My free-from life… Sarah Howells from The Gluten Free Blogger

Sarah Howells, aka The Gluten Free Blogger, talks about how her coeliac disease diagnosis has blossomed her love for food, and a fit and healthy lifestyle…

My free-from life... Sarah Howells from The Gluten Free Blogger
Photo: Twisty Focus

My free from story began in 2001 when I was diagnosed with coeliac disease aged 12. I was the smallest in my class and looked like I had an eating disorder – my ribs were always on show, yet I couldn’t stop eating. My GP was convinced it was a lactose intolerance, as I felt ill every time I ate cereal drowned in milk, or cheese on toast. Little did we know at the time, that it was the cereal and toast, rather than the milk and cheese, making me ill.

Soggy rice cakes

I often complained of stomach aches and eventually, when my usual GP was off sick, we saw a different doctor who asked if I had been tested for coeliac disease. One blood test and an endoscopy later and I was on a gluten-free diet for life.

I think being diagnosed with coeliac disease as a child made my transition a lot easier. I didn’t really like bread, cakes or biscuits much, so I didn’t miss them too much, but I do remember packed lunches being difficult. Back then, there was barely a free-from section in the supermarket and the gluten-free bread was so solid you could build a house with it.

I remember sitting in school, picking at soggy rice cakes my mum had tried desperately to make into a sandwich for me, and always going home hungry.

We found out, the year after my coeliac diagnosis, I also had an overactive thyroid – the two are both auto-immune conditions, and probably linked – and I was put on medication for this on-and-off for about nine years, until I had a sub-total thyroidectomy in 2010.

My free-from life... Sarah Howells from The Gluten Free Blogger
Photo: Twisty Focus

Making the transition

I think it was this surgery that made me start to think more carefully about looking after my body. I started my blog in the same year because I noticed at the time there weren’t many people blogging about gluten-free food back then. Since then, the industry has exploded, and it’s been fantastic to build up a community of like-minded people through my blog.

I started writing recipes, which at the time were simple and cheap, as I was a student. Companies started to send me products to review, and when I left university in 2011 I continued avidly blogging.

Every time I had a message or email from someone saying I had helped make their transition a little easier, it kept me going. I felt almost guilty for having such an easy shift onto my diet, but I wanted to help people realise coeliac didn’t have to be a bad thing. I now eat so much healthier due to my coeliac disease – I barely eat processed food and I’m always trying to think of creative ideas for my meals. I couldn’t find any gluten-free bread I liked as sandwiches, so I made salads instead.

Balancing act

A few years ago my boyfriend opened a personal training business, and that sparked a new relationship for me with the gym. With this, my diet became a lot better – I try to cook all of my own meals, I pack every meal with vegetables and try to eat to a macro-based plan. I saw my body change and it made me realise I could overcome the shadow of my coeliac disease and thyroid problems to feel healthy and look after my body – and I still manage to get in my weekly gf pizza; it’s all about balance.