Coeliac Disease, Rants
comments 15

Lifestyle eating? Why coeliac disease is NOT a lifestyle choice


Coeliac disease is not a lifestyle choice

‘Gluten-friendly’, ‘Gluten-conscious’ and ‘Lifestyle Eating’are just a few of the strange and questionably legal labels I’ve seen applied to gluten free food recently.

‘Freefrom’ is the term that has traditionally been used to label gluten free, dairy free, and other allergen-free foods in supermarkets. Unfortunately, I was greeted with a rather less useful sign when I walked into Sainsbury’s this week: ‘Lifestyle eating’.

Lifestyle Eating at Sainsburys

Coeliac Disease is not a lifestyle choice.

I got a bit cross, and after some nudging from the excellent Gluten Free B, I decided to break my blogging silence and write about it properly.

coeliac disease is not a choice

‘Lifestyle eating’ insinuates that eating gluten free (or any allergen-free) is a lifestyle choice, which is rather insulting when you have to eat that way due to a chronic health condition.

It perpetuates the assumption that people with coeliac disease and/or food allergies are fussy and faddy, and this has a direct consequence for people with coeliac disease; it leads to people catering for us taking us less seriously and potentially making us ill when they think that ‘a little bit won’t hurt’.


I can relate.

Rebranding freefrom

A name change may seem trivial, but to me, rebranding of ‘freefrom’ foods in the supermarket is worrying. Many people with coeliac disease in the UK have recently lost their right to get gluten free basic foods on prescription because of the availability of gluten free foods in supermarkets. (#SaveOurNHS) (Why are gluten free prescriptions important for coeliacs? – Coeliac UK)

If supermarkets are moving away from a medical association with freefrom foods, and in some cases clearly marketing more to the ‘gluten free out of choice’ crowd, where does that leave us? What happens when the trend for gluten free food and ‘clean eating’ dies down?

You can see in the photo that this particular Sainsbury’s has dedicated more shelf space to energy bars and luxury granola than actual staple gluten free products. If people with coeliac disease are to rely on supermarkets for gluten free staple foods now that an increasing number of NHS trusts don’t provide them, does there need to be a guarantee that supermarkets WILL provide the essentials going forward?

Mis-labelling gluten foods

‘Lifestyle eating’, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. I have seen so many examples of mis-labelling gluten free foods in restaurants and cafes, presumably to get around the legal requirements for gluten free foods.

‘Gluten-conscious’ and ‘gluten-friendly’ are two of the most annoying examples, but ‘made without gluten ingredients’ is fairly common, as are similar phrases to indicate foods that are sort-of-gluten-free, but not in a legally-binding way. (Read more about my frustration with foods that are “Gluten free”, but not suitable for coeliacs.)

I’m not sure what the answer is. I wouldn’t want to discourage restaurants and cafes from offering gluten free options, or supermarkets from stocking gluten free products, but at the same time, I am not comfortable with the distancing of gluten free foods from the legal, medical meaning and the association with coeliac disease.

gluten free lifestyle

Gotta love that ‘gluten free lifestyle’…🙄

It is also not clear to me if anyone is actually checking up on this stuff – what are the consequences for businesses who claim their foods are “gluten-friendly”? How are supermarkets getting away with placing gluten free foods under a ‘lifestyle’ banner, making bold claims about gluten free foods being ‘healthier choices’, and charging the earth for anything freefrom?

In the case of ‘Lifestyle eating‘, I @’d Sainsbury’s, as did a fair few other angry coeliacs. One gluten free blogger direct messaged me to say that they work for Sainsbury’s and will be taking this further internally. I haven’t heard anything from Sainsbury’s apart from the brief comment below (has anyone else?).

Sainbury's reply

Hampstead Road, London, since you asked…

Is this the price we pay for having more choice?

With all this said, the popularity of the diet has undoubtedly benefitted me and other coeliacs. Being able to pop to a gluten free bakery is still a joy for me, and knowing that I can pick up gluten free basics in most UK supermarkets is priceless. I’ve lived with coeliac disease since 1993, and I can safely say that I prefer things as they are now.

However, is there a way of retaining this wealth of choices without losing the meaning of the the gluten free diet completely? After all, for at least 1% of the population, it is the medical treatment for a serious illness, far from an aspirational lifestyle choice.

Instagram comments

Just a small sample of the comments when I posted this on Instagram.


What do you think of Sainsbury’s new signage? Have you noticed any ridiculous ways of labelling things gluten free?

Please feel free to share your rage in the comments.

I would also love to hear from any caterers, medical specialists or journalists who know more about the legal side of this!

Yours gluten freely (not friendly, not consciously!),

Issi x

Further reading

Get Gluten Free in London in your inbox

* indicates required


  1. Ooooh, this has made me so cross!! ‘Lifestyle’!? Like it’s a bloody low-carb diet or something!?? I hope that Sainsburys come back with a comment on this. It is an ongoing battle we coeliacs face constantly from a society that fails to understand the seriousness of an auto-immune condition so constantly reduces it to the level of intolerance. Unfortunately, as long as the majority of people eating a gf diet ARE those following ‘fad’ diets/giving it up for ‘good heath’ (I had one such woman as a customer at work recently and it took all my strength not to scream at her that no, actually, gluten is NOT unhealthy or dangerous!), we’ll risk getting bottom-billing on menu concerns. But it is infuriating. Greggs does gluten free products – but not suitable for coeliacs. I know an awful lot of restaurants who claim they can do gluten free – but not for coeliacs. At what point does it begin bordering on discrimination?

    • Hi Jessica, totally get your frustration! Sainsbury’s haven’t yet sent me a proper reply, unfortunately.
      I wrote another post about ‘gluten free, but not suitable for coeliacs’, it’s linked in the above article!

  2. Really interesting article,I love this site! Have e-mailed Sainsbury’s & will do to other supermarkets. I’m fed up with menus being marked ‘V’,er, a lifestyle choice!! and waiting staff telling me ‘it should be alright’. Sainsbury’s are ssssooooo wrong. Gluten Free food for coeliacs,the main reason they have to get it right with their products,is not a lifestyle!!

    • Thank you, Kate! :) That’s great that you have emailed them. The more of us they hear from, the more they might take us seriously as a customer base.

  3. This just really, REALLY infuriates me….maybe they’d like to explain that signage to my daughter (actually not my 13yr old, she’d probably punch them…instead the same daughter when she was 6yrs old) she actually once told me that she hated Mr Kipling and actually cried when we went down the cereal aisle. Now you tell that little girl that she chose to be this way Mr Sainsbury…no? I didn’t think so.

    • Aw, bless your daughter. I have been in her shoes, and know it can be especially difficult to be different / not be able to eat the same things as everyone else as a child. Yes, it’s a bit of a slap in the face to people like us who are relying on these foods because of a medical condition.

  4. Coeliac says

    That must have been annoying to see. I think unfortunately a lot of people who buy the GF food are because of lifestyle choices, but it’s not good for Coeliac’s to see especially newly diagnosed to see this. I wish all GF products had plain packaging and were labelled Coeliac disease food, get rid of all the trendy bs that goes along with the fad. As I doubt the attention seekers who go GF would buy plain packaging food labelled Coeliac disease food!

    I’m also not surprised at all it was this supermarket who have done this. As I have had gluten reaction’s from eating so called “gluten free” food from this store. Would never risk eating any GF product from them as they use at least one cheap GF ingredient which has a high chance of cc.

    I was beginning to think all this lifestyle, faddy bs had calmed down or even gone away I guess not.

    • It was! It’s still up there, too – I popped into the same shop again a few days ago. I have welcomed the popularity of the gluten free diet up to a point, because it has been great to have increased choice and much better eating out options, and if people want to eat a gluten free diet…so be it. However, it is when the gluten free diet starts to become purely associated with being a so-called ‘fad diet’ rather than an actual medical diet to treat coeliac disease, that it becomes worrisome.

      • Coeliac says

        I hope they take it down soon!

        The fad diet overtook the seriousness of the GF diet for medical reasons a long time ago. I hate 95% of Gluten free food available as I don’t feel good after eating them. I have been glutened by sainsbury’s and M & S “GF” products around 7 times until I figured out the gluten contaminated ingredient in so many of these so called GF products . It’s good more GF options are available but for the sensitive Coeliac it’s more difficult then ever to eat gluten free as it’s much more risky to eat so called GF products, as most are made more for faddy lifestyle stupid people then Coeliac’s.

        It’s positive you call out sainsbury’s on this lifestyle choice BS. I have had no luck getting anywhere after being glutened by many GF products. Lifestyle diets are way more important and make more money then intestinal damage.

  5. Are diabetics “lifestyle” eaters? Peanut allegry sufferers? This has made me so damned angry. Where Sainbury lead, Tesco will follow. I mentioned Trading Standards in the other blog post about those… people who label gluten free and then say it isn’t. I don’t care how busy they are, they should be lobbied. Perhaps Coeliac UK, which has spectacularly failed in its lobbying to stop the withdrawal of gluten free prescribing, can start earning my monthly subscription (over and above the annual rate) to get them to stop this misguided and frankly insulting action. I am not a faddist .I choose a lifestyle, I do not choose to be a coeliac.

    • Indeed, I think if anyone has the power to raise these issues with Trading Standards, large businesses like Tesco and Sainsbury’s, and/or the government, it’s Coeliac UK.

  6. Lifestyle is insulting to those of us who have coeliac disease. We have to avoid gluten if we want to stay well. It looks to me as though Sainsbury’s have picked on a marketing campaign without any thought for who thy are targeting. If I see a campaign like this in my local stores I shall certainly protest to the manager on how inappropriate it is. I suggest we all do this. Given that we can no longer get what we need on prescription, then we certain want to ensure that we can get a product of the same standard from the supermarkets.

    • Exactly, I imagine this is a new strategy for marketing freefrom foods which they are trialling, perhaps without much thought for the original intended audience for these foods.That would be great if anyone who sees examples of this gives direct feedback – hopefully that would dissuade them from continuing to use it.

  7. Lifestyle Eating is just a dumb idea into which little thought was invested.

    As for gluten-worded claims, only ‘gluten-free’ and ‘very low gluten’ (20-100ppm) are permitted – but the latter is only allowed in circumstances so unusual and specific that in practice GF is the only one we should see. Nothing else – gluten-conscious, gluten-friendly – is authorised, and – also importantly – you can’t qualify GF either. ‘Completely gluten-free’ and ‘naturally gluten-free’ are also not permitted. It is so strict, that ‘free from gluten’ is not permitted either, though lots (including Waitrose and Dove’s Farm) use it.

    Essentially then: it’s ‘GF’ or you can’t reference gluten. Not tricky to remember. Who’s enforcing this? I suspect Trading Standards are just too busy to bother. What to do? Tell the bad offenders off, and if no action taken, report it to local TS regardless, I guess. You never know …

    • Thank you for adding your expertise, Alex!

      It’s crazy that there are so many offenders, and high-profile ones at that.

      I think public knowledge of the legal use of ‘gluten free’ is very poor, and therefore a lot of places are getting away with this labelling.

      Personally, I also feel reluctant to tell restaurant and cafe owners off, in case it puts them off making gluten free options completely. It’s a tricky situation. Good shout RE Trading Standards.


Write me a comment