Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Fine Print of Self Love with Chronic Illness

To put it simply? There isn't any.

When you commit to loving yourself, the contract doesn't come with any fine print. You love you - your body, your mind, that finicky bloated belly (and those big-worded diagnoses smack dab in the middle of your medical file).

casey the college celiac

Don't search for exemption clauses or "hidden" requirements - you find won't them. You can be sobbing yourself to sleep every night over the loneliness of a new city. You can "fail" to lose (or gain!) those last five pounds for two years straight. You can be broken - in body through chronic illnesses, in mind with inner demons, or in spirit from heartache.

And that brokenness doesn't preclude self love. In fact, it can promote it.

As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once said:

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen."

But you can do your part in becoming beautiful by deciding to love yourself today.

*This is part of a new blog series I'm starting known as "Mindful Morsels," which will feature short posts with a focus on mindfulness and mental health. Most will have first appeared at, which I co-author.*

*Also found at Wow Me Wednesday, Let's Get Real Friday Party, Saturday Share Fest and RunningwithSpoons*

What fine print do you often attach to loving yourself? Let me know below!

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Nacho" Mama's Spaghetti Squash (Gluten Free)

What does your perfect plate of nachos look like? Fresh tortilla chips slathered in salsa, cheese and chicken? What about baked potato wedges topped with black beans, lettuce and guacamole? However you like 'em, nachos have been dominating Americans' taste buds since 1949.

With over one hundred years of eating behind each platter, how can nachos be given a 2016 twist? As usual, I went the healthifying route - though this spaghetti squash stuffed with creamy vegan cheese, wilted spinach, soft black beans and all the add-on's your stomach desires feels anything but healthy. Especially with some fresh avocado and Primizie's new gluten free chips on the side

casey the college celiac

As usual, this recipe is not only gluten free, but also optionally vegan and paleo. Although spaghetti squash is low in calories (boasting only 42 calories per cup) fat and carbs, it is packed with Vitamin C and B6, as well as a variety of minerals. The black beans also provide fiber, protein, folic acid and magnesium while spinach offers manganese along with Vitamin K and A.

As for Primizie's Ancient Sprouted Grain chips, they boast a short ingredient list that is also all natural and free of trans fat, preservatives and cholesterol. An even better bonus? They're allergen free (with the possible exception of flax seeds)!

casey the college celiac primizie
The chip that's chipping in for these nachos!
Now, for the part you've been drooling waiting for: the recipe. Begin by gathering these simple ingredients; it will make one to two servings

- One half of a medium to small spaghetti squash, pre cooked*
- One serving of your favorite cheese sauce (I LOVE this potato and zucchini loaded vegan cheese sauce from TheVegan8)
- Handful of spinach or greens of choice
- Liberal handful of black beans
- Protein of choice (ground turkey meat, salmon, tofu, etc)
- Handful of shredded cheese (I use the dairy free Daiya mozzarella)
- Sprinkle of spices of choice (thyme, oregano, cayenne, etc)
- Optional toppings: avocado, guacamole, salsa, homemade or premade chips, etc. 

*(If you need to cook your spaghetti squash, simply poke with a fork and microwave it for around 5 minutes. Then cut in half, add seasonings and face place down on a baking sheet. Cook for 40 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit or until half are tender and shreddable. Let the other half cool and store in fridge or freezer.)*

casey the college celiac
Allll the toppings!
To make your spaghetti squash nachos, simply preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, place your cooked spaghetti squash half on a foil-lined baking tray. Shake on your spices before swiping on a liberal layer of the cheese sauce. Next, load up all your other toppings - the limit is the size of your squash and appetite! - ending with a shake of cheese shreds on top. 

Pop your nachos in the oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese sauce has melted and the sides of the squash are slightly brown and crispy. Five minutes before your squash is ready, you can gather your toppings.

casey the college celiac
That perfect bite!

When it comes to chips, I recently got the chance to taste Primizie's new line of Ancient Sprouted Grains chips...and my taste buds definitely fell in love. Made out of sprouted amaranth, quinoa and sorghum, these chips offer a nutty "whole grain" flavor that's usually missing from gluten free products. I also appreciate that they aren't overly salty, a common problem with pre-made chips, and that they offer plenty of crunch. All of these traits make them perfect for dipping into your "cheesy" spaghetti squash! 

Don't be shy about personalizing this recipe either. If you're a sucker for spicy, add some jalapeƱos or hot sauce. Vegans can even try substituting turkey for a plant-based option like tofu, spice-roasted chickpeas (like Pinch with Yum's recipe) or jackfruit. Don't skimp on different types of cheese either, if your system can handle it!

casey the college celiac
My kind of dinner!
Now, you've probably heard America referred to as the giant "melting pot" - but maybe nachos would be a better analogy. After all, we share the same basis of beliefs - including a love for chips covered in cheese - but boast a variety of different toppings and preferences. 

Patriotic or not, there's one undeniable fact about this healthified version of an old favorite: it's so delicious, you won't even realize you're eating veggies along with your chips!

*While I did receive free samples of Primizie chips to use in a recipe, all opinions and ideas are my own*

What are your favorite nacho toppings? Have you ever heard of or tried Primizee Snacka before? Tell me what you think!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Celiac's Diet: Some Advice on "Gluten Free" Food

I discovered the gluten-free diet differently from most Americans. I didn’t read about it in a celebrity tabloid, hear about its astonishing weight loss effects from a friend or try a gluten-free restaurant dish because it’s “trendy.”

I learned about gluten when I weighed 83 lbs at 5’3” – as a freshman in college. After months of constant acid reflux, bloating and lack of appetite, my doctor diagnosed me with celiac disease (an autoimmune condition in which ingesting gluten damages the intestines.) The cure? A gluten-free diet – which, according to Gallup, 1 in 5 Americans currently follows.

Considering that only one percent of Americans have celiac disease, people must believe gluten-free foods have a positive effect on their bodies. There is much to digest about gluten-free food, Entity Magazine (where this post of mine first appeared - check out the original article here!) is here to separate (foodie) fact from fiction.

I’ve received plenty of memorable reactions when first telling people that I’m gluten-free. One statement that sticks out in my mind, though, occurred the first week of my freshman year of college. Consider that, at that time, I wasn’t just skinny – I was a skeleton. Yet, when I told a gorgeous blonde that I needed to eat gluten-free because of celiac disease, she looked at me and said, “I wish I had celiac so I could be skinny like you.”

According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “diet” has multiple meanings. For instance, it can mean “a food and drink regularly provided or consumed” or a “regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight.” In other words, gluten-free can be the way that you eat, but not necessarily the way you lose weight. Don’t assume that someone following a “diet” wants to or succeeded at losing weight – as in my case, they may just want to stay alive.


People also often think that eating gluten-free just means “taking the bread off” your sandwich. Carbs aren’t the problem for celiacs, however. Instead, as Mayo Clinic explains, celiacs can’t consume the protein gluten found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. If I like, I can eat a big, carb-filled sandwich on gluten-free bread for lunch. If you like, you can go on a no-carb or low-carb without “gluten” ever crossing your mind.


The fact is that most of the “astonishing” benefits the gluten-free diet supposedly provides occurs in people eating naturally gluten-free foods (e.g. rice, fruits and vegetables), rather than processed substitutes. You’ve probably heard the advice to shop the outer aisles of the grocery store to eat the healthiest. Websites like Web MD keep repeating this tip because outer aisles usually contain vegetables, fruits, dairy and meats. These are all whole foods ... which also happen to be gluten-free. 
Gluten-free foods don’t only include the pricy “special” pizzas at your local supermarket; they also feature the same baked potatoes you’ve been eating since childhood.


Don’t believe that all gluten-free foods are easily identifiable. So far, the weirdest food-related item that I learned contained gluten is a set of “environmentally friendly” paper plates at my grocery store ... made with wheat instead of trees.

Gluten can be just as tricky hiding in food. A few of the surprisingly gluten-filled foods? Most soy sauces, alcohol, oats, salad dressings, deli meats and even communion wafers (“Oh my God” is right!). Generally, going gluten-free isn’t low maintenance, nor is it low-carb.


