how dangerous it can be to misadvise or downplay the severity of the autoimmune disease. In fact, it’s just as important for non-coeliacs to be educated about it, so that people have more of a medical understanding and won’t hold such negative views to those who have to be careful with what they eat.

By someone ‘giving advice’ on what is supposed to be an informative and trusted ITV programme and spreading misinformation, it has the potential to damage the work put in to spread awareness about coeliac disease and it can have detrimental effects.

Unfortunately, This Morning let us down not once, but twice.

What actually happened on Monday’s ‘This Morning’?

The 'Ths Morning' sofa

During a segment called ‘Vanessa tackles your Christmas dilemmas’ there was a caller who asked ‘How to deal with a family Christmas when we all need to eat gluten free for one person who has got coeliac disease’.

Within seconds of the question being asked, you can see exactly what Vanessa’s view of the situation is, and I have no doubt that coeliacs everywhere sighed and thought ‘here we go again’ as Vanessa Feltz shook her head and rolled her eyes.

Vanessa, who I will mention is NOT a medical expert and clearly has very little knowledge of coeliac disease, responded to the caller by saying that she thought it was ‘absolutely ridiculous’ that everyone should have to eat gluten free, especially because the callers son, who is 15 years old, is a fussy eater. She then completely undermines coeliac disease, comparing it to a nut allergy and insinuates that cross-contamination isn’t that much of an issue for people with coeliac disease.

I mean Alison, I am 100% on your side, this is absolutely ridiculous

The whole interaction was painful to watch.

Aside from what the caller was actually asking about, which to be honest was an utterly ridiculous complaint anyway, I think the main concerns from what aired on ITV was the worrying downplay of coeliac disease as a medical condition and the attitude that people have towards the illness.

Vanessa Feltz on This Morning

Gluten free food is not alien food. Sure, the bread tastes a bit different and 10 years ago you could complain that there’s just not enough choice, but in this day and age, you can get great gluten free substitutes for pretty much everything in most supermarkets. And guess what, most elements of a Christmas dinner or buffet are likely to be naturally gluten free and the majority of people wouldn’t even notice any gluten free changes.

But from the conversation between the caller and Vanessa, you’d have thought that the caller was the one with a severe dietary requirement. If you aren’t the one hosting then you have absolutely no right to complain about being served gluten free food in order to protect someone with coeliac disease. And if having to eat gluten free scares the living daylights out of you, then stay home but make sure you watch out for all of those pesky gluten free potatoes, vegetables, meat, chocolates, crisps, ice cream and wine!

So how is this damaging?

This is the same old issue coeliacs come across every single day: ‘gluten free food is disgusting’, ‘coeliac disease doesn’t exist’, ‘you’re just being picky’, ‘a crumb of gluten won’t do any harm’, ‘people didn’t have all these issues 100 years ago so why in 2023 does everyone have an ailment’.

Quite frankly, I’m bored of it.

I shared a post on TikTok the other day which sparked a discussion with over 1000 comments. Yes, 95% of the comments are supportive and positively spreading awareness about coeliac disease and people’s own experiences. But you still have the odd keyboard warriors calling us ‘entitled’ and ‘fussy’. I’d love to know which other legitimate medical illnesses are disregarded in the same way. Do you think someone with asthma gets called an attention seeker for using their inhaler? Or perhaps someone with diabetes being called a snowflake for checking their blood sugar levels?

@phili.gf.glee

Well done @This Morning for being a prime example as to why coeliac disease is not taken seriously and that those living with the disease ... See more

The absolute irony is that the woman who called in to This Morning said that her son was a fussy eater so wouldn’t like the gluten free food. Coeliacs don’t have a choice and their dietary requirements come from a genuine diagnosis and more than likely a long period of illness.

One of the biggest issues is the way that Vanessa addresses cross-contamination. She outright laughs at the Mother-In-Law’s request of guests not bring gluten into the house and says ‘it’s not catching’ and that the Mother-In-Law is ‘unequivocally wrong’ in her views.

So she’s treating coeliac disease as if it’s some potentially fatal peanut allergy

She goes on to compare coeliac disease to a peanut allergy, which is like comparing apples to oranges, suggesting that coeliac disease is not as life threatening or serious as a peanut allergy. She clearly isn’t aware of all of the complications that come from a coeliac consuming even a crumb of gluten, nor that coeliac is an autoimmune disease and not an allergy.

Sure, it is of course possible to manage cross-contamination in a kitchen between gluten free and ‘normal’ food but maybe the host doesn’t want to take that risk on Christmas day. They’re probably making the effort to be 100% gluten free to protect the coeliac guest so that they can have a relaxed and enjoyable day too. Let’s face it, us coeliacs have to navigate around a gluten filled world every day so I’m sure the caller can manage a wheat-less Christmas for just one day of the year!

This Morning presenters

Anyway, it’s clear that half way through the segment, Vanessa looks around the studio and either sees people’s reactions or was told to change direction because she very quickly goes from ‘I 100% agree with you this is ridiculous’ to ‘is it worth falling out over this.’

But by using words and phrases like ‘absolutely ridiculous’, ‘unreasonable’, ‘just put up with it’, ‘obviously difficult mother in law’, ‘a bit of a strain’ it’s clear to see what Vanessa’s stance is regardless of her trying to save face at the last minute.

