May seems like such a cheery month — but it’s also Celiac Awareness Month, time for another look at the “killer combo” of diabetes + gluten intolerance. I’ve written about my own experiences living with this combination in the past, and we’ve brought you some educational resources including videos and tidbits.
Meanwhile, our youngest team member, Cait Patterson, is also living with both D and celiac disease, so today we bring you a special personal perspective from a young adult. Take it away, Cait…
Special to the ‘Mine by Cait Patterson
I have quite the resumé of medical issues. In August 2011, I was diagnosed with type 1 followed by a very invasive celiac diagnosis in August 2012. Needless to say, I avoid doctors in August.
I wasn’t shocked by my celiac diagnosis; it even felt like I was “one of the cool kids” for about the first day. I had to follow a gluten-free diet with a new special menu, but that didn’t bother me because I was expecting to become this super-healthy and skinny gluten-free goddess overnight.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Celiac disease is far more complicated and a much bigger annoyance than that. On top of me already having to ccorrect a myriad of stereotypes about type 1 diabetes, I was suddenly explaining celiac to every poor soul who had to share a meal with me. No, I am not allergic to beer, too hipster for gluten, a victim of a government conspiracy to increase revenue for farmers, or going to die if I come in contact with wheat. My body simply doesn’t process the binding agent found in wheat, barley and rye, and when I do eat gluten, it damages my intestines over time, with some other not-so-charming health side effects. That’s what my lifelong “fad diet” really is all about.
Usually when I first tell people about my gluten-free diet, they think it’s interesting and want to try my food, and immediately start thinking they also need to be on a gluten-free diet — which has its pros and cons. As much as I would love to have more friends and colleagues understand and share in my gluten-free life, it’s very difficult when people just want to take the fad for a test drive and then go back to enjoying a life with freedom of meal choice.
Besides the social frustrations, there are actually health concerns about the “sampling gluten-free” diet. About 1/600 of a piece of sandwich bread can cause damage to my stomach, so cross-contamination is a big concern. Going between a gluten pizza and non-gluten crispy chicken tenders in the university dining hall can cause big problems, since switching back and forth can cause contamination through crumbs and bits of food on cooking equipment, cutlery and plates, something my nutritionist warns me about — even the slightest touch of gluten on my food can ignite a reaction. So while I’m a big supporter of my peers trying “MY” food, I encourage them to please have the knowledge of how to do it without harming me.
And then there’s the other side of the coin, where people assume that “gluten free” means “taste free.” Yes, it’s true, some products are very bland, but for the most part these days, there are lots of tasty gluten free options that are just as yummy as “normal.”
I’ve been told (by those who can still eat the real stuff) that there’s not a huge taste difference between gluten-free pizza and normal pizza. And I have never had extra gluten-free cookies, cakes or brownies left over after a social event. So just because I have to eat foods with gluten substitutes does not mean my food is always worse — it’s often just different. And that said: gluten-free is my only choice, so even if it looks like I have sandwich on made with cardboard bread, please fake it and say it looks good.
Even though gluten-free is a constant meal planning pain, it has helped me to become more assertive. When I’m going on a dinner date and the guy wants to take me to a restaurant, I gauge his relationship potential by how willing he is to research gluten-free menus.
If he says: “Well, if you just get a salad we can eat anywhere,” he’s not going to make it to a second date. If you are paying for me to go out and have a meal, it will not be something that I do not enjoy eating. I should be able to go out for a meal and eat something that I don’t typically make for myself.
I have also become more comfortable in asking for products at the grocery store. I’m in college and broke, so as much as I would love to go to the high-end organic store, some days my budget can only afford to do grocery shopping at 7-11. I also shouldn’t have to go to three different grocery stores just to do a week’s worth of shopping. So, I ask store employees about gluten-free. If I say ‘Where’s gluten-free?” and the employee replies “Gatorade?” They will not be getting my business. I need to be able to work with my food options, so being educated and knowing your grocery store options is very important.
My gluten-free diet also forces me to be more independent and plan ahead. If I know I’m going to be at a sorority event for hours on end, I remember to pack a protein bar or some kind of meal bar. If it’s a potluck type of event, I bring something gluten-free so that I can participate. Then when my sisters are conscious about my celiac needs and make an effort to bring something I can enjoy – I make a big deal about it. If my sisters see how much I appreciate it, they are more likely to want to know more about my condition, and will think about it more for future events.
To help find gluten-free foods you like, without wasting money on those you don’t, I would suggest signing up for gluten-free sample boxes. No one wants to buy a whole box of expensive products just to find out you hate it, so sample boxes offer an ideal way to try out products in small quantities and the opportunity to discover new items. Some companies like Taste Guru offer a gluten-free sample box service, where you pay $34 per month for a three-month subscription, or $25 a month for a full year. Other companies like GF Connect offer packages 3 times a year at $29/package.
Overall, I’m lucky I was diagnosed now and not 15 years ago. The fact that the public is aware of the term “gluten-free” is a huge accomplishment. But I still need more to live a happy and healthy lifestyle. I still want gluten/gluten free to be included in every nutrition label. I want to get a meal at a drive thru window. And finally, for the love of all things tasty, can Pillsbury please get to work on gluten-free crescent rolls?