10 ways to regain your identity

Ali Walsh, from The Local Bakehouse, shows how having coeliac disease need not define you… 

10 ways to regain your identity

Do you ever wish you could be your old self? The one you were before you had to eat gluten-free? I don’t mean you’d want to suffer those old symptoms again – who would? I mean having a happy-go-lucky lifestyle where life isn’t limited by food.

Prior to becoming coeliac, I was pretty easy-to-please. I ate everything, even if I didn’t particularly like it, and I was always travelling. I didn’t hesitate to go on the French exchange at school where I’d live with another family for a week. After my A levels I went to Israel to work on a kibbutz. When I missed a friend who lived in Scotland, I hopped on an 8-hour train to Glasgow.

At no point during these times did I ever have to think, ‘Will they be able to cater for me?’ or ‘Can I trust them not to cross contaminate?’ or ‘I won’t be able to try out the famous local dish.’

How many times have you missed out on something because of your diet? Maybe a friend is having a party and they’re anxious about catering for you, so they’ve asked you to bring your own food and you feel left out. Or your family wants to go on holiday abroad and you’re worried your diet will get lost in translation.

Big or small, whatever it is, does it ever feel like you’re losing your identity? That the carefree you, the one that never stressed about anything, is sometimes replaced by a frazzled shell of your former self, wishing this diet for life would just go away?

If so, the following should help restore some sanity.

10 ways to regain your identity

1. Focus on the good stuff
There should be something non-food related from your past you could concentrate on again, so focus on that as a start. Maybe you loved making your own clothes, but your sewing machine’s been sitting idle for years. Is there a yoga mat in your loft? A good book propping up a wonky table leg? Now’s the time to dust it off.

10 ways to regain your identity

2. Work out what you’re missing
Have you tried replicating former food favourites such as biscuits and bread and had a major culinary disaster? Maybe it’s time to go on a gluten-free cookery course to learn how to do things the right way. You’ll be surprised at how many tricks and tips you’ll learn. Even better, if your friends and family love the taste of the goodies you bring back, they’ll encourage you to do more baking. You know what that means? Another course to inspire you. Yep, you can expect some really good birthday presents!

3. You only need one favourite
Already sweating at the thought of producing artisan pastries and tarts? Don’t worry. There’s a little-known secret a lot of folk don’t think about: people are happy with one thing done well, not a dozen done badly. So become famous for your double chocolate cookies or your gluten-free sourdough. You may be surprised at how good you feel getting just one bake spot-on.

4. Put yourself first
It’s easy to play down the problems you’re having with your diet, especially if you already have a family situation you feel is difficult enough. But understating the effect of a diagnosis, particularly if it’s new and unfamiliar, can also be detrimental.  Think about it this way: if the diagnosis hadn’t happened to you, but instead to your child or a close friend, would you really tell them it didn’t matter if they went hungry every now and then? Or would you get frustrated every time there was an issue? Would you allow a dozen parties to go by where your child couldn’t eat the birthday cake and there was no alternative? What about if a friend said they wouldn’t come to dinner because their diet was too much hassle? Most of us wouldn’t let this happen: we’d make sure we could cater for our friends and family and we wouldn’t want them to feel they were a burden. So don’t allow yourself to feel guilty. Make sure your needs are met.

10 ways to regain your identity

5. Help yourself by helping out
Frustrating as it might seem, you can make things easier by offering help to the person who’s responsible for your food. Obviously it means extra work, but it’s preferable to the after-effects of eating gluten. So if there’s a wedding, you could offer to contact the caterer to explain what you need. If someone’s providing a buffet, send them a list of products you know are gluten-free (like mayonnaise, stock cubes and so on). Sometimes having a brand name can make things a lot easier for someone than describing a less well known product (like tamari sauce). You may feel you shouldn’t have to go to this extra bother, but think of the alternatives:
a) go to some effort and not be accidentally glutened; or
b) take your own food (it’s not the best handbag accessory).
Plus, this may just be short-term, especially with good friends, as people will get used to what you can have.

6. Have a safe place
If you’ve got somewhere you can rely on where you know you won’t be glutened, use it as a crutch. It could be a great curry take-away, your local café or even just your mum’s. Being able to go there will help you avoid kitchen cabin fever. Over time, you’ll build up more and more places you know will be safe for you and you won’t feel so isolated.

7. Find an online group where you can rant
If no-one around you shares your woes, one of the best places you can go is to an online support group. Try Facebook’s Coeliacs in the UK or Gluten-Free Everything as a starting point. Not only will people be going through the same things as you, they may just cheer you up with a gluten-free joke or two. You can also join us on our own Gluten-Free Heaven Facebook page!

8. Promise yourself you’ll try something new10 ways to regain your identityLook back at the fears you wrote down and don’t let these concerns put you off living your life. You don’t have to embrace everything, but if there’s something you’re really keen on, there should be a way to make it work. So, whether it’s trying out a new restaurant or going on a stag or hen do, decide to join in and then form a plan to make sure your fears aren’t realised.

9. Look forward to the good times
You may not be able to eat what you want, wherever you want, at any time you want any more, but you can look forward to the increasing number of festivals there are that focus on gluten-free food. The next biggie is The Allergy & Free From Show (5th-7th July 2019) at London’s Olympia. Go to www.allergyshow.co.uk for your free tickets (yes, free!).

10. Don’t let CD define you
A health condition should not rule your life. There are plenty of non-food-related activities you can take pleasure in where you won’t have to think about your diet. The cumulative effect of routinely doing something pleasurable should be of great benefit. Try and fit in a weekly hobby such as canoeing, pilates or learning a new language. The latter might persuade you it’s safe to travel and order food in a foreign country, and that’ll show just how much your confidence has grown.