Strict adherence to a gluten-free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease. The gluten-free diet is complex, costly and impacts on all activities involving food, making it difficult to maintain for a lifetime. The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to evaluate the difficulties experienced, the strategies used and the emotional impact of following a gluten-free diet among Canadians with coeliac disease.
A questionnaire was mailed to all members (n = 10 693) of both the Canadian Celiac Association and the Fondation québécoise de la maladie cœliaque in 2008.
The overall response rate was 72%. Results are presented for the 5912 respondents (=18 years) reporting biopsy-confirmed coeliac disease and/or dermatitis herpetiformis. Two-thirds never intentionally consumed gluten. Women reported significantly greater emotional responses to a gluten-free diet but, with time, were more accepting of it than men. Difficulties and negative emotions were experienced less frequently by those on the diet for >5 years, although food labelling and eating away from home remained very problematic. Frustration and isolation because of the diet were the most common negative emotions experienced.
The present study quantifies the difficulties experienced, the strategies used and the emotional impact of following a gluten-free diet. It highlights the need to improve the training and education of dietitians, other health providers and the food service industry workers about coeliac disease and a gluten-free diet, with the aim of better helping individuals improve their adherence to a gluten-free diet and their quality of life.