Here’s a fun fact about celiac disease: if I ingest even a crumb of gluten, I get sick. If someone uses a cutting board, dishes or utensils that touched gluten to make my gluten-free meal, I get sick. Since celiacs like me are sensitive to cross-contamination, some products that claim to be “gluten-free” aren’t actually safe for us to eat. Certain pizza restaurants, for instance, might offer gluten-free crusts – but if they cook it in the same oven and prepare it in a kitchen with wheat flour flying in the air, my stomach will feel like it's been sliced with a pizza cutter. 


Imagine you’re a chef baking your mom’s favorite bread recipe, but you want to nix the gluten. The problem? You need to put something in its place – usually extra sugar, fat, and calories, according to Consumer Reports. Not only that, but gluten-free products often lack key nutrients, such as folic acid and iron, compared to their fortified whole wheat counterparts. Personally, I thrive on a gluten-free diet, but only because my body can’t biologically process gluten.

My (totally non-medically qualified) advice to you? Find which diet (preferably in the first meaning of the word) your body thrives on and know that, while eating gluten-free saves celiacs’ lives, gluten-free foods aren’t the best foods for everyone.

Now that’s a diet story worth sharing.

**Though I wrote, "A Celiac's Date: Some Advice on 'Gluten Free Food'", it first appeared on Entity Magazine**

Monday, September 19, 2016

5 Gluten Free Lessons from a Celiac's First Relationship

Girl meets boy. Girl and boy date. Girl and boy breakup. It's a common enough story and, as followers of my Facebook and Instagram, it's a story that hits close to home after I went through my first break up last March

In the months that have passed since then, though, I've started to find peace. Not only that, I've found greater appreciation for the good times I did have...and the five celiac-related lessons my first relationship taught me. 

casey the college celiac, dating, life lessons

1. Brushing your teeth isn't a deal breaker. 

As I've shared before, one comment always able to trigger laughs is, "At least you don't have to ask a guy to brush his teeth before kissing him!" Cross contamination through kissing is just one of the "fine print" requirements of celiac disease. 

Although laying down this law with new dates can feel awkward, I've learned that smooth moves just aren't worth it. After all, nothing ruins the mood more than texting, "I think you gave me the kiss of death the other night" when you feel zombified a few days later. 

casey the college celiac, glutened,
Always a favorite!
Those who care about you won't mind stepping up their dental hygiene. And if he (or she) doesn't think a good nights kiss is worth the hassle, you probably aren't missing much anyway!

2. Gluten isn't a the secret weapon to a romantic dinner

I'll admit that when it comes to a date night, celiac disease can make planning a little more difficult. Compared to years ago, though, it's never been easier to find a romantic gluten free dinner to enjoy! 

Thanks to apps like Find Me Gluten Free, calling restaurants ahead of time to check their options and reading online reviews, I've never had an issue finding somewhere both I and my date can enjoySome of my favorites include: Chipotle, Chick Fil A, PF Changs, Outback, Whole Foods (what's better than a picnic dinner for two?), Stacked and several of the other restaurants I've reviewed here

casey the college celiac, gluten free restaurants
All the delicious eats!
You can also save money - and time - by making your own gluten free dinner at home! When I'm feeding a gluten-eater (a loving term, I promise), I usually stick to ingredients that are naturally gluten free. 

My sweet potato salmon sliders or potato nachos are two meals that have been especially devoured in the past. Since you're doing the cooking, it's also nice to be able to enjoy the company instead of trying to talk to the chef or worrying about cross contamination. 

3. Meeting the family will be awkward.

There really isn't any other way to put it. Now, from what I've heard, meeting your significant other's family for the first time is always a bit scary. But when their family has to reschedule lunch plans for a restaurant you can eat at or you have to turn down grandma's famous apple pie, it can seem especially awkward. 

