'I recently found an old diary from my teenage years. Flicking through its pages reminded me just how much of a struggle daily life was before I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, aged 14. Then, how wonderful I quickly felt in comparison once I was only eating gluten free food.
I had weighed a mere 6 stone and many assumed I had an eating disorder. I ate constantly but remained painfully thin. Comments from well-meaning strangers were hurtful and confusing. I was constantly exhausted from malnutrition and anaemia. A level of exhaustion that you cannot describe. Every meal left me with stomach cramps and bathroom time. Getting through each day was incredibly hard.
My parents had been taking me to the doctor for years, of course, but my GP always dismissed it as “growing pains”. Eventually, it got to the point where he simply could no longer ignore the skeletal young girl slumped on a chair in his office. Some blood tests and one painless upper GI endoscopy later I finally received a concrete diagnosis of coeliac disease, a lifelong autoimmune condition that can only be treated with a strict gluten free diet.
The relief was immense. I had never really heard of a gluten free diet before let alone coeliac disease, but an NHS dietician talked us through it all and off we went. I quickly gained a stone, then another stone until I was finally a healthy weight for my age and height. I now had boundless energy and truly felt like a new person. It took a few months for my gut to repair itself but everything was soon back in full working order.
Coeliac disease of course has its struggles, and twenty years on I think I have come up against pretty much every awkward social situation, accidental glutenings and rookie gluten free error in the book. Pizza parties at university, welcome lunches at new jobs, kind colleagues making me a gluten free birthday cake then unwittingly topping it with (gluten-containing) Smarties, me not realising that soy sauce contained gluten, etc. These days I consider myself to be a gluten free pro, but it has certainly been a journey of (often painful) discovery getting to this point.
It’s not all bad though. A major positive for me is being able to support other coeliacs through my social media accounts and blog. Knowing that I can give confidence and guidance to others who might be in the position I was in 20 years ago. I will never be able to go back and support my frail 14-year-old self so I am focused on paying it forward instead – please get in touch via my social channels if you need a fellow coeliac to talk to.
My general message to any new coeliacs out there: hang on in there, it does get easier I promise!'
Laura Strange blogs as “My Gluten Free Guide” and has been a coeliac for over 20 years. Her social media accounts and blog cover all elements of gluten free life, from travel and restaurants to new products and recipes. You can find her at: www.mygfguide.com and on instagram: