How I Discovered I was Gluten-Intolerant (Real-Person Interview)

For most people, going gluten-free is just a diet fad, but for Philip (name changed for privacy), it has been a life-changer.

Philip, 34 years old, lived most of his life oblivious to his intolerance for gluten. Less than a year ago, the word gluten wasn't even in his vocabulary. But a couple of especially severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhea after consuming wheat beer made Philip sit up and pay attention.

For over 15 years, Philip attributed symptoms like bloating and diarrhea to lactose intolerance or sensitivity to spicy and oily food. Oftentimes, diarrhea would strike as soon as 10 minutes after his meal. But he took no action since these episodes didn't interfere significantly with his life.

However, the rising trend in gluten-free eating started floating articles about gluten intolerance in Philip's social media feed. The symptoms sounded strangely familiar and he started to put two and two together. His suspicions were confirmed when he decided to eliminate gluten from his diet following an unforgettable incident on the Singapore-Malaysia Causeway.

It was the end of an enjoyable day trip to Malaysia with a couple of friends. Philip unsuspectingly wolfed down a delicious pretzel at their last pit stop before hitting the Woodlands Causeway. But just as they joined the horde of vehicles on the link bridge, Philip's stomach gave an ominous rumble. For what seemed like the longest hour of his life, Philip willed every cell in his being to ignore the excruciating pain that quickly developed in his tummy. Just as Philip was losing the fight, the friends touched home soil and Philip made it to a bathroom where he was welcomed by explosive diarrhea.

Philip has never seen a doctor or nutritionist about his food sensitivity problems, but he no longer has to run to the loo after every meal and that has made a great difference to his well-being. It is very challenging to find affordable gluten-free meal options in Singapore, so he has resorted to preparing meals from home, and, in a pinch, has help in the form of digestive enzyme pills*.

For a foodie like Philip, the hardest part of going gluten-free is having to give up so many of his favourite foods. When friends learn of Philip's gluten sensitivity, they often ask in disbelief - "what can you eat?" Indeed, almost everything you find at food courts, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets contains some form of gluten. The silver lining? This problem has forced Philip to overhaul his eating habits for the better.

*Available on under names like Gluten Cutter, Gluten Assist and Gluten Digest. The side-effects of such enzymes are unknown.

Could you be sensitive to gluten?

1. Check for common, known symptoms, sources readily available online like this one.

2. Eliminate gluten from your diet to see if you feel better.

3. Consult a doctor or nutritionist for an expert opinion.

Celiac Disease, Wheat Allergy, or Gluten Sensitivity?

  • Celiac Disease is a genetic, autoimmune disorder that affects approximately 1% of the population. It is a digestive disease that affects the small intestines when gluten is ingested.

  • Wheat Allergy sufferers need not ingest gluten to have a reaction. Similar to seafood and nut allergies, sometimes all it takes is contact with wheat, depending on how severe the allergy is.

  • Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) or Gluten Intolerance can cause a little to severe discomfort upon ingestion of gluten. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, fatigue and keratosis pilaris (a condition of the skin). While Celiac Disease is hereditary, NCGS might not be.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Grains like oats, buckwheat, rice, quinoa and many more do not contain gluten. But certain grains like oats tend to have a high level of cross-contamination with gluten containing grains as they are often processed in common facilities. Always check product packaging for allergen warnings.