Teenagers Following the Gluten-free Diet - Celiac Disease
Apr 25 2010

Teenagers Following the Gluten-free Diet

As I have mentioned before, Jon follows a gluten-free diet and has since 2006 when he was 10 years old. Jon has never been thrilled with the idea of following the gluten-free diet. He never really felt physically ill from eating gluten before he went on the gluten-free diet, so he didn’t have a lot of motivation. He did have some constipation and ADHD-like symptoms, but no cramping or diarrhea. If Jon accidentally ingests gluten now, he is in the bathroom with diarrhea within 30 – 60 minutes. I am sure that he is really appreciative of my sharing that with you all, too.

Jon has frequently told me that as soon as he is old enough, i.e., not living under my roof, he is going to eat gluten again. I explained that while I wouldn’t be able to control his diet when he was an adult, his body might have something to say about that. He goes back & forth with me all the time and says that if it doesn’t make him sick he is going to eat it. I have tried explaining that even though he may not feel sick that the gluten can still be causing damage to his body. For example, the first 10 years of his life, he never really felt sick when he was eating gluten. Does that mean it wasn’t hurting him? No. His small intestine was being damaged. When he had his endoscopy & biopsy in June 2006, his villi were damaged. Does this information matter to a stubborn teenage boy? No.

So, how do I keep Jon from ingesting gluten? I have thought about this a lot lately & have come up with some ideas.

  • Blood work – Jon sees his GI doctor yearly for checkups & she checks his blood to see if he is getting any trace amounts of gluten. This will help show the big picture, but obviously can’t be used to monitor him on a regular basis.
  • Health benefits – Try to reinforce the health benefits of sticking to the gluten-free diet. The gluten-free diet is a healthy diet when lean proteins, vegetables, fruits & whole grains are incorporated. I try to teach my kids that we “eat to live” not “live to eat”. Jon’s hockey coach is playing a role in this as well. The coach asks the kids to eat a banana before each game. Jon said that while he doesn’t like bananas, he has noticed a difference in his performance when he does eat the banana.
  • Positive reinforcement – I think praise goes so much further than criticism. I try not to bad mouth the gluten-free diet and have a positive outlook on it. Learn by example. If Jon sees me having a positive attitude about the food that we eat it will hopefully carry over to him.
  • Involve him in cooking/baking – Try to recreate favorites or create new ones. Ask for his help and show him how he can make good gluten-free food. Ask him for his ideas and use some of them. This will give him a sense of empowerment, which will really go a long way.

I don’t want ever to punish him for not wanting to follow the diet or not following the diet. It hasn’t come to the point of him cheating yet, or that I am aware of. I don’t want to make this a battle or a power struggle. However, if he were to start cheating on the diet, what would I do? I think that if it came to that point I would enlist the help of Jon’s pediatrician and/or GI doctor or maybe even a counselor to help him work through his feelings.

Article Written by:

Kyle Eslick is the founder of Gluten Free Media, as well as the creator of the popular Celiac Support Groups page. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+!


  1. Ann says:

    Thanks for another great post on the subject of teenagers. My son will be 15 this week and has been gluten free for almost a year (positive biopsy and diagnosed with celiac in June 2009) Like your son he has never had a lot of GI symptoms but it did affect his growth – he is below the first percentile for his age. That is what I believe currently keeps him motivated to remain gluten free but he has told me that he doesn’t know if he always will once his growth is complete. I do try to stay positive which I think is important, and emphasize how many great options there are for the foods he used to eat. No one else in our family has celiac disease but I have pretty much altered our dinner meals to all be gluten free so he doesn’t have to watch us eat food that he can’t during what I believe to be an important family time. Again I appreciate your writing on this subject!

    • Ann,

      I am glad that I can help. I think that it is great that you are making mainly only GF meals even though your son is the only one who has to follow the diet. That has to make things so much easier for him.


