My Real Life Story of Going Gluten Free

Sometimes, Celiac disease means stuffing the Body of Christ into your pocket.

By Elizabeth Rourk, University of New Haven


I can’t believe that my one-year anniversary is already creeping its way onto my calendar.

Not an anniversary with a significant other, or of buying a house or adopting a pet. No, my anniversary of being diagnosed with Celiac disease.

The anniversary marks the last time I had bread, consumed anything without carefully inspecting the label first or went to a restaurant without calling beforehand.

But as much of a lifestyle change as being diagnosed was, these were all things I expected. Unfortunately, Celiac disease comes with a lot of unexpected changes as well.

I don’t know if it’s the years I’ve spent babysitting—seeing everything from a kid that would only eat ketchup-covered foods to a kid that would eat crumbs off the ground—but unless someone was eating their own eyeball I don’t think I would question it.

What No One Tells You About Eating Gluten Free

For most people though, this isn’t the case. Every time I order something gluten free, skip the side of bread or so much as ask for an allergy menu, I seem to get questioned.

“Isn’t gluten free just a fad diet?”

“Well what happens if you eat gluten?”

“So you can’t have bread… like EVER?”

“You probably stay so fit!”

These comments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people commenting on my request for a gluten free menu. One of my favorites is “You can eat so many of those cool Pinterest recipes!”

Yes, Pinterest does present a romanticized world of gluten free alternatives that look like they could’ve come out of an oven on Iron Chef America. But while suburban moms might be able to make gluten free meals that look like magazine covers, as far as being a college student eating gluten free, my diet mainly consists of Cheetos and grapes.

When I get tired of Cheetos, grapes and the few other items sold at our campus store with the glorious GF stamp on them, I tend to make normal food and just skip the bread or other gluten-containing part of the meal.

Some of these concoctions include mixing peanut butter and jelly together and eating it out of the bowl, or rolling a cheese stick in deli ham in hopes of tricking myself into thinking I’m delving into a Subway sandwich.

While my friends like to laugh at me when I do this, skipping the breaded part of the meal is often more desirable than the cardboard-esque gluten free alternative to whatever they are eating that night.

In my struggles to feed myself I’ve learned that some restaurants have gluten free cooking down to a tee. The entire wait-staff knows to ask whether it’s an allergy or a preference, and whether or not the chef must be notified.

On the other hand, most restaurants equate asking for a gluten free menu with asking to be served by a two-headed waiter.

At restaurants like these, ‘gluten free option’ often means a salad with the meat, croutons and dressing taken off (also known as a plate of lettuce).

Although there are many disappointing dining experiences in our very gluten-filled world, nothing compares to the moment when a restaurant reveals its gluten free menu.

Insomnia Cookies just sent out an email that they are releasing a gluten free vegan chocolate chip cookie, and about half of my college texted to congratulate me on the fact that I could now indulge in one of the famous cookies.

Even though 1 percent of the population has Celiac disease and plenty of other people have health related issues preventing them from eating gluten, I’m the only person in my friend group that can’t eat gluten so I’ve become the gluten free poster boy.

Still, like when receiving the host during communion, there are many situations in which eating gluten free just isn’t an option.

The first time I was at church after being diagnosed, I didn’t think about the gluten content in the host until the person before me was performing the sign of the cross. At that point, I was kind of out of options.

Instead of trying to rush past the priest before he noticed I was in line risk causing a scene, I accepted the host and shoved it in my pocket as he wiped the side of the bowl. This probably violated a lot of the rules I spent eight years in catechism learning, but being on the spot I didn’t see another option.

When I was lying in a hospital bed, half asleep from the anesthesia and with informational brochures stuffed in my hands, I knew that I was going to have to make some major dietary changes.

What I didn’t know was that my new diet entailed carrying my gluten free “menu” (binder) with me everywhere, stuffing the Body of Christ in my pocket and examining every food label for traces of wheat, rye or barley.

A year later and a Google search history full of gluten free menus, I have definitely learned my fair share of what eating gluten free really entails. And I can tell you wholeheartedly that it is not, by any means, a fad diet.