In the best case scenario, they will try to accommodate your diet as much as possible and not make a big deal out of your restrictions besides asking a few basic questions. If that doesn't happen, though, here are a few tips:

- Be patient. Don't be offended if they don't understand what you can or can't eat; think back to everything you didn't know right when you were diagnosed!

casey the college celiac, chia bar healthwarrior
AKA, my favorite snack bar ever!
- Come prepared. If you know you're going out to lunch or dinner with them, pack a protein bar in case the restaurant doesn't turn out celiac safe. And if you're visiting during Sunday dinner, pack your favorite meal to enjoy with them. 

- Be open. Don't be afraid to turn down gluten free cookies they baked just for you that could be cross contaminated. Don't shy away from questions about your diet or celiac disease in general. The more they know, the easier they can understand how to make you feel at home...minus the free food. 

4. Educate your dates. 

Speaking of preaching, don't forget to keep your dates in the loop too! Now, I'm not saying that you need to give a PowerPoint presentation on celiac disease by your third date. You should, however, let them know the basics of celiac disease and your gluten free diet

I remember that, on our first real date, my ex asked a series of questions about celiac disease and what I could or couldn't eat, only to quickly say, "You don't mind me asking, right?" Make sure your dates know that curiosity, at least in my opinion, is a good thing. While celiac disease is not my whole identity, it certainly is part of it - and it definitely impacts my (love) life. 

casey the college celiac, gluten free allergy friendly expo
Gluten free foods and I get along quite well...
The more your date knows about celiac disease, the less they'll be surprised by your specific orders to the chef when eating out, the nights you have to cancel plans after being glutened or how (relatively) easy it can be date a gluten free girl. 

5. Communication is key. 

All these tips really point to one main idea: the importance of communication. Talking about celiac disease with a crush isn't easy. I can't count how many times I wished I could just go out to eat anywhere, kiss someone anytime and never have to worry if my dietary restrictions would scare someone off. 

But while communication is important in any relationship, it's vital when dating with celiac disease. You need to be able to voice that you got glutened at your last date night restaurant and don't want to go back; that even pecks cause problems after his pasta lunch; or even how much you appreciate his acceptance of your medical quirks. 

casey the college celiac hospitalization
And accept your medical history...
Because the moment you don't feel free to talk about your disease is the moment you don't feel supported, appreciated or loved for all that you are - celiac included. 

Now that the heartbreak is healing and I've had time to reflect, I can recognize all the ways that this relationship - and its end - has helped me grow. I've learned that I can - and deserve - to be loved, celiac disease and all. I've seen that, while partnership is nice, I can still kick butt on my own

And I've developed a clearer understanding of what I want, what I can offer and how to navigate the minefield of gluten free dating

casey the college celiac colorado springs
Exploring Colorado Springs!
I can even look forward to the next adventure. 

Can you relate to any of these celiac dating lessons? What did you first relationship teach you? Comment below! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cacao Popcorn Truffles (Gluten Free, Vegan)

When you think of home, what scents come to mind? The perfume your mother always wore? The chicken pot pie that had everyone drooling by dinner time every Sunday? What about your childhood dog, which behaved better than he smelled?

When it comes to my college apartment, answering this question is easy: popcorn. No matter what day of the week or time in the day, my roommates have enjoyed at least one serving of their favorite snack. If, like me, you're more of a sweet than salty snacker, popcorn may not have the same poppin' appeal...

casey the college celiac pipcorn

...until you make my vegan and gluten free cacao popcorn truffles featuring Pipcorn's Kettle Corn. 

Despite their dessert name, these treats boast quite the nutritious resume. Made out of dates, banana, coconut flour and a few add ins, they're free of refined sugar (except for the bit of brown sugar on the popcorn). Dates offer high doses of fiber, anti-inflammatory antioxidants called tannins, and plenty of easily-digestible sugars for energy; bananas provide potassium, manganese and Vitamins B6 and C; and coconut flour packs a punch of fiber, protein and healthy fats. As for the Pipcorn (made by Pipsnacks), it is a mini popcorn (around half the size of normal!) that is also all natural, gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, and whole grain. Popped in olive oil instead of butter, Pipcorn also comes in five flavors: Sea Salt, Truffle oil, Kettle, Rosemary and, their newest, Chili Lab.

casey the college celiac pipcorn
Yes, Pipcorn really is that exciting.
What's even better? You can whip these up in less than thirty minutes - and personalize them as much as your heart (and taste buds) want! To start your truffle trip to heaven, gather these ingredients.

