One thing I had always overlooked was the complications of allergies and their detrimental impacts. Until I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease and was forced to research the implications, I literally had no idea what it was like.
Since my diagnosis, I’m realising that it’s not just me who is unaware, it’s practically everyone. Not even every cafe and restaurant are well-educated on the topic, which makes eating out a challenge…
This lack of understanding needs to be addressed to better the lives of people with allergies. I guess my way to help is to let you know what my life is like as a coeliac, the challenges I face and what I experience when I get the opportunity to eat gluten. Although I can’t speak for all coeliacs, I’ll try to capture every essence of the disease.
Okay. First things first. What even is Coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease, according to Coeliac Australia, is when the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage. The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened. This is referred to as villous atrophy. Villous atrophy reduces the surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption, which can lead to various gastrointestinal and mal-absorptive symptoms.
So in a nutshell, it sucks.
The tiniest bit of gluten can cause damage to the Villi and, although obvious symptoms may not seem present, the internal damage is. This makes avoiding gluten vital in order to avoid the damage and pain in the bowel.
When I was diagnosed it felt like I couldn’t eat anything. No more bread, no more pasta, no more oats and no more beer. It felt like the end of the world until I got home from the doctors to discover there was even more things I had to avoid. Most condiments contained thickeners made from wheat, I needed a new separate toaster, I had to throw out anything that said ‘may contain traces of gluten’ even if the product itself was gluten-free. Literally my outlook on eating was thrown out the window.
My family was amazing! They removed practically every wheat product from the house and all committed to scrapping out Nuttelex and other spreads with a spoon that wouldn’t go back into the container. If I’m having pasta, I get to use the colander first or if I’m downing a GF pizza, I cook mine of the top shelf and cut mine first. Although it’s so simple to do this, it makes the world of difference to me.
Eating out is a massive challenge due to the ever-growing ‘gluten free diet trend’ and lack of understanding of coeliac disease. If I do get sick at a cafe or restaurant, I’ll never go back.
One of the worst incidents for me was at a new cafe in High Street, Prahran. I order a gluten-free vegan roasted porridge with rhubarb and coconut yoghurt. After clearly indicating I was coeliac I received a dish which I thought resembled the one I ordered. It was pink, had coconut yoghurt and was crumbled like a porridge. I consumed the whole plate before realising the dish was in fact the muesli… packed with oats… The oats were broken up and were difficult to identify otherwise I would have noticed. I was guttered and the staff were horrible about it and ruined any chance of me wanting to come back. I felt so crappy for a whole week before I began to recover.
Other cafes and eateries however can be amazing with dealing with Coeliac disease. When I was freshly diagnosed, I went to Fonda. The staff were amazing and ensured that my food was prepared on clean benches and boards and was away from all the gluten in the kitchen.
I will always keep going back knowing I’m good to eat there and not be concerned about cross contamination and getting sick.
Another thing that can get awkward or even frustrating is not being able to eat at parties or friend’s houses. It’s also tough when they provide you with gluten-free food and you’re not sure whether it really is truly safe to eat! I love when people try to cater for me but sometimes it can just make the situation worse when you’re unsure what is really in it and don’t really want to consume it.
Recently I was at a friend’s house and they bought me my own gluten-free and vegan biscuits (even when the biscuits everyone else was eating were gluten free and vegan). I was slightly skeptical and decided not to eat them until the person who bought them made me feel bad for not eating them. I decided to eat no more than 2 of the biscuits as I felt very shady about them and luckily I didn’t consume anymore… they contained not only milk and butter but wheat as well. I spent the whole night vomiting…
Since then, I only eat at other people’s houses if I know exactly what is in it!
As time has progressed I’ve come to terms with the reality of my condition and the lifestyle I have to follow to managed it. It can be frustrating and inconvenient but in the end, it’s just something I have to live with.
The more people informed, the better quality of life for all coeliacs.
Eat all the plants,