Louise has always been a foodie. She learnt to adjust to a gluten-free diet and still...
Becky was diagnosed with coeliac disease in January 2021, on her 22nd birthday, so she won't forget that in a hurry!
When did you get diagnosed with coeliac disease?
I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in January 2021, on my 22nd birthday, so I don't think I'll forget that one in a hurry!
How did you feel about the diagnosis?
A super weird mix of disbelief and relief. I'll admit that I was really naive about the disease before being diagnosed with it, so I thought my rheumatologist was just clutching at straws, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I didn't realise just how big a scope of symptoms it could cause beyond the stomach, and I didn't think I had the typical tummy troubles. However, my gut health is definitely a lot better now than it was back then, so I do think that I had actually just got used to "my normal" and hadn't really clocked that it probably wasn't healthy. When I got told that I had coeliac disease, it initially felt like a lot to take in, and I was a tad overwhelmed. However, once it had sunk in, I was just so relieved to finally have some answers and know what was wrong with me as I had been so unwell for so long. I will forever be grateful that my rheumatologist joined the dots on this one and pushed for me to be tested.
What was your relationship with food like before you were diagnosed with coeliac disease?
In the year or so leading up to my diagnosis, my relationship with food just totally fell apart - I had no appetite, and I lost all enjoyment with regard to food. Now, rather than feeling like I'm simply eating to live, I feel like I'm living to eat and my relationship with food could not be better!
Have you ever felt like you have missed out because of coeliac disease?
My feelings on this are really mixed. I definitely think I missed out more because of ill health due to undiagnosed coeliac disease than I do now because of diagnosed coeliac disease. I would be lying if I said I didn't feel the odd pang of jealousy when I see people still enjoying the things that I used to. However, luckily there are so many GF alternatives, and I have the most incredible family & friends who are so accommodating of my requirements that I don't feel like I miss out too much. The one thing that I do miss, however, is the freedom of being able to eat what I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. That can be quite challenging when you're out and about, especially as on-the-go gluten-free and coeliac safe options are usually quite limited.
Did you notice a difference in mood and health after sticking to your gluten-free diet?
Yes! After just a few weeks of sticking to a gluten-free diet, my quality of sleep improved and my mind felt clearer. About six months in, my liver enzymes returned to a normal level. I had also been suffering from excruciating bone pain, and that didn't take too long to subside either. It's taken longer for everything else to start to settle down, but, on the whole, I'm in a much much better place both physically and mentally! Of course, there are still days when I find it tough and it gets me down, but I think that's inevitable and they soon pass.
What does eating "well" mean to you?
Eating "well" to me means eating safely and eating a variety of balanced meals/snacks. I also stick to a totally oat free diet.
What's your favourite Juvela product and what do you make with it?
My favourite Juvela product is the part-baked white rolls. I've really missed a good crusty bread roll, and these are a perfect substitute. If I had to choose one thing to make with them then I'd pick a very simple leftover roast chicken roll.
What advice would you give to your younger self or to a newly diagnosed coeliac about what you now know about coeliac disease and gluten-free foods?
I would say don't be afraid to advocate for yourself or your needs, don't be afraid to venture out of the free-from aisles in shops as there are so many naturally gluten-free products, and don't be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. Celebrate your successes, laugh at your downfalls and learn from your mistakes, but most of all, never give up. Also, make sure you always have xantham gum in your cupboards as it's a staple in a LOT of recipes!
And finally, what's your top tip for staying positive?
My top tip for staying positive is to focus on what you can eat rather than what you can't. There's no point dwelling on what you can't have or what you certainly can't change! I also focus on the fact that as much as this condition is a disease, it's a disease that I can control. Joining the online gluten-free community was pivotal for me. I run a gluten-free Instagram page called @thebendycoeliac, and I have found others' pages so so helpful and inspiring! There are also several Facebook groups and they're a great way to connect with others and discover new products/places to eat out etc.