Free-From Heaven reader and Gluten Free Cuppa Tea blogger tells us about how she came to lead a positive gluten-free lifestyle.
Hi, my name is Becky. I am 24 years old and have been living for the past 8 months in the sunny climates of Manchester. I, unfortunately, live with a gluten intolerance & have done so since early 2010. I know that gluten intolerances affect a huge amount of people across the world, as well as other food intolerances, allergies & more serious conditions such as Coeliac and Crohn’s Disease. So I thought I would share my story with you about how, firstly I acquired my problem, and secondly what it was like to have to contend with this, whilst I completed my university degree and beyond. What is it like to be gluten-free?
My story actually starts right here in Manchester, where in 2009 I started a Law Degree. I moved 250 miles away from home and was really excited to start a new life in a vibrant, northern city. I lived with 7 other amazing flatmates, and was really enjoying the social side of university. However, the endless reading and hard work that a law degree brought was making me more and more unhappy.
I had worked really hard at college to get onto the course and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, but deep down I knew Law wasn’t for me & I needed to quit. Months went past of me stressing out, wondering what I would do if I stopped Law and what people would think of me. I started to feel more and more run down until April 2010, when I finally left Manchester University for good and returned home. I had started to notice over the few months prior to leaving Manchester that I was getting a huge amount of bloating, discomfort & pain whenever I ate certain foods. Initially, I just ignored it, but it continued to become frustrating, and at times, quite embarrassing. I remember clearly a night of agony & incessant trapped wind, following a meal out at a local Italian restaurant.
Eventually, I decided to visit my GP who sent me off for some blood tests, one of which was to see if I had coeliac disease. Fortunately, it came back negative, but that didn’t solve the issues I was having. My doctor recommended I keep a food diary and try removing certain foods from my diet to see if it helped.
I very quickly came to realise that wheat, and soon after, all forms of gluten were the culprits of my discomfort. Whether it was bread, pasta, soy sauce or a custard cream biscuit, anything that contained gluten was making me really unwell. I decided to remove all gluten-containing foods from my diet. This was a monstrous & unhappy task at first… who knew that so many foods contain gluten!
I returned to university the following year, a new place and a new subject, which I enjoyed a lot more. However my digestive discomfort, upon ever mistakenly eating gluten, never went away. This made university more difficult for me. A night out with friends could no longer end with a kebab, and I was unable to partake in student associated dinners such as pizza & pot noodles! Back in 2010, ‘gluten-free food’ was a lot less accessible, as was finding gluten-free options in restaurants. I really struggled with this, as well as the sheer cost of gluten-free living as a student.
However, as time has moved on, more brands have started to creep out of the shadows and provide their own gluten-free options; restaurants too have started jumping on the bandwagon. It is great to feel more understood by the wider food community and for the importance of allergens to be taken seriously. Having to eat a gluten-free diet made me a more adventurous cook throughout university, and that continued beyond graduation (I passed!). I started to try things that I wouldn’t have before and began recreating dishes that I could no longer eat in their original gluten form.
For me, following a gluten-free diet has become an insightful and positive experience. I realise this definitely isn’t the case for everyone. A gluten intolerance is incredibly frustrating a lot of the time & can cause a lot of problems. But, at the end of the day, all you can do is make the best out of a bad situation, & that’s exactly what I’ve done. Finding real gems in the rough, in the shape of gluten-free products & restaurants is often exciting. Creating my own gluten-free recipes that everyone loves is even more exciting.
I have learnt to help myself, and also help others combat the hold that a food intolerance can have on one’s everyday life. This, alongside the steps forward the free-from food industry have made in recent years, has made the whole experience so much more manageable. And whilst I wouldn’t wish any food intolerance, disease or allergy on my worst enemy, I am glad that by having a gluten intolerance I have been able to understand and help others suffering from similar problems. Ultimately, whilst I can’t eat any old chocolate cake, I have learnt to make a pretty decent gluten free chocolate cake! & best of all? I am pretty damn happy.
Thanks to Holland & Barrett for inspiring me to post My Gluten Free Journey too!
Check out Becky’s video about her gluten-free lifestyle: