My Gluten Free Journey

Monday, 8 May 2017

In October 2014 my life took a pretty big turn. 
I learnt that I was one of the estimated 1 in 100 people in the UK to be diagnosed with Coeliac disease, something that until then, I'd never heard of. This meant a complete transformation in my diet, banishing all gluten containing ingredients. Since it is Coeliac Awareness week (8-14th May) I thought I'd share with you my experience so far.

So, whats the bet you know someone who's ever uttered the words "I'm gluten free" or "I can't eat that, it has gluten in it", and either you or others around you have rolled their eyes, heaved a heavy sigh and dismissed the statement made by that picky eater? In the modern world with fad diets, one of the most common misconceptions about Coeliac disease and its 'cure' to avoid gluten, is that those on the gluten free diet are just fussy eaters. Well, in actual fact, you couldn't be more wrong.

Pronounced 'see-lee-ac', it's a lifelong autoimmune disease, caused by the immune system reacting to gluten; not to be mistaken for an allergy to wheat/gluten. It is in fact a serious condition whereby the immune system treats gluten in the gut as a threat and attacks it - similar to dealing with a virus such as the common cold. This reaction causes physical damage in the body's intestines and disrupts the body's ability to absorb nutrients. Symptoms have a wide range but the most common are stomach cramps, sickness and/or diarrhoea. The only cure is a gluten free diet. If you have any concerns about your own health, your best bet is to see your GP, a blood test can be conducted which can give you a pretty good guess if you have the disease or not. If the test comes back positive, you will then likely need to have a biopsy of your lower intestine to confirm the diagnosis. The disease is also commonly a hereditary one, so take a look into your family history too.

For me, it all began around January 2014. I had not long started in a new position within my corporate day job and found myself regularly not feeling very well. Ranging from headaches, dermatitis on my hands, a noisy, bloated and sometimes painful stomach, followed by a few too many trips to the loo, all the while constantly feeling tired. At first I tried to ignore it, blaming it on winter colds/bugs and the stress of a new job. Me being the anxious person I am, I continued to ignore the symptoms and put off going to the doctors for almost the entire year, until finally in September, I started rehearsals for a performance of 'Grease' and finally decided it was time to sort myself out and made myself an appointment with my local GP. Upon discovering I had a high count of the antibodies linked with Coeliac, I underwent the biopsy (not as bad as it sounds, I promise, 5 minutes, throat numbing spray, bob's your uncle, all done) and had my official diagnosis in April 2015. Then, I began cutting the gluten from my diet completely.

When I initially found out, I felt like my world had been partially shattered. I saw myself waving goodbye to the regular Pizza Hut dates with my bestie, cupcakes at work, the dream of croissants in Paris, and my 'Idgaf I'll eat it' attitude that I had to most foods. I now had to become one of those people that asked "what's in it?" before they could consider putting food in their mouth. It's a pretty big adjustment that I've got to get used to for the rest of my life and you wouldn't believe just how many products contain gluten! (Cue flashbacks of me discovering various crisps, chocolate & basically all Chinese food contain it, WAAH)

I've been trying to be 100% free now for just over two years and honestly it's not all doom and gloom. Besides not being able to have the obvious breads, pizza, biscuits, cakes and crackers, there are quite a lot of replacements on the market; people are becoming much more aware of Coeliac. That said, some of the replacements aren't really a match for their gluten-containing counterparts; I'm preparing for a long life searching for 'free from' foods that really tickle my tastebuds, and sadly, at pretty extortionate prices. 

The hardest part I have found so far is eating out and food on-the-go, granted much more places are creating gluten free menus, try Chiquito'sPrezzoEd's Easy Diner TGI Friday's to name but a few. However, in my local supermarkets, M&S are the only retailer who provide food on-the-go such as sandwiches / pasta pots.  Half the time I take my own lunch for work or out anyway, for fear of being stuck with nothing eat, but it would be nice to know there's at least something available at most supermarkets. Coeliac UK have also brought this to the forefront of their campaigns recently, so I'm hoping for some improvements to be made soon.

As this is all still new to me I'll take all the help I can get, so please get in touch with me in the comments if you have any advice or even if you're like me and new to the free from lifestyle and want to share experiences. You can also find lots of helpful information on the official Coeliac UK website:
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