Since Monday, Vanessa Feltz has published an ‘apology’ on Talk TV and I use the word ‘apology’ lightly because that’s the complete opposite of what it actually was. It was more of a ‘I’m sorry you feel offended by what I’ve said’ and to be honest Vanessa, I can’t be bothered to talk about you anymore!

Dr Zoe appears on Tuesday’s ‘This Morning’

Dr Zoe talking about coeliac disease

When I saw that This Morning had addressed the complaints on Tuesday from the previous day’s programme I thought ‘Here we go, let’s clear up the facts’ and it started well!

The presenters acknowledged that what was said on Monday needed to be clarified and talked about in more depth for people to understand more about coeliac disease. Dr Zoe then correctly explained that coeliac disease is in fact not an allergy but an autoimmune disease, that it is serious, it affects 1 in 100 people but likely to be many more who are undiagnosed, she gives examples of symptoms and explains that the only treatment is to completely cut gluten out of your diet. Spot on.

However, all of that is completely ruined by the phrase ‘some people’ and the fact that for the rest of the time, Dr Zoe divides coeliac disease into two types; the people who are sensitive and the people who aren’t.

Josie specifically asks ‘Can cross-contamination at Christmas be dangerous’. The simple answer is yes, avoiding cross-contamination for everyone who has coeliac disease needs to be taken seriously because even something as small as a crumb of gluten can cause serious health implications.

This Morning presenters on Tuesday

But Dr Zoe’s answer was ‘It can for some people, not everybody with coeliac disease’. This is incorrect and I’m stunned that a doctor, who’s goal on the show was to share the solid facts of coeliac disease, could get this wrong!

She fails to mention that any consumption of gluten for a coeliac can seriously damage your intestine whether you are ‘sensitive or not’. This causes confusion and suggests that there are different levels to being coeliac and the more sensitive you are the worse it can be. There is no spectrum for coeliac disease, you either have it or you don’t and regardless of how you react, the damage caused by gluten to your body is the same.

She again uses ‘some people’ to suggest that only those who have a sensitive reaction to gluten should be using separate toasters and chopping boards. Wrong. Every single person who has been diagnosed with coeliac disease must not use a toaster which has been used for gluten bread, they must not share the same chopping boards and it is crucial they are careful about cross-contamination.

How disappointing that such misleading information came from a Doctor. More incorrect information is now out there causing potentially damaging situations for how people manage their coeliac disease and how others view it.

Let’s get some facts straight

Please read up on coeliac disease and make sure you know all of the facts about the autoimmune disease. I know there’s lots of contradictory information out there but get your advice from trusted sites like Coeliac UK, who are an official coeliac charity, and share great information and tips for living with coeliac disease.

Coeliac UK logo

If you have coeliac disease, you need to understand that you must be so careful with cross-contamination. I’m not saying you can’t be around gluten or you can’t share a kitchen with someone who does eat gluten but make sure you are taking all the correct steps to eliminate the chance of cross-contamination.

⚠️ Have a separate cupboard for your gluten free food or if you have mainly gluten free food but someone else has gluten containing food, make sure they have it in a separate cupboard.

⚠️ 100000% do not share a toaster with someone who uses it for gluten containing bread. You’ve seen the crumbs that come out of a toaster and you don’t want those contaminating your gluten free toast.

⚠️ Make sure you have separate condiments like butter or jam so that they aren’t going to be contaminated by gluten from double dipping.

⚠️ Ideally, have separate chopping boards and baking trays but if this isn’t possible then try and use easy to clean plastic ones rather than wood and make sure they are thoroughly cleaned after every use.

⚠️ That being said, make sure everything is cleaned constantly; the worktops, the sink, the microwave, the oven etc.

⚠️ Stay clear of any products that also have a ‘may contain’ warning on the ingredients because it means that due to the manufacturing processes of that product, it could have come into contact with gluten at some stage so it’s not worth the risk.

⚠️ Regardless of your symptoms, don’t take risks. If you don’t usually show any signs after eating gluten this does not mean you’re getting away without the repercussions. You will still be damaging your body without knowing it which can lead to quite serious medical implications.

What to take away from this

The most important thing we can take away from the absolute palaver of this week’s TV travesties is this. Do not feel embarrassed to be coeliac, it is a medical condition where the only cure is to eat a strict gluten free diet.

Proud to be coeliac logo

Just the same as how someone with asthma needs their inhaler and someone with diabetes needs to test their blood. It’s just unfortunate that having coeliac disease often feels like it’s impacting not only you but the others around you.

Don’t take risks for the sake of ‘making less of a scene’ and if there are people in your life that don’t take your dietary requirements seriously, then try and educate them or replace them with those who will do anything to make you feel comfortable and safe 100% of the time- not just at Christmas.

Wednesday’s latest updates

Becky Excell

Finally, we have some have great news! For the 3rd day in a row, This Morning have further acknowledged that Tuesday’s programme potentially made things worse for spreading correct awareness of coeliac disease. They have said that they are going to keep talking about coeliac disease in the New Year and that Becky Excell is actually going to be going on the show tomorrow (Thursday) to do some live cooking demonstrations!

Go tell ‘em Becky! 💪🏼

How incredible that this is probably down to the reaction of the coeliac community whose collective voice has been heard enough to make a difference.

Like Barnum said, “No publicity is bad publicity" so thanks Vanessa and make sure you tune into the talks about coeliac disease in 2024!

Onwards and upwards and here’s to positively raising awareness to a very important disease.