People with celiac experience the rising gluten-free industry as a double-edged sword with benefits and challenges. Subjective experience is hard to quantify, but a new study utilized a novel technique.
The study at University of Calgary, Canada, relied on a psychological approach called interpretive phenomenology. Instead of testing a hypothesis using numerical statistics, it analyzes unstructured interviews with a small number of volunteers to reveal recurring themes. Researchers must continually evaluate their own previous biases.
The study recruited 17 adults with celiac who followed a strict gluten-free diet. Three had been diagnosed as children and two as adolescents, the rest as adults. Time since diagnosis ranged from less than a year for four volunteers to more than 10 years for six individuals. Interviews lasted 45 to 60 minutes and addressed a proliferation of gluten-free foods. After transcribing the conversations, researchers then used phenomenology to categorize excerpts and identify connections. The process concentrated on ideas shared by many participants, while discarding those less common.
The results highlight three consequences for people with celiac: changing social climates one participant described as a “double-edged sword,” altered self-image and psychosocial perseverance. Gluten-free options allow patients to eat out but increase their risk of getting glutened, for example. This affects self-image because other people may perceive patients as rude or high maintenance. Patients may even see themselves this way. Psychosocial perseverance means they must accept the diagnosis and its consequences, developing strategies to avoid gluten while trying not to let it consume their lives.
The study provides objective insight on the complexity of living with celiac. The authors call for non-dietary therapies, allowing patients a more fulfilled social life.