  2. Cindy says:

    When our children leave the nest, their lives become their own, and our role as parents changes from caretaker to advisor. Our grown children will have to be personally motivated to follow the gluten-free diet, and that motivation can come in different forms. For some, severe intestinal distress will be the motivating factor that eventually guides them back to the GF lifestyle. Others may see the disease crop up in their children and decide the benefits — and work — of following the diet outweigh the risks and ease of letting things go on as usual. My own son, who has so many symptoms of celiac but refuses testing, has a girlfriend who has been pro-actively learning to cook GF recipes. Her concern for his health may be what finally motivates him to submit to testing. My point is, we can nag, cajole, encourage, and even outright bribe our grown kids to do what we think is best — but in the end, only their inward motivation will produce results. So while they are teenagers, and still at home, try to determine what it is that motivates them, and tailor your reasoning for maintaining a GF diet and lifestyle accordingly…..

    • Cindy,

      Thank you for your post – good advice. 🙂

      I think it is great that your son’s girlfriend is learning to cook GF recipes to help him out, that is very sweet and maybe that final motivation that he needs.


  3. Julie Garmon says:

    Loved this, Kim. Very honost and practical. You’re helping so many of us!!

  4. rita says:

    Hi Kim ~ I’m new to the gluten free world and I am grateful for the information you have here. My 18 year old vegetarian daughter was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and we are discovering the frustrations of navigating this diet and the hidden gluten in places you wouldn’t expect.. Pizza, breads and bakery products have been particularly challenging for her, and of course eating out. I don’t want to even think about meals at the college dining room this fall! Are there any particular products or methods you have found to make baked goods more appealing?

    Thanks so much,

  5. Kim says:


    I have had a lot of success with Better Batter flour (you can google it, I can’t put link in the comments). It is super easy to bake with. Also, Betty Crocker has some great gluten-free mixes on the market now – cookies, cakes & brownies. They will also be debuting GF Bisquick this summer.

    Please feel free to ask as many questions here as you need to. We are more than willing to help.


  6. Dina says:

    I clicked on your article, because, altho I am 45, I have an inner teenager that finds it very difficult to follow gluten free when I am not at home, no matter how hard I try.
    There is something that you can tell your son if you think it may help. When I was very young, probably under 7 or 8, we had never heard of gluten intolerance, but I experienced such severe intestinal pain/distress when I ate wheat cereal, that I sort of grew up knowing I shouldn’t eat “wheat”. As I grew, however, I was used to having diarrhea, I don’t even know if my mom knew I had it…and I ate more processed wheat (white tortillas, etc) without any apparent ‘problems’. So I lived this way until I was in my mid 30’s, and fairly ill health, and serious enough ADHD symptoms to interfere with me doing well consistently on the job, altho I am both competent and intelligent.. Saw a chiropractor who took me off gluten (and a few other things) and my health improved so much, I followed GF diet inconsistently for another decade. Now, my health is horrible, I have rheumatoid arthritis, gluten makes me hurt so much I cannot move, yet I still have a difficult time resisting it when it is in front of me after a lifetime of bad habits. I also still have difficulty staying in school, keeping a job, etc b/c of my focusing issues, which gets compounded when I cannot afford insurance or gluten free food too often (rice gets kind of old, meat and veggies are expensive most of the time) I wish I had grown up developing the habit of gluten-freedom, and perhaps I would be feeling better and more healthy now.
    PS, my daughter blows my GF advice off too, but who knows, maybe someone feeling (profanity deleted) for 45 years might change his mind, without being able to reverse all of it.
    Dina in California

  7. Christina says:

    So we got the call yesterday, our 13 yr old athletic daughter has tested positive for Celiacs. Although additional testing is upcoming, we will be breaking the news to her today (she’s currently on vacation with family). Very picky eater, and this news will be devastating to her. Any tips on keeping the conversation positive, calm, and reassuring until we know more from the GI specialist?

    • I am sorry to hear this. My advice is to try to be positive about it yourself and hopefully that will show through for your daughter. Many more people (kids and teens included) are being diagnosed, so it is likely there are other kids eating gluten-free in her school. Involve her in meal planning, cooking and baking to help continue a positive spin and show her how she can take control of her health. There are really so many foods that she can have, it is just changing the way you look at it. I wish you the best of luck.



  1. Amazing Grass Winner & Weekly Menu Plan April 26, 2010 « Gluten-free is Life says:

    […] Teenagers following the gluten-free diet […]

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