Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Self-Love with Celiac

Self love

It sounds so simple. Just give yourself a mental hug! So logical. After all, who in this self-centered culture is better than Numero Uno? Yet, more this week than perhaps any other, I have found myself looking in the mirror and struggling to love the girl that looks back at me.

Sometimes the mirror isn't so friendly...

I could blame it on mere hormones. As countless novels, TV shows and parently complaints have shown, estrogen and growing pains don't coexist peacefully. Instead, they fight, they burn holes in our confidence and they trigger some intense bonding sessions with a tub of Ben and Jerry's.

But it's more than that. When I look in the mirror, I don't dislike seeing Casey. I hate seeing celiac's fingerprints all over my reflection. I see celiac in the bony shoulders that protrude through my t-shirt, uncovered by a 15 lb weight loss that I still haven't fixed. I see celiac in my skin, which still lacks the nutrients to be clear and smooth. And I see celiac in my tears, which have stained my face this freshman year of college far too often.

Gotta love this post-hospital photo ops!

Yes, part of my issue is pure vanity. I want to be beautiful - to feel beautiful - just like every other girl. Beyond this vanity, though is anger

Anger at the body that I fill with nutritious fuel - meats, vegetables, fruits, nut butters and more! - yet refuses to gain. Anger at the body that still doesn't have the reserve or joint health to run. Mostly, though, it is anger at the adolescence this body conveys. I walk around campus and can't help but stare at the other girl's curves and shining faces - so mature and wordly compared to my own. 

As I stare in the mirror, I ask myself how I can love a body that has betrayed - is still betraying - me in these ways? 

But now, I want to ask, how can I not?

How can I not love the body that has fought - and is still fighting - for me? The body that survived a freshman year at college and hospitalization when my doctors had doubts? The body that allows me to feel the sun on my face, taste banana ice cream on my tongue and laugh with my friends?

My body lets me laugh like this!

Self love isn't as simple or logical as it seems and neither is celiac. That doesn't mean that they aren't worthy goals. Or that they can't live in harmony.

It's true that right now, the girl in the mirror doesn't fit my mental image. She isn't athletic or mature or conventionally pretty. But she is strong in determination, old in experience, and beautiful in resilience. And I can't hate her for any of those things. Instead I must - I will - love that self, the self that I am today

And with this love, who knows who will stare back at me tomorrow

Has celiac ever affected your self image? What are your tips to love your body, despite its faults? Comment below! 

Check out my link of this article here!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Winning as a Gluten Free Weirdo

I like to think that I was pretty normal in my pre-celiac days. I worked hard at school, joked around with friends at lunch, and devoured a big slice of pepperoni-extra-cheese pizza when it was thrown my way. 

And then celiac entered the picture, gluten left and I became the girl who lugs an ice-chest to sleepovers and turns down homemade chocolate chip cookies. Yeah. I became one of "those." If I've learned anything since May, though, it's that rockin' the gluten-free-and-weird card is totally possible. And if this girl - the nerd who walks into walls and makes funny faces when stressed - can be cool, it'll be as easy as a gluten free piece of pie for everyone else. 

If I can do it, anyone can!

First rule: don't hide your weird habits, explain them. In college, social eating pops into my schedule more often than an essay (and as a writing major, my hand follows a pretty brutal exercise regimen). Midnight burrito runs, ice cream parties and club meetings dominated by Phil's BBQ...I've survived them all. 

Most days, I try the ninja approach of eating before or after. An awards ceremony last week, though, fell right during my dinner time. And I wasn't going to starve with the smell of pizza in my nose. So I brought my plastic Tupperware filled with fish, quinoa, and roasted vegetables to keep me company.  And when people asked or gave me that look-at-the-weird-pizza-hater stare, I told them the whole story

I told them that I love pizza, but pizza doesn't love me. I told them about my celiac disease diagnosis and that my stomach goes on a bender if gluten joins the party.  And we moved on

Maybe they're just jealous? 

The fact is that people love mysteries, whether in books or the latest oh-no-she-didn't gossip. And once you remove the veil, suddenly your weird plate isn't so interesting. They just feel bad that you can't eat the pizza. 

Next, find fellow weirdos! You can put a "wanted" sign in the newspaper, start asking around or just watch for another pair of eyes in a staring contest with a fresh brownie. In my case, geography played matchmaker for me and two other girls at PLNU with eating habits (and allergies/intolerance) as weird as mine! Because of our food sensitivities, the cafeteria chefs prepare our meals separately and deliver them to the same corner of the caf near the kitchen. 

When you stand in the same three foot radius during meal times, conversation becomes natural. And it did. And now we do more than wait together - we eat together, weird habits and all. One day last week, Kendall glanced around at our table of three and laughed. "We're the three weirdos," she said. "I weigh my food, you take pictures of your food and Payton eats her food super slow!" 

Weirdos unite!

We laughed too because while she was right, we had never noticed it before. Because, with us, no food habits - weird as they might be - cause a second glance. 

Finally, to really win the war over gluten free weirdness, embrace it! Yep, that's about as cliche advice as it gets, but it's only repeated because it works. At times, I hate celiac for making me even more socially awkward. No one wants to be the girl who lives off of lettuce at the pizza parlor or avoids food socials. As I've grown in my identity as a college student with celiac (compared to a celiac in college), however, I've learned that that celiac just makes me a little quirky. And that's not a bad thing.

As a writing major, I get a lot of advice on how to craft a story. One of the repeat offenders? Don't make a Mary Sue - or a character without flaws or eccentricities. In my mind, celiac is just the universe's way of pumping a little spunk in my step.

So rock the celiac swag
(feeding tube not recommended)

Because, sure, before celiac I may have been more normal. But growing up is all about experimentation, breaking expectations and change. And Casey the College Celiac has definitely - and will continue - to do that!

Do you feel "weird" at times because of dietary restrictions? How do you deal with the social awkwardness that can accompany celiac? Comment below! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Celiac Disease: The Gluten Free Marathon

I remember exactly where I heard about the the Boston Marathon bombings last year. I was cruising from school in my little Honda Fit, sister in the back and music blaring. Until Pink's new single was interrupted by a report of explosions.

I'm sad to say that it didn't surprise me. We live in a world of violence and hatred (now the news really is black, white and red all over) and I'm not proud to admit that I've become somewhat desensitized to violence. At the same time, though, my heart broke. I was a runner - am a runner - and the idea that hundreds of people, guilty only of wanting to pummel pavement with their sneakers or support a beloved, could be executed without a second thought.

Sign posted near bombing site (thanks NPR)

So, when the Boston Marathon began again this morning - a year since the terrorist attack tore the finish line - I asked for safety for the present runners and peace for the past. And when an American won the Boston Marathon for the first time in three decades wearing the names of last year's victims? I can't think of a better way to prove that Boston really did win against the bombers

How does this relate to celiac disease or living gluten free? Because, although I would never equalize the suffering of the bomb victims with the difficulties of being diagnosed, dealing with celiac disease presents its challenges. Our bodies, whether or not we want to admit it, are damaged. I have only recently discovered how damaged mine truly is.

I'm still 10 pounds underweight. I have a strained IT band and tight hip flexors because of my low weight and malnutrition. I'm still boxing with digestion and acid reflux, and dairy and I still sit on opposite sides of the table. The real eye-opener (no pun intended) was my eye appointment, when I learned of white blood cells littering the tops of my corneas: a sign of past inflammation, likely from my hospitalization.

Throw back to hospital selfies!

The truth is, celiac disease causes more than an upset stomach. It can throw everything from bone density to nutritional absorption to energy levels into a tailspin. Celiac can have a serious impact on the human body, untreated or treated, and should be given an appropriate level of attention by the medical community.

Personally, the hardest challenge for me recently has been my inability to run. Running is part of my identity and my favorite stress-reliever, so being unable to do more than a 30 sec jog without pain striking my knee with a hammer has been driving me insane. Like, I look-like-a-creeper-staring-at-that-female-jogger-from-my-car-window insane. I've accepted the dietary changes, the social awkwardness and need for planning that celiac disease has given me. This little present has me crying for a major refund.

