My family seems to think I have an issue since I started this diet. I am too "extreme"in my eating since I will no longer touch flour/wheat. For example, I saw that my Mom was making a dish for our family lunch today that would be contaminated with flour so I simply told her I just wasn't going to eat it (I am usually on my own and cook my own meals without frustration, just on vacation right now). My family got all freaked out and said I had an eating disorder...blah blah blah. Anyways this is really frustrating to me that they cannot appreciate my way of eating. It is mind-boggling to me how complicated such a simple diet can become! Honestly, all I need is meat and veggies, how hard can that be?! Why do we have to add such crap to everything? Anyways, How should I go about dealing with my family and explaining why I eat the way I do and prefer not to touch any gluten as it severely bothers my digestive tract? (Instead of them thinking I need to see someone). I would really appreciate any help.
Some good responses here so far. I love this topic, so I tend to write profusely about it. So please pardon the length.
This problem isn't confined to paleo. Most anyone who changes their diet significantly from what their family eats goes through some variation of this experience. Some families find it easier to tolerate or support these changes than others.
Perhaps it will help to recognize how we establish our foodways beginning in the womb, and that they are not merely preferences, but also rituals, traditions, and entertainment. Foodways create a powerful link between our biological need for sustenance and our emotional need for connection, family and community. Wherever people go, their foodways go with them. Food, like sex, is about as personal and intense as it can get.
A close friend in her third trimester talks frequently about the impact of her food choices now on how her future daughter experiences food. She plans to take her daughter traveling, and she regularly chooses plenty of variety because she wants her daughter to enjoy foods anywhere they go. She believes her prenatal choices (and later, while breastfeeding) can influence that. She is reproducing her own cultural values before her daughter has even been born. That's a lot of investment, over a long period of time. Of course, not everyone has such adventures planned; still, one hopes most families take their children's food seriously.
Because foodways serve as a tool of cultural reproduction, any challenge to this can represent an attack (to use a melodramatic word) on one's culture. I think many food interventions (e.g., attempts to address high diabetes rates in certain communities) have spotty success because they overlook the cultural importance of food and focus too much on medical issues and lists of forbidden things.
What does all this jabber about culture and foodways have to do with your predicament? I think we, as individuals, and as individual families, often think of "ethnic" food traditions, and "culture," as something other people do. What we do is just....what we do. It's easy to forget how important our own foodways are. When we announce to our families that we no longer eat not just one food, but entire categories of food, without realizing it, we say "I am not like you anymore. I am different. I reject something that once bound us together." We don't intend to say this, and I don't believe most people on the other side of the equation hear it in quite such stark terms. But when mother can no longer provide baby with food, when mother's food is now poison, it's not hard to see how this gets under people's skin.
Of course no one approach will work for everyone. Some families might respond to the "trial balloon" approach, whereby one frames the change as a (perhaps temporary) experiment. "I've been having some trouble, and I'm experimenting with avoiding certain foods to figure out what's causing it." You've introduced the idea, connected it to your health (something most families will care about), and not framed it as a total, permanent rejection. Over time, as the "experiment" shows results, the results will speak for themselves, and it becomes more difficult for them to object. Also they've had time to get used to the idea.
I also really like the suggestion another made here to give them one of the books on the subject. This way they don't have to come to grips with your situation during a confrontation. Another polite thing to do is introduce the subject in advance, and not at mealtime, when the stakes seem so much higher for everyone involved.
Another thing that might help is to do some role modeling: prepare a meal for your family that provides everything they could want while following your requirements. Don't just tell them, show them this is not an eating disorder, but a lively, healthy, completely nutritious, rich, satisfying (and not restrictive) diet. Go ahead and make it one of those meals heavy on comfort foods that your family will recognize. This isn't the time for livers and brains and shots of coconut oil (unless your family happens to love those). Don't forget a richly satisfying dessert--this isn't about calorie counting or austerity!
I would also avoid loaded language like "contaminated," and referring to the food others still eat as "crap." Not that you would actually say that to them, but since you think of it that way, be careful not to inadvertently communicate it in other ways. You wish they would appreciate your way of eating. They need the same tolerance from you, perhaps more so, because they didn't choose this change. I know we often get away with incredible (if unintentional) candor to the point of rudeness with our families, but when it comes to things like food, I think it can help to treat them as we would strangers or casual acquaintences: without too much judgment, and a willingness to overlook flaws in the spirit of getting along. We wouldn't tell a stranger her religion was crap. Don't be so sure that foodways don't carry similar weight and power to provoke strong responses. (After all, many food traditions are tied strongly to religious ones.)
