The scene is set like this: it’s two weeks before spring break, and stress is at a high. All we really want is for spring break to be here so we can retreat home or to the sunny, warm weather of a vacation spot.
This was my state of mind when I found out that I had Celiac Disease, which means that I’m allergic to gluten in a very severe way. It sounds very serious –my best friend almost bought a plane ticket to come see me when I first told her. In some ways, the disease is as serious as it sounds. Almost all of our normal foods (deli meats, soy sauce, bread, most processed foods, flour, etc.) contain gluten, so it’s very easy (too easy) to eat something that seems like it has no gluten, when it does.
At first, I was perfectly fine. Peirce makes it relatively easy to eat gluten free, if you aren’t afraid to ask or brave the gluten free pantry. It gave me the push to eat healthier because I had to be so careful with what I was putting into my body. Three days into eating gluten free, I felt more amazing than I had in a very long time. I couldn’t remember ever having this much energy or feeling so aware of what was going on around me.
But once my midterms were over, and my suitcase was packed for break, the reality of the disease set in. Instead of thinking about all the benefits of knowing about my allergy, I thought about all the things I couldn’t eat. I’d never have a regular birthday cake again, I’d never be able to order pizza on a whim, and let’s be honest, I couldn’t just grab a beer with my friends. I became frustrated with myself, and my body.
All I wanted was for someone to let me be frustrated for a few moments – a few days – and then get over it and adjust. I wanted to wallow in my emotions and then maybe I could realize that I would be okay.
By the time I started to recover from my frustration, spring break was over and I was back here, at Kenyon. And I’ve learned to take it one day – one meal really – at a time. Learning to be a Celiac is a life-long trial, and it is difficult anywhere, but it’s especially hard at college, where I don’t have access to a kitchen. But everything is a learning experience – everything. So I made a short list for people who are new to Celiac, or want to learn more about what it is to be a person living with Celiac.
1. Read every single list of ingredients. Gluten is in almost everything. Soy sauce, processed deli meat, bread (obviously), a lot of salad dressings, and even in some shampoos. I know right? Just be careful and read about a food before you eat it.
2. Don’t be afraid to be that person that tells people you’re allergic to gluten. And make sure you say you’re allergic. Otherwise, most people won’t take it seriously. Fun tip: at Chipotle, the only thing with gluten in it is their flour tortilla, so you can order a burrito bowl, but make sure to tell them you’re allergic to gluten – they will change their gloves for you. Always talk to your servers at restaurants, trust me.
3. It’s okay to be upset, frustrated, or sad about your disease. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. For a few hours, you can be hung up about that perfect donut you’ve been craving since you finished your midterm. Luckily though, there a ton of gluten free substitutes now, which leads me to:
4. Chances are, there is a gluten free substitute for whatever you’re craving. I’ve found gluten free bread that I love, and it actually has flavor. More and more gluten free options are popping up because more and more people are getting diagnosed as Celiac or gluten-sensitive. If you want a gluten free cupcake, there’s a company or bakery out there that makes one, or a mix for one.
5. Don’t stress too much (a piece of advice I’m still learning how to take).
Long story short, it’s hard to be gluten free, and it takes a lot of time and energy to pay attention to what you’re eating. But it’ll eventually be okay (as I keep reminding myself) and I’m told that one day, I won’t bat an eye at an alternate birthday cake.