I miss my running trails!

So, when I saw my dad lacing up for his morning jog (the jog we usually take together), I hated celiac for weakening my body. I hated Lady Luck for sending celiac my way. I hated the devil in my ear whispering that I'd never regain control over my own health. And then I clicked on USA today and saw Meb Keflezighi's smile at the Boston Marathon finish line.

A year ago today, the world suffered a great tragedy. Lives were lost, wounds were created, and the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing still wear fresh scars. Nonetheless, there is victory in that defeat. Runners have returned, crowds have cheered and a community has shown that even tragedy can be beaten. Even the broken can be fixed.

My battle - any person's battle - with celiac disease is the same kind of marathonTwenty-six miles is a long way to go, and an endless amount of 24-hr, food-filled days is a similarly formidable stretch. But nothing - hills, tragedies, setbacks, and sacrifices - can stop us from reaching the finish line of a happy, healthy, fulfilled life. 

Gluten free can still be happy!

Because, just like many runners re-learned how to walk and jog with plastic limbs and families learned how to love and laugh even with an empty seat at the dinner table, we can learn to love our bodies again. We can learn what foods to nourish ourselves with, what vitamins to boost our immune system, and build a family of fellow diet-challenged foodies. 

It has been a long year for Boston, and a similarly long run awaits for every celiac. But I - we - can do it. One mile at a time. 

What is/has been the hardest stretch of your food allergy marathon? Where do you find inspiration? Comment below!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Outback is Out of this Gluten free World

Restaurants to the celiac are like cellphones to the teenager. Great in small doses and with the right data plan, but they can leave you crying in the bathroom just as easily. 

When my family wanted to celebrate Easter early by devouring some not-home cooking, Outback Steakhouse immediately popped in my mind. Before my diagnosis, we didn't travel the Aussie route. We were more of a Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out or Chinese food kind of family when our stomachs (or wallets) wanted an evening out. When terror of being glutened became a regular order of mine, though, we decided to give the gluten-free friendly Outback a shot. Tonight was my third visit and my third bulls eye

Before being seated, we always tell the hostess that we need gluten free menus (point for Outback!). It's always refreshing to visit a restaurant that not only caters to gluten free, but makes it easy

A menu just for me!

On my first visit, my stomach was starving for food, but full of butterflies. When ordering, I specifically stressed "celiac." Imagine my delight, then, when the waiter immediately shared that his best friend was newly diagnosed! This was my first gift from the celiac gods! 

The food was the second. I picked the grilled Mahi Mahi with steamed vegetables. I ordered the exact same dish tonight with an added house salad (minus the croutons, of course), but I'm also a big fan of the tilapia

Dinner Part 1
In terms of appetizers, the only one I've ever tried has been a house salad. It is nothing spectacular, but I love to start my meal off with the fresh mix of greens, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and cheese (dressing on the side). I've heard that some Outbacks offer gluten free bread, but alas the food gods haven't been this generous. Instead, mom and I just drool over my dad and sister's gluten-filled loaf (which luckily disappears fast).

It's the entrees that have made "kangaroo" a drool-worthy term. So far, I've ordered the tilapia once and Mahi Mahi twice. Celiac has definitely turned me into a fish person! All three times, my fish was cooked to perfection. Tender but cooked through, and while the flavor is understated, the accompanying lemon always makes it pop! I also love the portion - it's more than enough for two servings (and their fish is a bomb salad the next day!). 

Dinner Part 2
The fresh seasonal veggies are just as delicious. Broccoli, snow peas, squash and carrots all steamed to the point of being soft instead of soggy. I'm picky when it comes to my veggies, so clearing my plate is a good sign! As for their other options, my Mom adores their gluten free filet mignon and grilled shrimp with a baked potato

The best part of Outback is that when I roll out the door, my belly is full and my mind is worry-free. I've never gotten glutened, even when rubbing elbows with my gluten-loving sister and dad. And the staff has always been just as knowledgeable about celiac disease and gluten contamination as the waiter on my first visit.

And food is the only thing on my thoughts...

