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One Order of Spaghetti and Meatballs, Hold the Gluten Please

Reflections on the ten years I have spent eating gluten free and how I will maintain this diet while away at college.

As many of you may have noticed, gluten free diets have became extremely popular among individuals hoping to eat healthier and/or lose weight. I do not have the luxury of eating gluten free for a few months and later returning to a "normal" diet.  As a person with Celiac Disease, gluten free living is something I am committed to for life.

For those of you who have never heard of Celiac, this means that I cannot eat wheat, rye, oats or barley. While not all Celiac's suffer symptoms immediately after ingesting gluten, every Celiac suffers internal damage after ingesting gluten, regardless of whether they ate one pretzel or a giant slice of cake.  I was diagnosed when I was eight years old, so I've spent almost ten years accepting that this is how I have to live my life.

It wasn't always easy. When I was in elementary school, it was difficult to wave away birthday treats while my classmates enjoyed them next to me. Because I did not suffer any symptoms after eating "gluten-y" goods, it was easier for me to write off a little "cheating." Not to mention the fact that "gluten free" was not as well known a term when I was a kid. It was still relatively new to the public, so my options were limited.  As the years went by  however, the availability- and quality- of gluten free foods increased.  I finally understood that eating gluten was harmful to me regardless of the fact that I did not feel sick afterwards. I didn't enjoy "cheating" anyway because  the knowledge that there would
be long term consequences for me carried more weight than the fleeting happiness I felt while eating a particularly yummy cookie. I also grew to love my gluten free food. I would not trade my corn pasta for anything in the world!

In my junior year of high school  I made a dedicated effort to exclude anything
I knew to be "gluten-y" from my diet. That's why it came as a huge shock to me when the results from this year's blood work  showed active gluten levels. I had not eaten one thing that was contaminated, at least not intentionally.  What had happened? I retraced my steps and discovered that several beverages that I had thought to be safe contained gluten. This realization forced me to re-examine everything I knew about eating gluten free.

After ten years, I had established what I could eat not only at home but also in restaurants. I often ordered a burger "plain, no bun please" and a side of fries.  I
knew that there was a chance restaurants fried potatoes and breaded entrees in
the same oil, but I honestly never thought to ask. I assumed that they would be
cooked separately, and because I never felt sick, I didn't have a clue. You
know what they say about assuming...

In the process of re-evaluating my  menu choices, I learned that quite a few
restaurants do not separate potatoes and chicken tenders. Therefore, I cannot
consider myself an "old pro" because I discover something new everyday. Who would have thought that licorice strings or hot cocoa could contain gluten? Not the old me, that's for sure. I have since been sure check and re-check every label before buying or eating something. I order baked potatoes instead of fries and confirm with my waiter that my pasta is gluten free both when I order and when it arrives at my table.  I know that it is impossible to avoid every trace of gluten without isolating yourself completely, but I am willing to try my best by taking full advantage of gluten free menus. After all, I don't want months of hard work to be ruined by a contaminated piece of chocolate! That's just disheartening.

As a college bound senior, I find myself inquiring about gluten free accommodations at every school I visit. I know that it will be difficult, but I'm ready for the challenge.  After all, as I once read on a bag of gluten free granola, "who needs gluten when you've got delicious?"

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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