The Beginning: Discovering I was Gluten Intolerant
I was born and raised on Long Island. I grew up eating bagels and pizza (to this day still my favorite foods). All of my friends knew my diet basically consisted of bread, butter and chocolate throughout high school. I was lucky to have a very athletic childhood filled with dance, gymnastics and theater - so my diet never caught up to me. I’ve always been naturally tiny - the envy of my entire friend group.
But, when I moved from Long Island to Manhattan at 18 something weird started happening. I was sick. All the time. I would have a bagel for breakfast before class and then be completely unable to eat for sometimes 2-3 days. I suffered from chronic headaches (from the little eating I did), and treated it with cups and cups of coffee. I worked a full-time job, two part-time jobs, went to school full-time all while barely eating, not being able to sleep through the night, and migraines that would make it impossible to pay attention during class. I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but not being able to eat?! That was crazy.
At this point I already had some allergies to combat when going out to eat. I’ve always been allergic to nuts (peanuts and tree nuts) and lactose. I discovered Lactaid pills around the end of high school and they changed my life! (Hello back to ordering extra cheese on my pizza!!) So, when I started to get bloated, sick, and irritated after eating basically ANYTHING for almost a year I decided to get checked out.
I saw the nutritionist at the health clinic I went to, and she told me to keep a food journal for two weeks. After reviewing it, she said something I never thought I would hear, “Have you thought about cutting out gluten?” I had a close friend with Celiac disease so I was familiar with what gluten was and what foods contained it, but this was also around the time that “gluten-free diets” were all the craze of the classic white Long Island girl that wanted to lose 5 pounds. So as you can assume a girl with a diet that basically consisted of only gluten I immediately said “NO!” She encouraged me to do another food journal, this time cutting out gluten entirely. It was not easy. Thankfully, I had a wonderful roommate who went to the grocery store with me buying gluten-free pasta, rice, and helped plan out my meals for the next two weeks. To say that my life was transformed would be the understatement of the decade.
I felt like a new person. I didn’t track my weight or calories (I get really obsessive with numbers so I figured it was for the best) so I can’t tell you exactly what my transformation looked like physically, but I felt incredible. The headaches went away in the first week, and after about a month of cutting out gluten I was barely bloated at all. At that two week check-in I cried my heart out to my nutritionist telling her she saved my life.
Being Judged for Having Dietary Restrictions
This all ties to how I live my life now. When I tell people about my allergies “gluten, dairy and nuts - the trifecta!”, everyone always asks the same question: What do you even eat?
Well, the positive thing about being diagnosed with a gluten intolerance around the time that gluten-free diets were the craze was that everyone became much more aware of what gluten is. (For those of you that don’t know, gluten is a composite of proteins that keeps the elasticity of wheat products. You know when you rip open a loaf of bread and see the inside form into a spiderweb type design? That’s what gluten does, and my body can’t break down those proteins so they just kind of sit there.) Restaurants started labeling what was gluten-free on their menus, large bread companies and other grain products started providing gluten-free options - what a time to have an allergy! Nowadays, I make most of my meals, but when I go out to eat I sometimes still get the stink eye.
Let me be clear; I have been working in restaurants for the better part of a decade. I have worked in the kitchen and worked in the front of house. As a server, a bartender, or a chef, you have NO RIGHT to judge anyone’s allergies or dietary restrictions. If you offer a gluten-free option on your menu and someone asks you to change your gloves because it’s an allergy YOU CHANGE YOUR GLOVES. You do not roll your eyes, you do not make a remark about how “annoying” it is, or how “annoying” my request is. I have dietary restrictions, but that does not mean I do not get to enjoy the experience of going out to eat like my friends and family do. If you work at an establishment that advertises options for people with my dietary restrictions, why would you judge when I ask to be accommodated?
I did not ask to have to live this way, but I am grateful for the lifestyle I lead. I can’t eat fried food, breaded chicken, or Thai food. I’ve never eaten Nutella or Five Guys. I once tried a peanut butter filled pretzel in sixth grade and almost died! So, no - I am not missing out. Do not feel sorry for me. I live a full life! I get to eat many wonderful things, without gluten, without dairy, or nuts.
You Are Not Alone
Please, be sensitive to anyone with allergies or dietary restrictions. I’ve been living without gluten in my diet for over five years, and I feel the healthiest I ever have! There are other individuals who choose to not eat meat, dairy, or animal products - that is their decision and their decision only. If they decide to not put something in their body because it affects the way they feel - emotionally or physically - you are in no place to judge them. We all need to be a little more empathetic of each other. If someone is having a hard time finding something to eat, lend a helping hand. Make sure they feel noticed, and that they know that it is important they eat a full meal. If I didn’t have the support group I have, I never would have made it this far.
If you have a dietary restriction, and feel uncomfortable going out to eat, please know you’re not alone. I am 24 years old and have lived with these allergies for five years, and I STILL sometimes feel judged or hurt when going out to eat. But, I need to eat! And I need to not go to the hospital because of it! Do not feel guilty, and do not feel like a burden. I work on this every day, and I am here for anyone that needs a daily reminder that they need to eat. The biggest piece of advice I can give to those still trying to figure it out is do your research! Know what you need to put into your body to feel the best you can. (Pizza is still my favorite food, now I just eat it with gluten free crust and vegan cheese!) I'll be sharing some more tips and recipes up here soon if you need some extra help :) Feed your body, you only get one!
Thank you for reading! All my love,