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Helping Your Teen Follow a Gluten-Free Diet

Topic Overview

Having celiac disease requires following a gluten-free diet for life. Sticking to this diet isn't always easy. Teens especially may have trouble following it consistently. Social situations, such as eating out with friends, can be very difficult. Giving your teen some responsibility and control may help.

  • Educate your teen about gluten-free foods. Let your teen look through a gluten-free cookbook for recipes to try.
  • Encourage your teen to prepare some meals and snacks.
  • Help your teen find restaurants that will serve gluten-free foods.

It can be especially hard for your teen to follow the diet if he or she doesn't notice symptoms after eating foods with gluten. Explain to your teen about how damage to the small intestine can still happen even when he or she does not notice symptoms. This is because eating gluten triggers an immune system response that is not normal in people with celiac disease. Educate your teen about the lifelong nature of celiac disease, and emphasize the importance of avoiding foods with gluten.

Remind your teen that eating foods with gluten:

  • May cause symptoms to return. The gas, bloating, and frequent stools may be uncomfortable and embarrassing. If your teen follows the diet, symptoms will go away.
  • May stunt growth and interfere with development. If your teen doesn't follow a gluten-free diet, the body cannot absorb the nutrients needed for growth.
  • Damages the small intestine, which increases the risk for complications, such as lymphoma of the intestine and possibly cancer of the esophagus.

Most teens do better if they feel that they have some control over their lives and will usually make better choices if they are encouraged and supported, rather than forced or nagged.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Jerry S. Trier, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Revised May 29, 2012

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