Remember the fruit salad incident on The Apprentice a few weeks ago? We spoke to Jemma Rigby (referred to as "the gluten free lady" by contestants) about her experience on the show, eating out gluten free and staying positive with coeliac disease.
You recently appeared on The Apprentice as a guest at a corporate event and they notoriously served you a fruit salad as a 'gluten free meal'. How did that feel on the day?
My initial thoughts were "here we go again". As a coeliac you get pretty used to being disappointed at times with what food is available to you and what is served. It was disappointing not to have been able to enjoy as nice a meal as the other guests on the train.
Is it a familiar scenario to eat out and not be given a suitable gluten free option?
I have experienced it many times before. One time the only gluten free option available were peanuts, whilst others were tucking into cakes and biscuits. I'm a lot more prepared now and will normally have a bag full of gluten free treats so I can eat and not have have to settle for a few carrot sticks!
Throughout that episode of The Apprentice, coeliac disease seemed to be confused with a gluten allergy or intolerence. Do you feel that the general public understand coeliac disease?
I think there's still a lot to learn about coeliac disease, such as that it's more than just an allergy and just how sick you can potentially be if you were to eat gluten. And that you are most definately not being a fussy eater. There's more work to be done to educate people on coeliac disease.
Do you think that there has been much improvement in recent years in awareness of coeliac disease?
Yes, there's been a lot of improvement. Especially with food that is available and supermarkets are doing more. It's better when eating out now, with a lot of places catering more for gluten free.
What would be your advice to people that end up in a similar situation as you did at the event?
Always be prepared and take some food with you. Call the venue in advance too (which I wasn't able to) and double check that your gluten free request has been noted. But always have a plan B as well, just in case. You shouldn't have to, but it saves going hungry on the day. I didn't have a plan B!
Jemma reacting to her fruit salad during her appearance on The Apprentice
What is your approach to eating out with coeliac disease?
I always do my research when travelling abroad and eating out in this country. I check out the menu in advance and see what I like the look of and also to see how many gluten free options are available.
I would travel to a country on holiday if I have heard good reviews about gluten free!
I tend to stick to the same places where I have enjoyed a nice meal and there's been no misunderstandings with coeliac disease when eating out. The last thing I want when eating out is a stressful situation or to be glutened.
I have a few regular places I visit when eating out and my family and friends are really supportive too - they let me pick where we go and where they know that I'll be able to eat safely.
And finally, what are your tips for staying positive with coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is a manageable condition and I feel better in my health since being diagnosed over 15 years ago, so that's a positive. My tips would be to join Coeliac UK and follow the coeliac eating out groups on Facebook, as that helps and people share new food products that are getting released. It is getting easier at times and new foods and a good dining out experience helps you keep positive. Oh, and it helps that I can contunue to enjoy a nice gluten free beer!
For more information about eating out with coeliac disease, check out the Living Gluten Free section of our website.