Living a Celiac Life

My brother and me when we were kids.

When I was first diagnosed, I found myself only focusing on the foods I had lost, which was very depressing. I couldn’t see the foods that my body could have without consequences. Once I focused on what was before me, my whole perception of food changed. I began looking at food in a different way.

That’s when I also realized that I would have to look a lot closer at the labels of all the food I buy. Unfortunately I knew that would also mean a lot more time spent in the grocery store since gluten is hidden most of the time on the labels. More and more companies are beginning to change their labels to let Celiacs and people who are gluten sensitive know right away if the product contains gluten or not. Some are even changing their product so that people on a gluten-free diet can enjoy it. Spending more time shopping didn’t pertain to just me, but to my family as well. It became more and more difficult to feed me. I felt, and still feel, like I put such a strain on the sanity (well, what’s left of it) of my family and even my friends. When we have to eat out, they always look at me and ask me where I can eat at. I feel like I force them to give up what they want, almost as if they don’t have a choice with me. It has gotten easier, but I still have to make the choice even though they say they don‘t mind.

Living a gluten-free life isn’t easy. I must admit that it is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with in my life so far. I am thankful for my love of cooking and baking. I do believe that has been what has grounded me in this gluten-free experience besides having the love and support of my family. For a while, I wondered what had I done in a past life to deserve a life with so many food allergies and dietary restrictions? I still don’t have an answer to that question and I may never know, but I try to keep living with a positive attitude.

The front of a restaurant card.

Eating out is a very difficult thing for me as I’ve explained, but trying to explain celiac disease to someone who doesn’t know anything about food allergies or doesn’t have any of their own is the difficult part, finding a meal on the menu to fit your needs comes in second. People constantly tell me that a little bit won’t hurt me or that it couldn’t really be as hard as I make it out to be. Some will even try to blame me, as if I had any choice in the matter. With celiac disease, it’s a little harder to explain than just a simple allergy or intolerance. When people hear the word disease sometimes they assume the person has something like three months to live. I tell people celiac disease is an allergy when it’s not because most people understand allergies to a certain extent, even if they don’t have any. Most people that ask what celiac disease is, they’re amazed at how well I know the digestive system. I have no choice. Understanding what the body goes through with an allergy, intolerance or celiac disease helps me to cope with the situation.

Since my diagnosis in 2002, I have become an even more patient person. In my home town, we have a doctor who claims he can cure any allergy. People swear by him. No offence to him, but I’m a skeptic. People tell me, “Why not see him? He can cure your celiac disease or your lactose intolerance at the very least.” I’m sorry but if the doctors at the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland in Baltimore can’t find a cure, I don’t know if this doctor has one and I’m not willing to put my body through the tests to find out. I’ve lived this long without milk, gluten, kiwi and any other foods my body has decided not to like. Why change what I’ve learned to live with?

The back of a restaurant card.

More and more restaurants are making it easier for Celiacs to enjoy a meal. PF Chang’s is one of my favorites because it was the very first restaurant we found that offers a gluten-free menu (and I love Asian food). The food is fantastic, a little pricey but well worth it. The lemon scallops are to die for. I feel special when I go in there, mainly because I get my own menu and soy sauce if I ask for it. If you’re planning on eating out, look up “gluten-free restaurants” on the internet. You might be surprised at how many are beginning to cater to celiac disease and other dietary restrictions. The internet is such a good, and free, source for information.

I think the best advise I could give a newly diagnosed Celiac or anyone with any allergies or dietary restrictions would be first to breathe. It gets easier with time. Do research. It’s a tedious task, but something that has to be done. Don’t be afraid to ask and be prepared to answer questions from those who are curious about what you are going through. Find support where you can find it and be willing to accept it. And remember that celiac disease, allergies, intolerances and sensitivities don’t control you – you control them. And the most important, live life to it’s fullest and enjoy every moment of it.

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