I was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease. What does that mean? The way I understand it is that every time I eat gluten, the tiny hairs in my small intense that help to digest and absorb nutrients aren’t able to do their job. Over time, this can be damaging and cause me to not absorb the nutrients I need. It also means that I have an intolerance to lactose because the small intestine can’t produce enough of the enzyme necessary to break down the lactose.
Did I lose you yet? Basically, this means no gluten or dairy products.
Now, those are two pretty huge food groups in American diets. But what the heck even is gluten?? Besides your obvious bread, bagels, and pasta, gluten is also in sauces, and hidden in things like soy sauce and salad dressing. Add “no dairy” on top of that and a lot of the gluten free substitutes are out. Try making a cake without gluten or dairy! Tricky, but definitely not impossible.
… which leads me to the point of this post. I had the choice to see this as a disastrous lifestyle change that would alter my interactions with friends and family and ruin my love of food. Many people told me they were “so sorry” for me, and the way the doctor described it – as a “lifelong disease that has no cure and no treatment besides a gluten free diet” – sounded pretty terrifying. However, I don’t see it as a bad thing. At all. Besides the times where I’ve felt sick from some gluten I accidentally ate, I have really enjoyed finding new foods that I had never tried and creating substitutes for my old favorites. My options at meal times are healthier because a lot of processed foods are out, leaving me with fresh veggies, fruit, meat, seafood, and nuts. When you are really hungry, staring at a salad bar, knowing that this is the only thing that you can eat for the next 3-5 hours, you’ll pick all of the veggies – even the ones you have never tried before. And when you do that, you discover just how flavorful and delicious they can be! You learn to appreciate foods the way they are naturally, instead of how they taste when they are processed or disguised by a sauce. If anything, having Celiac has made me appreciate food more.
Some foods that I have been loving: popped edamame chips, Chex Gluten Free Granola mix, Lara Bars (they taste like dessert but they are made of dates + a few other ingredients), Chipotle burrito bowls (my nutritionist pointed to this meal on my list and told me it was perfect; she was pretty shocked when I told her it was from Chipotle), gluten free Udi’s bread toasted with gluten free sausage on top (YUM), and lactaid milk (it tastes like milk with a little sugar added to it – aka amazing).
I have also been very lucky to have close friends with Celiac disease who have been coping with it for longer than me and have been able to show me the ropes. Shout out to Rachel, Emili, and Mallory! My mom has of course been amazing, showering me with gluten free foods left and right. Judging from her grocery store bills, you would think she was the Celiac! My dad has fallen in love with my gluten free dairy free chocolate cookies – so he has proven to be competition for my gluten free snacks (kidding). My coworker, Kristen, recommended two books: Practical Paleo and Against All Grain. I haven’t had time to try the recipes yet, but they look delicious and the books both have a lot of helpful information about gluten and nutrition as well. A family friend, Lauren, has also given me lots of advice on her favorite gluten free products (via my mom). My other friends and family have been fantastic by looking out for me when we go out to eat (is butter gluten?? jk, you guys have been great) and making me feel better about the fact that I now have to be the “high maintenance friend” at restaurants. I know that all of the support I have had is the reason I have been so positive about this change, so I am very thankful for that.
My one piece of advice: if you are feeling like Celiac is something you could have, don’t simply “try” cutting out gluten. You can actually develop an intolerance that way. Instead, keep eating as normal and ask your doctor. It isn’t every doctor’s first guess because the symptoms can vary, but there is a simple test they can do. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions, and a great resource for the technical details is the Mayo Clinic.