Of course you may find that not all (perhaps not any) of these musings apply to you or your family. No stranger on a website knows your family like you do, so any response will miss--or misinterpret--things. But proceeding with caution and compassion seems like good advice for all of us. Treat your family with love, and assume they are doing the same, even if you never agree on this matter.
I had a family member or two who responded quite well when I gave them ISWF, CGBC, the primal blueprint etc. I gave them 1 book at a time and told them, in a very non confrontational manner, the books could explain things much better than I could. Which was code for "I just don't have the patience to have this argument AGAIN!" I also told them I felt like a new person and several of my health issues had disappeared completely or had greatly improved since following this lifestyle. I made sure to add in "I'm not asking you to live this way, but if you are truly concerned about me PLEASE read this book and then we can talk about my experience and how my life and health are better. Please read this and whatever concerns you still have I will gladly discuss with you." 1 family member even started a whole30 after reading and is now my biggest supporter.
I think people get very emotional about food, not only about what they eat but about what others eat. Look around this forum...people get all sorts of snarky about who eats what and we don't even know these people. Imagine how snarky/emotionally charged people who know us get. Sometimes a good, well written book can take some of the negative emotion out of food and add back some of the "I love my family member and this is clearly working for them so maybe I can learn to adjust to their lifestyle."
Good luck and be patient with them, clearly they love you and are concerned they just have the wrong idea of what may be best for you.
I don't think it is fair to expect your mother to cook separate meals for you, especially a cuisine that she doesn't understand. Cooking traditions run deep, and are loaded with emotion, suggesting that they are harmful is going to hurt her feelings enough that there will be no way to reason with her. Watch your tone too, I know you are upset, but criticizing the food cooked for you with love is rude and disrespectful. You need to take responsibility for cooking your own meals in this case, or better yet, offer to take over cooking for the family a few nights per week (bulk cooking for yourself during those nights might help to have food to reheat on other nights).
If you do have serious digestive distress after eating wheat, you need to talk to your mom about it at a time she isn't actively cooking with it, and explain the pain you are in when you eat it in an unemotional way. To let her know you are serious talk to her about getting celiac testing.
It's no wonder that most people consider this extreme. Consider that 99% of the food at 7-11 is off limits and probably more than 80% of what is sold in standard grocery stores is also verboten. (Even less if you are strict/orthodox with the grass fed/no dairy/organic only...) In our culture, hot dogs, nachos, pizza and ice cream are considered "normal". And everything in moderation is accepted wisdom.
Hell, I would eat all of that stuff if I could get away with it. But I can't.
We have to accept the fact that people are going to see paleo as weird. Even weirder than vegan. My company cafeteria has menu items organized into vegan and low fat. I don't think there will be a "paleo" choice in my lifetime. Even "low carb" choices have mostly gone by the wayside. Maybe gluten free will catch on, but I doubt it. Not without the religious zealotry that veganism has for an advantage.
To do it the right way, sit down with them let them know that this is the way you are going to eat, give them some reading material if they would be willing to educate themselves, and then don't be a pain when dinner comes around (it doesn't sound like you are). Keeping some smoked salmon, salad greens, and Olive Oil/ Vinegar around for a quick dinner when gumbo (made with a roux) comes to the table can help.
To do it the easy way, Tell them you have a gluten/pectin intolerance, and your doctor thinks you should eat this way. Note, I do not condone the easy way with family -- but it really helps with waiters making appropriate substitutions when you go out to eat!
I would suggest cooking for yourself, not making a big deal out of it, just make sure to have foods in your house or room (get a dorm fridge if necessary). If you're old enough to choose your own food, you're old enough to prepare it. Your family is not required to tiptoe around your eating choices, nor are you required to tiptoe around theirs.
Feeding one's family does, indeed, carry an emotional wallop, and with that in mind, offering some reading material could go a long way toward establishing an atmosphere of respectful inquiry rather than irrational, headstrong confrontation.
While I agree he should probably mind his tone and practice some patience early on I absolutely disagree that you should respect any persons emotional response to your absolutely valid refusal to not eat a food you have determined to be detrimental to your health.
Tradition is not a valid reason for doing a thing, that includes eating. Just because his family values tradition over their individual lives does not mean this individual should follow along in order to not hurt their irrational feelings.
With that said, if he does live at home and he isn't paying for his own food it falls upon him to either provide for himself or convince his parents to go along with it. If instead he is just visiting then if his family values his presence they will accommodate his eating requirements, unless of course the tradition is a higher value, then they can reap the consequences.