The Four Noble Truths of Celiac

Annabelle Breakey via Getty ImagesFor many, transitioning from a gluten-eater to a gluten-free eater is exceedingly difficult. Some say that they simply can’t stick to a gluten-free diet — even after a celiac diagnosis. Aside from wheat addiction, giving up gluten is so difficult in part for those with celiac because it means facing the idea of never eating certain foods again. They want the gluten-filled glory days to last forever, and in turn, suffer from fatigue, stomach pains or a slew of other undesirable symptoms after ingesting gluten.

After hearing stories from my nutritionist about those who refused to eat gluten-free after a celiac diagnosis, I began to ponder the connection between suffering and the desire for gluten. How can we find relief from the cycle of suffering and desire? For me, the answer lies in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

1. All life is suffering.
The first Truth states that suffering exists. The good news is that nothing lasts. So the extant suffering will come to an end. (The bad news is that nothing good lasts either. That delicious bite of flour-packed cake will be gone in a minute.) If I have celiac disease and suffer from nausea after eating a wheat bagel that I couldn’t resist, that nausea won’t last forever. In the moment, I will need to accept that I feel nauseous, and to get through it I will need to remind myself that my nausea will cease.

2. The cause of suffering is desire.
After those with celiac ingest gluten, a likely result is the desire to stop feeling sick, depending on that person’s symptoms. Some of those with celiac who eat strictly gluten-free may find that they desire something with gluten, or the ability to properly digest gluten. These desires cannot be met, and cause suffering.

3. To end suffering is to end desire.
If the cause of suffering is desire, then to end suffering is to end desire. If I apply this to celiac disease, if the cause of my suffering is my desire to eat a whole wheat wrap, then to end my suffering is to end my desire to eat a whole wheat wrap. This is more difficult than it may seem, however. I can certainly refrain from acting on my desire, but that doesn’t mean the desire is no longer there. How can I end my desire for that whole wheat wrap when desire seems to be something that is out of my control?

4. The path to the end of suffering.
The way to end desire is the path to the end of suffering. In Buddhism, this path is The Noble Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path factors include right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. While the meaning behind each of these factors might be full of depth and complexity too sublime for an article on finding celiac disease nirvana, considering the definitions of each of those words as we approach each individual day of our gluten-free lives might start to reshape how we think about celiac disease, gluten-free foods, and how they relate to us. If you are stuck in a cycle of suffering and desire, a new perspective might be the thing that releases you, and that new perspective may come from a simple awareness of the eight factors that make up the path to the end of suffering.

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– Kaitlin Puccio