For me, Outback is my IPhone. It's versatile (one day, I will finally devour their Chocolate Thunder From Down Under - a GF chocolate and nut brownie with I d cream). It's dependable. And (even better than an IPhone) it's freaking delicious

Happy early Easter everyone! Do you eat GF at Outback? What is your go-to restaurant? Comment below! 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Liebster Award!!

We know the Internet by many names and faces. It is a monetary predator, a thief of time, and yet a builder of bonds across streets and nations. For me, the Internet - this blog - has been a source of more support than I ever imagined. 

My latest Internet blessing appeared last night when Amber, whose positive posts about food, exercise and life always brighten my day, commented on my blog. I love comments, but my heart danced the jitterbug when I read that Amber nominated me for the Liebster Award

With a few clicks of my mouse, I learned that the Liebster Award is basically an online hybrid between send-this-email-to-eight-people-or-else and "tag" from elementary school. Except one hundred times better. The rules are simple.

1. You have to link back to the person who nominated you
2. You have to answer the 10 Liebster questions given to you from that person
3. You have to nominate 10 bloggers (with a small following)
4. You have to form (and answer, if you want) 10 questions for those bloggers
5. You have to tell your 10 nominees the great news!

Five rules, ten people, and 100% fun! Thanks to Amber for including me in the fun!

My Answers

1. Why did you decide to start blogging?

When did I decide? I can't help but laugh. Even though my fingers type the posts, I consider myself a passive author. The real creator and decider of this blog is life, particularly celiac disease's surprise appearance in it. 

I was diagnosed the week of my senior prom and amidst of the confusion, frustration and anxiety involved with surviving puberty without help from Papa John's pizza, I wanted to know that I wasn't alone. More than that, I wanted to give my dietary demon a purpose (besides driving me crazy!). 

Prom marked the beginning of a new mission...

Last July, I wandered into the world of blogging, social media and baring my soul (and stomach) for all to read. And I don't regret it one bit.

2. What is your favorite kind of exercise?

I love everything except softball (I can't hit that ball to save my life - especially when people are chanting "Casey at bat"), but my favorite is definitely running and soccer. I'm banned from the track for the moment with a strained IT Band (email me for a full rant), though, so right now I'm really into biking, Pilates and weight lifting!

3. What is the one thing you could eat everyday and never get sick of?

Banana ice cream! It's the only thing I've found close to ice cream that is gluten free, dairy free and tummy-friendly

A delicious berry concoction!

Banana ice cream is my go-to post workout treat and whether I eat it plain, berry-flavored or infused with nut butters, I'm always happy. My little blender...not so much...

4. Share an odd eating habit/food combination you love, but others just don't get.

I'm super picky on how I like certain vegetables cooked! I didn't realize this until I started eating in the college cafeteria. I like carrots, but roasted not steamed. I love squash and zucchini, but they had better be raw. Mushrooms? The other way around or they can stay in the ground. My friends laugh, but they happily eat my unwanted portion just the same!  

5. Have you always been into fitness? If not, when did you start?

My dad is a Marine, so fitness has always been a part of my household (from example - he didn't make us do push ups each morning like in the movies). My soccer obsession started in middle school and hasn't stopped.

My favorite soccer picture…ever! 

When I started going running with my dad, though, I realized how strong working out made me feel. And so began my exercise addiction...

6. Instagram or twitter? Why?

Instagram! Even though my Instagram feed gives me a drooling complex, I love getting inspiration for more gluten free goodies and talking to the amazing people who make them!

7. What is your go-to mantra when you need some inspiration?

"Do your best and that's all you can do." My mom motivated my sister and I through high school with this quote and it was my best friend during high-stress papers, projects and puberty. When college or celiac crud fills my calendar, I like to repeat it under my breath to remind myself that the goal is doing my best, not doing the best.

8. If you were a crayon, what color would you be and why?

I think I would be light blue because of its versatility! Light blue can be the sky, a tear falling down someone's face or a baby blue jay just starting to spread its wings. I hope that I can be just as universal yet personal to everyone I meet (online or off!).

9. Favorite way to break a sweat?

Running! Any form, any time, any place!

The running trails at my school!

