I read an article written by Daily Mail that really struck a nerve. The title of article states that research has demonstrated that about 50% of people think people who eat a gluten free diet are “selfish, demanding, and difficult to please.” Wow. What a kick to the junk (metaphorically speaking, of course).
This hit a sensitive place with me. For years after I learned I had celiac disease, I was reluctant to be an inconvenience to other people or draw attention to myself. I tried so hard that I frequently made myself sick.
I would still try to eat out with friends, eat with family, eat “gluten free” food my friends cooked. I would get glutened and suffer, but wouldn’t stand up for myself because I didn’t want to be seen as “high maintenance.”
Part of the reason was my also iganorance–I didn’t yet understand how much damage I was doing to my health. But a large part of it was that I was keenly aware of how that behavior is perceived, and it isn’t positive.
Even now, after years of educating myself and making the decision to put my health above social propriety, I still feel relatively guilty when, what I need to do to preserve my health, runs counter to social expectations and courtesies.
CLICKBAIT – LABELING GLUTEN FREE PEOPLE SELFISH
If you’re not familiar with the term, Merriam-Webster defines clickbait as: “something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.”
The Daily Mail artice says that all gluten free people are selfish. So, because I have celiac disease, other people see me as: high maintenance, selfish, arrogant, judmental, and a good person to avoid. And it must be true–it’s supported by research!
Specifically, Daily Mail stated that:
- Going gluten free could leave you single because almost half of people would judge someone on the diet as ‘selfish, demanding and difficult to please’
- 44% of people assume those who eat a gluten-free diet are high maintenance
- More than 30% peope think gluten free dieters are selfish
- 14% of people presume gluten free dieters must be arrogant
- On a date, 10% of people worry their gluten-free other half would judge them
- Gluten-free people may struggle to find love due to others assuming they are ‘high maintenance’
- More than 40% of people would be reluctant to date someone who avoids gluten
Later in the article they did touch on the positive opinions (understanding, happy, energetic, self-disciplined) people had about gluten free dieters. You can read their article here.
When clickbait is salacious enough, it gets great circulation. Calling all gluten free people selfish is pretty sensational.
I can’t really be upset with a tabloid for being dramatic–that’s their schtick. And all of the metrics were pulled from a legitimate study. So I decided to find the “research” to see what I thought for myself.
The name of these studies is: Too picky for my taste? The effect of the gluten-free dietary restriction on impressions of romantic partners. The studies were authored by the psychology departments from Western Connecticut State University and the University of Toledo.
The intent of the first study was “…to determine whether a consumption stereotype exists towards those adhering to a gluten-free diet in general and within the context of dating. We also sought to identify the elements of such a stereotype and whether it influenced people’s interest in dating.”
The goal of the second study was to examine stereotypes of gluten-free romantic partners.
Here’s where they started to lose me–all participants were all undergraduate college students! Since when are 18-22 year olds an accurate representation of the whole of society?
When I was in college, I barely planned my day, much less my week, my finances, or my meals. I ate whatever was available and full of sugar.
These studies could replace the term “gluten-free” with the term “vegan,” or “peanut allergy,” or “sugar free,” or anything that reduces dining spontanaeity and requires deliberation, and you’d get a similar response.
But let’s scope it down and see if it works–can 18-22 year old college students can accurately represent everyone in the US who is looking for a romantic parter? I don’t think so.
This study also lost credibility with me when they excluded people with a calculated approach to their dietary intake. They disallowed vegans, former vegans, and former gluten free people from participating.
So the study required the surveyed demographic to have a bias toward an unconstrained diet. How is that an accurate cross-section?
The study does conclude that future reasearch “could extend the study of gluten-free diets to a wider array of sample (e.g., non-student populations) and contexts (in-person interactions).”
I guess this is their admission that this study was incredibly limited in its approach.
STUDY #1 PARTICIPANTS
“One hundred and ninety-four undergraduates from Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) participated in a study entitled ‘Impressions of Others and the Self’ which was administered online through the survey software Qualtrics. The study was advertised through email solicitations and flyers posted across campus. Participants were offered either Introductory Psychology course credit, extra credit (if offered by their instructor) or entry into a lottery for one of three chances to win a $15 Amazon gift card for completing the study. Eleven participants were excluded from analyses because of incomplete data. Twelve participants were excluded because they were gluten-free, seven participants were excluded because they were vegan and an additional three participants were excluded because they were either gluten-free or vegan in the past.”
STUDY #2 PARTICIPANTS
“One hundred and fifty-two single WCSU undergraduates between the ages of 18–22 participated in exchange for Introductory Psychology course credit or entry into a lottery for a chance to win one of two $25 Amazon gift cards. The study was advertised through email-solicitations and flyers posted around campus.”
You can find the study here.
STIGMATIZED—NOW ALL GLUTEN FREE PEOPLE ARE SELFISH
This study says of itself, “These data are the first to delineate the gluten-free stereotype and provide a useful platform for future study.” Really??? I would argue that this “research” (and I’m using the term loosely) is promoting a stereotype.
Or should I say “the” stereotype, since this study touts itself to be the definitive data on the subject. Evidently 293 psychology students have determined what “the” gluten free stereotype is. That seems like sound science. [insert sarcasm here]
Of course this “study” gives media sites an exciting headline to run, complete with sensational statistics. It gets widely circulated, put forward by a multiplicity of tabloids, blogs, etc. And it is accepted as a given.
WHAT A SETBACK
Stereotyping all gluten free people as selfish is not helpful to people who are trying to understand their health situation and create a lifestyle where they can exist without being ill. I also think it underscores the need for celiac disease awareness and education.
It’s medically disadvantageous and personally frustrating to see a stigma of selfishness applied to those of us who do not have the privilege of being carefree in our eating for fear of chronic illness and death.
And this stereotype is being contrived by college psychology students. Brilliant. How about they survey 300 pre-med students and see how the responses compare?
Of course there are people who eat gluten free because it’s trendy. Are they making it harder for the rest of us? Maybe a little. Even so, I don’t see how a dietary choice made with the intent to improve one’s health is selfish. And there is also a growing abundance of evidence that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a legitimate condition.
Maybe the WCSU psychology department should do a study on:
- The adverse effects of BS studies and the actual knowledge gaps that they don’t address.
- The percentage of 18-22 year old college students that care more about their new iPhone/selfies/cat videos than their long-term health.
- The actual value of a $25 Amazon gift card compared to the educational value of WCSU’s Intro to Psychology class. Could be some surprising results there.
- The color green – gluten free or not? (aka. undergrads will do anything for credit and/or an Amazon gift card).
Please know my intent with this tongue-in-cheek list is not to make fun of college students. The beauty and fun of being that age is that you typically don’t worry about all the “responsible” things you have to consider as you get older.
My intent with this list is simply to highlight the disparity in perspective between different age groups, thus underscoring the ridiculousness of holding that viewpoint up as representative of the whole.
Which study topic gets your vote?