Ingredients for 12-20 truffles, depending on size:

(To be blended together:)
6 TBSP coconut flour
4 soft dates, unpitted
1 ripe banana
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp cacao powder
3 tbsp coconut milk (or other liquid)
1/4 cup cup of Pipcorn Kettle Corn

(To be mixed in afterward:)
1/4 cup of Pipcorn Kettle Corn
1 TBSP rice flakes (or oats)
1/4 cup of add-ins (nuts, seeds, buckwheat groats, shredded coconut, dried fruit, etc)

Like with my bliss ball recipe, these truffles are as easy to make as they are delicious. If your dates aren't soft, you may want to soak them in water for 30 minutes or until gooey. Then, simply toss the first set of ingredients in a high-speed blender or food processor (I used my Vitamix). For a thicker batter, start with 2 TBSP of liquid and add as needed. If your batter does seem a little sticky or loose, though, don't worry. That's what the next steps are for. 

casey the college celiac pipcorn
Yes please!
Next, transfer the truffle base into a small bowl and add the next batch of ingredients! The rice flakes (or oats) further help to bind the batter together while the other add-ins, including the other 1/4 cup of popcorn and your choice of extras, add a crunchy (or chewy) contrast to the main truffle batter. I personally used sunflower seeds and buckwheat groats, but feel free to experiment with your own add-ins! 

Once everything is well mixed, it's time for the last step: gather a baking tray, paper plate or dish and place parchment paper on the top. Then, make "drops" of truffles on the parchment paper and put them in the freezer for at least thirty minutes to set.

casey the college celiac
The finished product...minus a few lost to taste testing ;)
Now, all you have to do is eat! If you don't plan on eating the whole batch in one sitting, I recommend storing them in a container in the freezer. When in the mood for a treat, just take out your truffle(s) and let them sit in room temperature for a few minutes before enjoying.

As for how to eat them, your palate is the limit! Because the dates and banana offer easily digestible carbs, these make great pre-workout snacks. I also enjoy them crumbled over my smoothie bowls, with yogurt and sunbutter for a night snack or, obviously, as a sweet treat to get me through the day. 

casey the college celiac smoothie bowl
The perfect smoothie bowl topped with truffle pieces and Pipcorn!
When you think of home, neither popcorn nor cacao popcorn truffles may come to mind. Your taste buds will feel right at home, though, biting into these treats. Popcorn (correction: Pipcorn) has never tasted so...sweet

*Also found at The Wednesday Round Up, Whats Cookin WednesdayWow Me WednesdayAllergy Free ThursdaysRunningwithSpoons, Let's Get RealVegetarianMama, Best of the BlogosphereIHeartNapTime and SaucySaturdays*

**I received two samples of Pipcorn for no charge to use in this recipe, but all opinions are my own**

What does "home" smell like to you? Are you a sweet or a salty snacker? Have you ever eaten Pipcorn? Tell me below! 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Why You Need to Own Your Breath

It's easy to forget to breathe.

self empowerment casey the college celiac

That's the thought that hit me during my hot yoga class last week. But as sweat rolled down my neck, my muscles tensed and flew into eagle pose and I stared at my red face in the mirror, another thought hit me:

I could make that same comment no matter what I'm doing during the day. Whether driving back from work in rush-hour traffic, cooking dinner with my mom or simply bingeing on Netflix before going to bed, it can feel easy to focus on everything but that constant rhythm of "in" and "out." In fact, it can be easy to let the hectic demands of everyday life overwhelm the most basic demands of our body.

Yet, what is easy is not always - and is often not - right. The author of this quote is unknown, but he or she certainly knew the truth about breathing:

"When you own your breath, nobody can steal you peace."

Breathing is key to living - both literally and figuratively. We can forget to breathe, and our body will automatically do the work for us. But when we pay attention to and control our breathing, we control our life.

When I hear my breathing during yoga, I hear a sign of personal peace. My decision of how fast or slow, shallow or deep, to welcome oxygen into my lungs. My ability to focus on the puffs of air instead of the other thoughts or feelings about my day. My power over, at the very least, this one small part of my body and life.

Don't forget your breath - own it. Then you can begin owning the rest of your life.

*This is part of a new blog series I'm starting known as "Mindful Morsels," which will feature short posts with a focus on mindfulness and mental health. Most will have first appeared at, which I co-author*

**Also found at Terrific TuesdayWine'd Down WednesdayFlaunt it Friday, RunningwithSpoons and Share Fest!*

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

21 Reasons to Love Living in the Moment

When you remember - or daydream about - your twenty-first birthday, what comes to mind? Presents opened around family and friends? Partying a little harder than you should've?

For me, my twenty-first birthday was nice but probably not the most memorable of yearly celebrations. This was the first birthday I spent apart from my family, and it unfortunately fell on the day I have classes from 9:30 in the morning to 8:15 at night. What I will remember, though?

casey the college celiac

How much my last months of being 20 taught me about living in the moment - and the 21 reasons  I've come to love doing just that. 

1. You'll go on random afternoon walks that turn into deer sightings. 

2. You'll go to bed way too late for a school night, but fall asleep smiling from the deep conversations with friends. 

3. You'll forget to bring a blanket to watch the sun set above the ocean and end up covered in sand...but follow Taylor Swift's lead and "Shake it Off." (Literally). (Sorry T-Swift haters). 

casey the college celiac
Something like that...
4. You'll spend an extra fifteen minutes in bed before class every day because the momentary quiet is worth the subsequent rush

5. You'll say hi to the person you used to know so well and don't anymore...and be OK with how things ended

6.  You'll sign up Weight Lifting even though everyone laughs when you share your schedule

7. You'll keep posing for a photo even as the phone propped up to take it does a nosedive off the picnic table. 

casey the college celiac
Catching as it's falling...
8. You'll get a 60% on the first quiz in your scariest class this semester and not even shed a tear (a huge feat for this overachiever!). 

9. You'll refuse to apologize for your dietary needs, preferences or quirks...and attract people who respect that. 

10. You'll accept that relationships you make today may not last forever...but invest in them anyway

11. You'll walk into the gym intending to read Jane Eyre for your Women's Writers class...and end up rocking out to Pandora and writing this post instead. (Is "birthday YOLO" a thing?)  

casey the college celiac
Book of the moment...
12. You'll worry less about meal prep and embrace figuring out meals as they come around. 

13. You'll realize that college is more than just a planner filled with items to check off. 

14. You'll have loud, hilarious and personal conversations with your roommates without worrying if the apartment windows are open or not. 

15. You'll buy a special "White Chocolate Strawberry Cashew Butter" from Whole Foods that's probably overpriced, and not even worry about rationing your servings. 

casey the college celiac cashew butter
If you see it, buy it. That's all.

16. You'll appreciate the feeling of dozens of grasshoppers jumping over your shoes - even if it scares the dog.  

17. You'll spend time talking to teachers, friends and classmates in between classes instead of immediately running back to your apartment to do homework

18. You'll take a moment to smile in the mirror and admire your baby biceps

19. You'll spend eight hours celebrating your birthday early by lying in bed, watching YouTube videos, going out to Chipotle and "hammocking" (for the first time ever) with friends on Labor Day. 

casey the college celiac
View from the hammock!

20. You'll realize that your 21st birthday may not have been perfect or typical, but that - with your friends, family and teachers who call your name after class just to say, "Awesome job!" - you don't have much to complain about. 

21. You'll write blog posts that may be a little deeper or more revealing than you're initially comfortable with, but click "publish" anyway. 

casey the college celiac
Rockin' the sash!
Unlike any candles on a birthday cake, these are 21 lessons, memories and reflections that will never be blown away

How did you (or do you want to) celebrate your 21st birthday? Do you try to live in the moment? Comment below!

Monday, September 5, 2016

What Four Neighbors Have Taught Me About Self Love

Considering that I've moved nine times in my life, I've also experienced my share of neighbors. Some good, some so-so and definitely plenty that still stick out in my mind.

One of the most recent realizations about the people-next-door, though? How much they have actually taught me about loving my body and myself! It's no secret that self love is a touchy topic, especially among teenage girls. In fact, surveys show that 7 in 10 girls feel like they aren't good enough (in looks, academics, athletic performance or otherwise). 

casey the college celiac

Here are four secrets I've learned from neighbors to help keep me - and hopefully you - from becoming one of those statistics

1. Nothing is more beautiful than following your passion

One of our closest neighbors in our last house was an awesome guy named Kevin. In the three years we lived there, my mom worked with him, they celebrated birthdays together (ironically, they were born on the same day, ten years apart!) and he became an honorary member of the family. 

And, as part of the family, he had a front row seat to the battle of Casey vs. Celiac - and he saw me losing, not only weight but also spirit. Until, months after my diagnosis, my hospitalization and freshman year, he heard the familiar bounce of a soccer ball on our driveway. While I didn't notice him watching at the time, he later told my mom, "It's so good to see her playing soccer again and looking healthy!"

casey the college celiac
What will forever be the best photo of me playing soccer...
Because beauty is so much more than wearing size zero jeans; in fact, I've never been more unhappy with my body than when I was the "thin" body shape so many girls strive for. Beauty is passion - like the love between a girl and her much-missed soccer ball. 

2. There's no age limit to rockin' a bikini. 

She's in her fifties or sixties. She's taking out the trash, checking her garden or just relaxing in a lawn chair in her front yard. And she's wearing nothing but a bikini

For one of my neighbors, these three sentences sum up her everyday routine. The first time I noticed her - shall we say slightly unusual - attire, I couldn't help but laugh. A bathing suit without a beacha swimming pool (or even a sun for tanning) anywhere nearby? No way!

casey the college celiac
The roommates!
As I shared the story with one of my roommates, though, another reaction hit me: You go girl! I hope that by my fifties, I can rock a bikini anytime anyplace without a second thought. Heck, I wish I had the confidence to walk around in a bikini now - even though I'm in what many would call my "golden years" (aka young 20s).

Because, really, having a bikini body doesn't mean being of the right age, height, weight, fitness level, etc. It means being comfortable in your important goal for any age! 

3. Extraordinary can hide in plain sight. 

Looking at it from the outside, it looks like another cookie-cutter house built in the 70s. Same yellowish stucco exterior. Same cracking driveway. Same bushes and grass fighting to survive the California drought. 

Yet, the moment my mom and I accepted John's invitation to tour his house, we discovered it was anything but average. John, an engineer with a tendency to tinker when bored, made small adjustments all over the house. Address numbers that glowed in the dark. An orange tree with an irrigation system that NASA would envy. And that was just the house; its owner was equally intriguing, sharing stories of his four huskies that ate at the dinner table (using chairs and everything) or about his time serving in Vietnam

casey the college celiac
Beauty in plain sight...
When later asked why our visit to John took several hours, Mom and I didn't even know where to begin. In my experience, getting to really know someone for the first time results in the same awe and confusion. And the same tendency to search for that little spark of "extra" in every "ordinary" day, thing or person. 

4. Inner joy outshines any external appearance.  

For those whose family or friends have had it, "cancer" is the dirtiest c word there is. Similar to the cancer itself, the effects spread from the patient to their family, friends and even, in my case, the neighborhood

She'd been undergoing chemotherapy for several months when my mom and I finally ran into her during our nightly walk. Sweatpants replaced her sleek dressed and a pink headscarf covered where her long brown curls used to live. 

casey the college celiac
Walking along...
Yet, at that moment, she glowed. Excitement over her treatment working, gratitude for being able to get out of bed that day and love for the family members and friends supporting her shone brighter than any new hairstyle or shade of lipstick ever could. 

She still has several battles to fight and treatments to undergo, and I know she would appreciate prayers. But I know I have something to be grateful for too: her reminder that the saying, "Beauty comes from within," is as true as it is cliche. 

For better or for worse, we are shaped by the people who surround us. Countless people - including scientists - have explored how their mothers or fathers affected their self esteem (if you don't believe me, just Google it!), and you can probably think of a few personal habits you picked up from high school or college friends. 

casey the college celiac
Better hope I don't keep these fashion habits...
But, as I've discovered, you can learn about self love, the meaning of beauty and general life lessons from unexpected sources too, such as the common neighbor. In fact, if you pay attention, you might learn even more than you ever imagined. 

Like how beautiful being passionate, confident, attentive and joyful can be

Have you ever learned a life lesson from a neighbor? Do you relate to any of these tips? Tell me what you think below!

Friday, September 2, 2016

What "Snackin' Free" Means To Me

What's your favorite way to snack? Enjoying a sliced apple and peanut butter during the afternoon slump at work? Savoring a midnight snack to celebrate a long days' work? What about sharing a big bowl of popcorn during family movie night? However you snack, most people are doing it. In fact, surveys report that 94% of Americans snack at least once a day.

Lately, though, a different kind of snacking has entered my life and I have Snackin' Free to thank.

casey the college celiac, gluten free, paleo cookie

For those of you who don't know (like I didn't until Snackin' Free offered me samples of their products to try, no strings attached), Snackin' Free is the delicious brain (stomach?) child of Laura Savinovich. After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, Laura decided to adopt a paleo lifestyle and re-create the recipes of her family and friends with ingredients that would taste good and treat her body well. 

As I tasted a variety of Snackin' Free goodies - all of which are free of gluten, grains, dairy, soy, peanuts, processed sugars and artificial ingredients - two thoughts stuck out in my mind. First, "How does she do it!?!" Second, "What does the phrase 'Snackin' Free' mean to me?" 

casey the college celiac, paleo food
A small portion of the samples I received!

While it certainly means eating food free of a variety of allergens, it also means to:

Munch on a fluffy, perfectly spiced cinnamon bagel studded with raisins at 10 at night just because it's there, you can, and you just survived an insane day of travel back to college

Sprinkle a modest amount of paleo granola - your favorite being the blueberry granola cereal that combines crunchy nuts with chewy blueberries for a stick-to-your-ribs smoothie topper - for your Instagram photo, but spoon it out of the bag when actually eating!

casey the college celiac, gluten free vegan smoothie bowl
My favorite toppings!
Have graham crackers (the first since your celiac diagnosis) with breakfast because they offer just the right amount of fluffy crunch and remind you of childhood s'mores, except covered in spices instead of extra sugar

Mix a double chocolate chip cookie into homemade granola for clusters of chocolatey flavor that crumble in your mouth and offer just the right hint of sweetness.

casey the college celiac paleo stuffed spaghetti squash
Sweet and savory YUM!
Use BBQ sauce - that, although a little hot for your taste, tasted too fresh and well spiced to resist - as a dipping sauce for chips to complement your enchilada stuffed spaghetti squash

Accept a bite of mom's almond flour snickerdoodle even when you're not hungry...and agree that it is the perfect mix of dense yet crispy and seems to be sprinkled with cinnamon and cacao instead of straight sugar. 

Basically? To snack free is to enjoy the bread that isn't usually part of your diet or the cookies you don't necessarily need but definitely want. It's to honor your cravings instead of strictly following the clock. 

casey the college celiac snackin free paleo cookies
A goodie box for any time of day!
Perhaps the most important part, it's choosing to fuel yourself with foods you can trust - in terms of being free of allergens, full of quality ingredients and from a cook who cares - so that when you're biting into that treat, the delicious taste is all you have to think about.

However you like snacking, the freedom to choose when, what and how you eat remains constant. When it comes to my snacking routine, though, I have another constant...mainly, the desire to taste goodies from Snackin' Free again soon!

*I received these products from Snackin' Free for free, but all opinions and ideas are my own*

*Also found at Flaunt it Friday, What's Cookin Wednesday, IHeartNapTimeSaucy Saturdays and RunningwithSpoons!*

What goodie from Snackin' Free would you eat first? What does snackin' free mean to you? Tell me below!