10. What is the one thing you cannot be without when heading to the gym or beginning a workout?

A distraction. It can be my I-pod, a TV, or a great friend, but I need someone to keep my mind engaged as I put all of my focus on my body. Lately, I've been devouring Netflix while doing my pilates and I can't wait to jam to some Shakira songs when I start running again!

My Nominees
(I'm bad at determining whether a blog has a "small following" or not, so I just chose 10 blogs that make me smile! Most are celiac/gluten free related, but some are fitness, and others positivity. Keep up the awesome work!)

Sprue Story
Gluten Hates Me
College Student with Celiac
Embrace G-Free
Peanut Butter Fingers
I'm A Celiac
The Masterpiece Movement
Gluten Free Betsy
Peanut Butter Runner
Gluten Free Perspective

My Questions

1. What motivates you to write/blog?
2. If you could only eat three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
3. What's the story behind your blog name?
4. What is something you learned recently?
5. Describe your perfect Saturday.
6. What is the best meal/snack you've eaten recently?
7. What is your favorite blog post to date?
8. Do you have a hidden talent? What is it?
9. What's the most interesting comment/email you've gotten from your blog?
10. If you could go anywhere for free, where would it be?

The Internet (and the blogging community it houses) is an amazing place. I'm honored to participate in the Liebster Award and to pass along the fun to 10 others. Thanks again, Amber, for this opportunity and support! And to the bloggers I nominated (and all the ones I couldn't fit into the list), have fun. You deserve it!

Blogs are like flavored M&Ms -
 it's hard to pick a favorite!

Do you have any favorite bloggers? What answers would you give to any of these questions? Comment below!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holding onto the Celiac Disney Magic

Whenever stress overwhelms my life - which, 25 days till the end of my freshman year, is every time I stop to breathe - I try to close my eyes and remember Disney World. I remember the delicious foods that caused me to drool on my keyboard as I wrote up reviews. I remember how sick Mom and I got of our favorite homemade blueberry muffins after seven straight mornings. Mostly, I remember the joy of bathing in Disney's magic for a whole week.

Right in the middle of the all the magic!

To finish off my Disney series, I'm going to share how to bring a little bit of Walt Disney magic into everyday, gluten free life. 

First, be loosely prepared. In Disneyworld, Mom and I entered Disney with a backpack stuffed of specialized weapons: homemade blueberry muffins for breakfast, a pound of Larabars for snacks and pages of online reviews. On our first day in Epcot, though, we put Goofy to shame. All of the possible eateries I bookmarked in my phone failed to fit our appetites, wallets, or patience. We finally ended up at Sunshine Seasons, home to the best salmon in Disney World, after forty five minutes of pain and walking.

We survived Epcot, but more detailed planning could have spared us all a Donald-Duck-worthy tummy tantrum. And every day afterwards, I researched the park the night before (prices and popularity included) and picked two eateries we could choose from. Planning + freedom of choice = wala! Tinkerbell glittered her Disney magic over us once more! 


What does this mean in regular life? Be prepared, but go with the flow. At least for me, celiac disease requires some level of constant prep. My backpack might as well be a giant Larabar wrapper. But, even though I smuggle a snack into every restaurant and social gathering, I'll ditch it if celiac-friendly food lands on my plate!  I found one of my favorite gluten free restaurants - a small, Japanese hole-in-the-wall - on my first date. I had a snack in my pocket, but gobbled down the unexpectedly gluten free salmon bowl. Even though the date was a dud, the salmon bowl and I have gone steady

So plan, stuff your sweatshirts, make a flow chart if you need to. But don't let plans turn into a culinary muzzle without a key.

Next, never stop asking questions. In every restaurant we went in Disney World, before every meal we ordered, we consulted the manager. Is it gluten free? Cross contamination free? An intestinal bomb on a stick? We researched before hand and knew that others claimed that the Columbia Harbor House's famous chicken fingers were fried separate from their gluten brethren. But their crunchy, fluffy texture was even more unbelievably delicious after I had seen the ingredient book. Asking for proof of their allergen safety allowed me to savor their gluten-like taste without worrying that they were too good to be true.  

The proof is in the paperwork!

Eating out in regular life follows the same rules. Gluten free foods have skyrocketed in popularity since my diagnosis less than one year ago. As a result, more places than ever are offering "gluten free alternatives" to Americans' favorite chicken-fried-chicken and hot-pockets. "Gluten free" doesn't equal "celiac-friendly," though, and in some places, cross contamination garnishes every GF plate. 

In my opinion, asking questions or talking to the manager should be automatic to every celiac or intolerant. It may be embarrassing, annoying, or make you "one of those" to your waiter. But whatever sour aftertaste the questions might leave pale in comparison to a mouthful of cheesy, hot gluten free pepperoni and veggie pizza (and a happy belly to boot). 

Finally, savor everything that you can have. In Disney World, the options were astounding. There were gluten free cookies and cakes, stir fries and salmon, burgers and brownies. It was like a world-wide buffet! So when we found Babycakes Bakery in Downtown Disney, we didn't buy one measly cupcake. We bought three cupcakes and three breads. Two were devoured immediately. The rest suffered slow, sugary deaths. And when we ordered a gluten free pizza at Splitsville, Mom and I destroyed the entire plate. 


So when you score the last box of Glutino pretzels, turn that grocery aisle into your personal dance floor. And when you take a bite of your gooey, chocolate birthday cake with chocolate frosting, taste, savor and, looking over at your friends' or family's gluten filled treats, say, "Dang, this is good." And mean it. 

Because it's easy to feel deprived by celiac disease. It's easy to focus on everything that we can't eat - gluten-filled favorites like Pizza Hut and Chick Fil A - rather than the buckets of fruits and veggies that become a celiac's best friend

For me, the most magical part of Disney World was the plethora of gluten free options. Yet, with drops of Disney magic still covering my eyes, the real world I returned to appeared just as limitless. I can't eat spaghetti, but spaghetti squash tastes delicious. My stomach hates dairy and gluten-filled ice cream, but loves banana ice cream. 

The fact is, yep celiac is limiting. Yep, you may miss some of your favorite foods. But if you focus on what you can eat and enjoy every bite of your latest gluten-free delicacy, life with celiac isn't that bad. In fact, I call it a little magical.

Sometimes magic involves getting a little dirty...

Disney World definitely created some of my favorite memories of 2014, and a lot of these memories revolve around the delicious, gluten free food! Now that I've returned to school and regular life, though, I've decided that Disney magic isn't locked in the parks. With a few simple tips and tricks, every day - and every bite - can be magical.

I've picked up my wand. When will you?

Have you ever been to Disneyworld or Disneyland? What is your favorite celiac/food allergy tip? Where do you find magic in everyday life? Comment below!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lessons from a College Freshman with Celiac

Like most college freshmen, I stepped foot on campus totally lost. What would my classes be like? The people? My bed? Unlike most freshman, though, I was dragging more than clothes to my dorm room: celiac disease also hitched a ride.

Now that I'm almost an official sophomore in college (gasp!) I look back at my freshman naivety with a rueful smile. So what have I learned?

1. First, gluten free doesn't mean "celiac friendly" when it comes to most college cafeterias. When I first learned that Point Loma Nazarene University had a "Simple Servings" section free of the top 8 food allergens, Mom and I did a victory dance in our living room. By the end of my first two weeks at school, though, I was ready to do a moon-walk back to the safety of my kitchen at home. Sure, those three serving trays were gluten free. Sure, hypothetically, I could survive off of Simple Servings and the salad bar

The Fridge portion of Simple Servings

But life isn't hypothetical. Cross contamination was rampant throughout my cafeteria, pasta and croutons playing footsie with lettuce and spinach. Even worse, it seems like everyone preferred plain chicken breast, rice and peas to the cafeteria's gluten-filled alternatives. And that left zero allergen-free food for me - one of the only students who actually needed it.

Every college is different. Yours might succeed in the generic gluten free plan that mine failed at. If you do end up in my situation, though, transferring isn't imminent. I'm still loving (and stuffing my face) at PLNU, this time on a personalized diet plan where my food is specially ordered and made by the cafeteria chefs. Check out my instagram to see what goodies I chow down on every day! 

2. Next, your stuff/food ratio should be 1:2. That means for every cute crop t-shirt and pound of paper and books, bring twice as much food. It's a pain in the butt. I feel like a weirdo carting bags of Larabars, fresh fruit, rice cakes and homemade muffins and pancakes to be stuffed and frozen in my mini fridge with the determination of a killer hiding the evidence (and I do murder those goodies, let me tell you). 

My food haul returning from Spring Break...

Once my dorm shelves are stocked and closets full, though, I couldn't be happier. Because, like it or not, food is to the celiac like extra shoes and sweaters are to the fashionista. My first weeks at PLNU were hungry ones, mainly because I valued my stuff over my snacks. Now, the priorities and quantities have shifted and my stomach couldn't be happier. Fact is, with celiac, you aren't just a college freshman. You're a foodie, too. 

3. Thirdly, the cafeteria chefs aren't feeders - they're friends. It didn't start out this way. The PLNU chefs scared me with their professional attire and chaotic working environment. I worried about burdening them with overcomplicated meals orders and increasing their stress by changing the time I needed to eat. Now, we work with each other because that's what friends do.

The chefs at my school are…just right.

Because the chefs don't just give me safe food. They don't just relieve me of worries about whether I'll eat tonight or be glutened. They ask me about my school work and my plans for the upcoming weekend. They've watched me gain a energy in my step, a little weight on my body and a smile on my face. And they never stop asking what they can improve. On the phone one night, I jokingly told my mom, "I need a husband who'll treat my health and food as well as these campus chefs."

But I wasn't really kidding

4. Next, on the topic of friendship, no matter how big or small the college, it's unlikely that someone with food allergies will be the only one. My school is small. Like five-kids-in-a-majors-class-small. So I had no idea if I would be the only medically gluten free gal or guy on campus. Boy was I surprised! Not only do two of my best friends have severe food intolerances, but a week hardly goes by when people see my "Celiac Awareness" water bottle and share their own story of being gluten intolerant/gluten sensitive or allergic to XY or Z. 

This baby is the ultimate wingman...

It's a sad fact, but food allergies and intolerance only seem to be increasing in number. And while that stinks on an individual basis, I love that it has caused me to never be alone in my struggle with food. And I don't think I'll ever be alone, even next semester when I'll lose my allergen friends to graduation and studying-abroad. More kids are coming - an entire freshman class. And there will probably be at least one with dietary needs in search of a culinary mentor. I hope that someone will be me.

5. Because the final lesson freshman year had taught me is that kicking academic and social butt as a gluten free freshman is totally possible! It's almost a year since my celiac disease diagnosis and almost eleven months since I first stepped foot on my college campus. And despite the detours, the wrong turns and the red lights, I'm happy with my destination. And even happier to share my road map for others traveling in the same direction.

Finally finding my balance!

Are you in college with celiac/allergies/intolerance? What are your tips for the college freshman, food or otherwise? Comment below!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Gluten Free: A Gateway Drug?

The magic pill. That's what the gluten free diet sounded like when my doctor first described it. Eat gluten free and celiac disease disappears. The fatigue. The stomach acid. The nausea. Poof

Ever since my diagnosis, though, I've noticed that most celiacs aren't just no-gluten. They're no-dairy, no-processed, no-soy, no-casein, no-anything-not-straight-from-the-dirt. And I've become one of them. And, when I look at my snack stack free of the 8 most common allergens, I can't help but think: Why? Why is gluten free suddenly not enough

Maybe gluten free isn't so magic after all?

True, a lot of the reasons are intestinal. I'm guilty of that. My villi may have started to bloom again, but they still wilt if milk floods their roots. And paleo? We're flirting. Because what person whose suffered from bloating, gas, nausea, acid and every intestinal ABC isn't attracted to a lifestyle that promises to conquer a tantrum-prone tummy

Yet, I can't help but think that the stomach isn't acting alone. The body and mind are partners in crime and this is no exception. It's so easy to get in a cycle of restriction and fear. So easy to say that because gluten is an intestinal bomb, soy and processed foods might have tickers of their own. And when you don't heal immediately - as my hospital visits and fatigue and frustration has shown is apt to happen - it's easy to blame the nutritionists' latest villain rather than accept that healing takes its own sweet time. In this way, I think gluten free really has transformed into the gateway drug of allergen avoidance.  

Sometimes, lines are easy to draw...

Fact is, I don't think every celiac needs to avoid more than gluten. But I'm definitely not denying that some do and should! 

Will I ever reunite with my dairy-filled frozen yogurt? Maybe. I hope so. I hope that one day my list of dietary restrictions will grow shorter rather than flowing onto the next page. For now, though, I'm pretty happy. I'm off gluten, off dairy, try to eat as non-processed as possible and am hoping to undergo more allergy testing this summer. But, today, I still savor my soy-filled, chocolate-covered acai berries. I still dive into a pre-made gluten free brownie when I get the chance. 

Or both!

Because, even though I suffer from dietary restrictions, I control them, not the other way around. I am in charge of nourishing my body in the best way possible. There is no magic pill - there are just magical people. And every celiac, gluten intolerant, allergy sufferer - following whatever "no" diet that works for them - can be just that. 

What do you think about the tendency to avoid more allergens than gluten? Do you think it's a gateway drug? Comment below! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Gluten Free and Dang Lucky

Every superhero has their trusty weapon. Wonder Woman rocks her golden lasso; Batman probably sleeps in his tool belt; and for Superman, a bad cape-day beats a bad hair-day hands down. I'm no real superhero, but every Tuesday, I try to better the world just a little. And I use peanut-butter-jelly-sandwiches to do it. 

Every Tuesday night, I'm crawling through the streets of Downtown San Diego. My hands, the only skin not swathed in fabric, shiver and tighten around the white bags heavy with food and water bottles. But even though I'm freezing, I smile. Because I'm at one of PLNU's weekly homeless ministries.

For this chilly nights, I go prepared!

When I went on my first trip, I stuck to the group with the dedication of a college senior counting down graduation. I saw the tent first. A couple of them actually, patched fabric homes forming their own makeshift neighborhood. 

"Food! Water!" We shouted, watching as lined faces and calluses hands popped out of the zippered doors. At first, my fingers inched back, but now I like to feel the connection between their hands and mine. Like to hope that I'm impacting more than their stomachs. 

As great as I feel handing out peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwiches and lunch bags filled with the traditional goodies (ham and cheese on whole wheat with an apple and potato chips), I can't help but wonder if any of their stomachs rebel even as their taste buds dance from a springy slice of bread. 

We give something like this...

What would I do if lived on the streets? Would I scrape ham and cheese off wheat and hope for the best? Or would I give in and scarf down whole PB&J's, only for my tent to transform into an intestinal ER hours later? Or would I live off apples and bananas, being "that lady" - the one ungrateful enough to reject food free from cost and full of love? 

Honestly, I don't know. One thing I do know is that someone must be making those decisions right now. Just last year, studies report that 600,000 people are homeless on any given night; the NFCA finds that 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease. I haven't taken math for a year, but with a rudimentary calculation, that means there is possibly 6,000 celiacs living - and eating - on the streets. And my heart can't help but ache for those whose survival mechanisms - accepting any and all available food - are also death sentences

Life and Death?

So, on Tuesday night, I don't leave the San Diego streets empty-handed. With every bag I give away, I get something in return: encouragement to do my homework, teasing that I could be the first female president and more "God bless you"'s than I can count. Mostly, though, I get a reminder.

A reminder to not complain of classes, but feel grateful for the education many of these folks missed. To not mind when my food is late, but to savor every safe bite. Most importantly, though, to not feel unlucky because my celiac gene decided to flip a switch. Because I am lucky - more than lucky - to have the medicinal food to treat it.

I'll say it again. I'm no super hero, but every time I hand out a peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich I'm impacting lives. Others' lives, maybe.

Mine? Beyond sure

Slaying the dragon one sandwich at a time!

What are you thankful for, even if you must eat gluten free? Have you ever considered what the gluten free homeless do? Comment below!