Five years ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. For those who don’t know, Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease which affects the small intestine. Gluten is majorly responsible for triggering a negative reaction, wherein the body attacks the tissue lining the small intestine and makes it difficult to absorb nutrients. There are more than 300 symptoms of celiac disease, a serious genetic autoimmune disease, but the most common symptoms are anxiety, bloating or gas, constipation, diarrhea, rashes, weight loss, and fatigue. An estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population, has celiac disease. A person like me, suffering from Celiac Disease, strictly has to follow a gluten-free diet in order to avoid aggravating the symptoms further. Once I got the diagnosis done, I had to instantly remove all traces of gluten from my diet and my life.
The challenges of living a gluten-free life
Living a gluten-free lifestyle can be extremely difficult and can be really frustrating at times. Being a foodie, the most difficult part for me is staying away from some of the foods I love eating. Suffering from Celiac disease is a never-ending battle, literally, because once you have celiac disease, it is there for life. There is no cure for it, and you can only treat it by avoiding any kind of gluten intake for life. Following a gluten-free diet can be a fairly expensive proposition, even though gluten-free products have become more widely available in the market.
Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye and these three grains are found in almost every prepared and processed food. Even mailing envelope glue, medicines, and tea bags contain gluten. Personal care products are another challenge because some of them have gluten in them for some reason. Lipsticks, lotions, toothpaste, makeup, etc. all need to be checked to make sure they don’t contain any traces of gluten in it. This means I need to exercise caution before using any product.
Furthermore, people do not realize how dangerous gluten is to my health. I share the kitchen with my roommates and to avoid cross-contamination I need to thoroughly wash everything before use. This can be embarrassing at times as many people are unaware of the effects of gluten on my health and think of me as a crazy person obsessed with avoiding gluten. Eating out is a nightmare and makes me feel guilty and embarrassed for holding up the line to get the grill cleaned as they have to prepare the food separately for me. Living this lifestyle can be really difficult when people around you do not understand your special needs. However, over a period of time, close friends and family do understand the requirement and are more patient and considerate, which is of course a great support.
My life, and those of others living with Celiac, will certainly be a whole lot easier if people are more aware about the different kinds of food sensitivities out there, so they know how to help or be a little cooperative to someone with food sensitivity.
What I’ve learned
It does irritate me when people go “gluten-free” just for the hell of it. I don’t want to be gluten-free and I don’t want celiac. I want to eat normally without any restriction but this is not going to change – a fact I have slowly come to fully accept. I started to complain less and more proactive about my condition. I now keep a journal and plan my food in advance by preparing gluten-free food that I could freeze in order to avoid any emergency situation.
When eating out, I inform waiters, caterers or guests of my health issues so that they can provide a gluten-free meal. Otherwise, I carry my own food with me. Now, I always check the labels of the products I buy every time, without fail. I have bought my own kitchen utensils to avoid any kind of cross-contamination as I cannot be too careful while living with other people.
Living with celiac can be overwhelming and, at times, seems a little impossible. But I’ve managed to do reasonably well so far. I’ve figured that the key is to be proactive, stick up for myself, educate myself more about my condition and always plan ahead. With these as my watchwords, I strive to live a healthy and happy life, every single day.
Keep yourself updated with the latest on Personal Stories. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more on Health, Diet & Nutrition and Fitness. Also, check out our Health Tools and try out our health-related Quizzes.