Health

How to: Survive as a coeliac

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By Áine Curtin

 

Hi, I’m Áine and I’m an alcoholic. Wait no… coeliac…. yes, I am one of those people who ask “is that gluten free?” but it’s not by choice! It’s actually quite similar to being an alcoholic or even a drug addict. You know how good the stuff is and you know how to get it but you also know how bad it is for you. Sometimes when people ask “why aren’t you having some pizza?” I feel like it’s something to be ashamed of. I won’t get into too much detail about what effect it has on my body but basically, the small intestine is broken down by the gluten and it’s impossible to intake important nutrients like iron, meaning most coeliacs present as anaemic before being tested for the disease. For more information, check out the Coeliac Society of Ireland, it’s actually something that’s very dangerous if undiagnosed.

 

Something that has been ingrained into the Irish people is you can’t have a “bald” cup of tea. But as a coeliac, you get the horribly awkward conversation that normally goes like this:

“Are you sure you won’t have something?

“No I won’t, I’m fine thanks.” (Internally cringing at everyone thinking this is by choice)

“Can I make you something? What about a ….. Wait what can you eat?”

Then comes the whole “pizza, bread, cakes, biscuits … anything with wheat, oats or barley etc.” (Yes that means no beer too!)

 

Then chances are you will then be offered a rice cake or two with them just awkwardly letting the conversation drift and evacuating out of the situation as soon as possible. If I’m honest I am basing this story on one aunt in particular, she always seems to make a big deal of it. Always asking the same questions or making sure to loudly say something like “oh I don’t have anything Gluten Free”… Others seem to understand I’m an adult and I am capable of understanding that she isn’t going to have gluten free things on tap. It’s like she has a default button that makes her do this exact thing every time I visit.

 

One question I get very often is “what would happen if you ate something with gluten in it?” this question is something I love getting though, because it’s one that you can have fun with. I remember my cousin asked me and my reply was, very blatantly may I add, “Oh I’ll just blow up” or if I’m feeling very morbid I’ll say “Oh I just drop dead”…. They need to be used with caution though … some people are extremely gullible. At a stretch it could be brushed off as ignorance of the disease (yes, it’s a disease) but really it’s just plain silliness, just imagine someone dropping dead from a couple of breadcrumbs?! If this were true my enemies would have the perfect murder weapon!

 

When coeliacs are at a restaurant, 90% of the time the first thing they look for are the letters GF or Gluten Free alternatives available (if they deny this they are lying, believe me). The worst thing about having to eat in a restaurant that doesn’t have this facility is that you have to ask the waitress/waiter what they have for us awkward patrons. They normally don’t know so they head back to ask the chef and that normally takes an extra 5 minutes. That’s one of the worst things about being coeliac, having to make my friends wait every time we go out to eat. If I could be as bold to make a request of the restaurants on campus and in the Castletroy area, make Gluten Free alternatives and advertise it on your menus! It honestly makes such a difference and with the amount of people in Ireland excluding gluten from their diets increasing tenfold, it will be well worth the reprint.

 

The recent trend of healthy eating and becoming a gluten free, lactose free vegan annoys me if I’m honest. I think people who eat healthy should be commemorated, as I am writing this I’m making my way through honey and cinnamon gluten free cookies, but it’s when people take on these trends and fad diets that really gets on my nerves and they only do it to lose weight. Now people who are genuine and can’t handle eating meat because of their morals have my respect. They see something they don’t agree with and decide they are going to have nothing to do with it. Deciding to commit to something like restricting your diet in any case is something that should be thought out and not used as a quick fix to losing weight, trust me, avoiding something like gluten does not mean you are going to lose weight. Also I really couldn’t care less if you think farmers are being ‘cruel’ to cows for milking (yes I have gotten this lecture), if that’s what you think then fine, that’s your opinion. However do NOT try and tell me all this and try to convert me!

 

Sometimes being coeliac has the opposite effect and you gain weight. Yes, your options are limited to fresh produce like fruit, veg and meat that hasn’t been processed but if I’m honest since I have gone coeliac, my intake of fruit and veg hasn’t increased that much. It means instead of having the chicken fillet roll then you end up eating the salad but then you end up getting something else as well like a bar of chocolate or a snack bar. People think just because you’re not eating carbohydrates that are associated with bread and pasta but realistically it just means you’re eating gluten free alternatives of them. The amount of gluten free pizzas I have eaten since starting college is scandalous. That’s a 9 inch pizza all by myself because people either feel guilty for eating something Gluten Free or they can’t imagine eating something that they perceive to taste like cardboard. I can’t count the amount of times I have baked something at home and my dad has refused to try it. If I could bet on it, I’d be seriously rich!

 

In conclusion: we coeliacs don’t die if we eat single bread-crumbs, making changes to your diet should be a commitment to becoming healthier, not to lose weight. The letters GF on a menu are like little gems of gold that make my day (sometimes my week), and my dad is very unsupportive of my attempt to making GF foods at home.

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