Living With Celiac Disease
Ever had a bloated feeling after eating a sandwich? Had stomach cramps that wouldn't relent? Cringe at the thought of eating cake at a birthday party? You're probably one of the 3 million Americans struggling with celiac disease everyday.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder which is triggered by eating foods containing gluten. The body attacks the small intestine, damaging the lining in celiac affected people. These auto-immune attacks on the small intestine damage it and prevent it from absorbing nutrients from food. This can have serious long-term consequences like unnatural weight-loss, anemia, osteoporosis, pancreatic problems, infertility and more.
Typical symptoms of celiac disease include, but are not limited to, bloating, stomach cramps, stomach aches, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, brain fog, depression and unexplained weight loss. Find a more exhaustive list here.
10 Steps to Managing Celiac Disease
Unfortunately, there is no medical cure to celiac disease yet. The only thing that celiac patients can really do is to manage their symptoms by carefully controlling their diet and food habits.
Avoiding gluten is the biggest and most important step a celiac affected person can take to control their symptoms. Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, rye and barley. This means most breads, pastas, cakes and other baked goods are potential gluten traps.
This makes it imperative to be on the guard while shopping for groceries, eating out or eating at a friend's place to ensure that no form of gluten sneaks into your food. Here are 10 steps that help control celiac disease and manage its symptoms for a full and healthy life.
1. Eat a Completely Gluten-free Diet
From appetizers and snacks to entrees and desserts, nothing you eat can have gluten in it. This can take a little bit of adjusting at first, but with the variety of gluten-free food options now available, it's completely doable. The Cherrybrook Kitchen brand of baking mixes is an example of products created especially for celiac and food allergy families.
2. Meal Planning Helps
It's only when you're forced to go gluten-free that you realize how many of our everyday foods are gluten-based. When your list of foods to avoid is scarily long, it's a good idea to take the help of a professional to help create meal plans for you taking into account nutrition, taste and ease of cooking.
3. Read Food Labels Thoroughly
Shopping for groceries with celiac disease comes with an additional step - reading nutrition labels unfailingly. Make sure that none of the items in your cart contain any wheat, barley, rye or other source of gluten.
4. Learn to Cook
While cooking is an essential life skill for anyone, it becomes doubly important for people with celiac disease. By cooking your own food, you have complete control over what goes into your food, how it is made and how safely it is stored, to prevent further damage to your digestive system. You'll learn to substitute gluten-rich items like wheat flour with almond flour or coconut flour to make sure your food is completely safe.
5. Leverage Technology
We use our smartphones all day for everything from checking the weather to catching up on the latest news to posting selfies on social media. Use your wonder device to find products and restaurants that are gluten-free. Apps like Find Me Gluten-free or Spokin free celiac sufferers from their limited diets and help you live more fully.
6. Carry Safe Backup Snacks
Make this one a habit. No matter where you're headed, never leave the house without at least one gluten-free snack in your bag. You never know where your day's adventures will take you and finding reliable gluten-free food in an unfamiliar place can often be tricky. Better safe than hungry!
7. Don't Worry. Ask Questions
Gluten-free folk often hesitate from asking too many questions about their food to avoid sounding too picky or annoying others. But you need to realize that your health trumps being considered annoying by a server in a random restaurant. Don't let politeness hold you back from being vigilant about what you put in your body. Ask what your food contains, whether is was made in a gluten-free area, stored separate from other contaminants and whatever else directly impacts your food safety.
8. Educate Family and Friends
Being dismissed as "over-sensitive" or a "snow-flake" by friends or family can be difficult to deal with. One way to break down those walls is by educating them about your allergies. Show them how they affect your daily life and how they are as real as the fingers on your hands. Getting family and friends on the gluten-free wagon will help you maintain your lifestyle more easily and with fewer excuses.
9. Find Support Groups
No matter how understanding your friends may be, they'll never really know the agony of stomach cramps or digestive troubles brought on by just a bite of a plain old muffin. For that, you need to find your tribe. Reach out to people from the celiac community. Learn from their experiences. Gain from their wisdom. From latest research to diet tips to shopping resources, support groups can be a fantastic resource.
10. Therapy Helps and Heals
Celiac disease affects different people differently. Sometimes, celiac disease comes with an accompanying emotional roller coaster of depression, brain fog and suicidal tendencies. Many face bullying at school due to their special needs. Reach out for professional help if you or anyone you know are dealing with the psychological fallout of celiac disease.