Internet strangers are helping each other manage chronic illnesses. It's wonderful.

The web can't cure chronic illness, but it can help make it seem less daunting.

Being diagnosed with a chronic health problem can be terrifying and isolating — even more so if it means changing your diet, your lifestyle, and the products you bring into your home.

I know because it happened to me.

It was 2000, and I was 21 years old, broke, and sick when a new doctor diagnosed me with celiac disease. After a few visits, he told me I had celiac disease with lactose intolerance. If I wanted to start feeling better, I needed to cut out almost all grains and dairy products.


Just some of the enemies of my fragile digestive system.

Suddenly my entire world was different.

I couldn't eat any of my staple student foods anymore: Farewell, ramen. Adios granola. And I quickly learned that gluten was in almost everything — even products it has no reason to be in, like chewing gum. I was clueless and freaked out.

Thankfully, I had the internet — and so did dozens of other celiac sufferers. We congregated on forums, sharing stories, "safe" food recommendations, and strategies for eating in restaurants. My internet forum friends were my lifeboat, and I held on with both hands to the knowledge they shared.

Taking back control from a chronic illness requires compassion, understanding, and a lot of learning.

For people with chronic health conditions, the web can be an amazing resource to do that.

"Dear Internet: Today I learned licorice is made from wheat flour? Beware and learn from my sadness." — Me in 2002. Image by iStock.

Organizations like Beyond Celiac and The Celiac Foundation have hugely informative websites and vibrant online communities dedicated to helping people get a handle on their disease and access tools and information so they can recover and thrive.

Their online resources include food databases, grocery store apps, restaurant listings, message boards, information about political activism, even a gluten-free dating website. There are active blogger networks too, sharing personal stories, recipes, and motivation.

Resources for people with chronic illness — particularly those triggered by external factors — exist largely because there's nowhere else to turn.

A beautiful gluten-free restaurant meal — perfect for Instagram. Image by iStock.

For people with celiac disease, psoriasis, migraines, and asthma, knowing whether a product is safe to use or consume can be the difference between a normal day and a serious flare-up that might leave them bedridden or worse.

It's really only in the last five years that companies and government regulators started taking the requests of the growing ingredient transparency movement seriously. That spurred a huge increase in the number of products with detailed ingredients lists and more companies realizing that giving consumers access to information can help sales. Particularly for people with asthma, it is much simpler to avoid a common symptom trigger and find truly fragrance-free cleaning and personal care products. For others, change hasn't happened as quickly.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed to move forward on implementing rules for a gluten-free designation in 2004.

It didn't issue its final guidelines until 2013.

The new regulations allow companies producing gluten-free food products that contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten (a barely negligible amount, and generally not enough to cause a reaction) to label them as "gluten-free." While the FDA assures consumers it will be regularly testing products once they've arrived on store shelves, companies aren't required to submit proof they've tested their products for gluten before they go to market. The regulations also don't apply to food service establishments, personal care products, or medication. Those issues notwithstanding, it is a remarkable step toward complete ingredient disclosure.

Managed properly, people with celiac disease, psoriasis, asthma, and other chronic illnesses can live happy, wonderful lives. But it takes work, diligence, compassion, and support.

Pictured: four people who just learned their mobile phones are celiac-friendly. No, not really. Image by iStock.

Since my celiac diagnosis in 2000, gluten-free food and other products have become a billion-dollar industry. I have good days and bad ones, and sometimes even my best food plans go awry and knock me out of commission for a while. That's the nature of a lifelong illness, and I've come to terms with it. A lot of that acceptance comes from knowing I'm not alone in this.

In the absence of full, government-regulated ingredients lists on every product I eat, wear, or use — there are big-hearted, experience-sharing online communities ready to step in and help me navigate life with a chronic illness.

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Seventh Generation

I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

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Policing women's bodies — and by consequence their clothes — is nothing new to women across the globe. But this mother's "legging problem" is particularly ridiculous.

What someone wears, regardless of gender, is a personal choice. Sadly, many folks like Maryann White, mother of four sons, think women's attire — particularly women's leggings are a threat to men.

While sitting in mass at the University of Notre Dame, White was aghast by the spandex attire the young women in front of her were sporting.

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Men are sharing examples of how they step up and step in when they see problematic behaviors in their peers, and people are here for it.

Twitter user "feminist next door" posed an inquiry to her followers, asking "good guys" to share times they saw misogyny or predatory behavior and did something about it. "What did you say," she asked. "What are your suggestions for the other other men in this situation?" She added a perfectly fitting hashtag: #NotCoolMan.

Not only did the good guys show up for the thread, but their stories show how men can interrupt situations when they see women being mistreated and help put a stop to it.

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