October 22, 2012 by Skyler Paltell
This is likely to be my first serious blog post, but gluten free living is an important topic to me and a small number of other W&M students. Gluten-free seems to be sweeping the nation at the moment—it is evident from the “organic” aisle at Food Lion—but most people seem to think it is some sort of new-fangled weight loss phenomenon. To be gluten free means to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat and wheat products, like bread, baked goods, and many types of alcohol.
There are two reasons why someone may be gluten free—a.) they saw how much weight Miley Cyrus lost and they had to try it out for themselves or b.) they have a condition called Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. I feel like most college students, myself included, belong to the latter category, since who would voluntarily give up pizza and soy sauce without just cause? Celiac disease is a condition in which the body attacks itself when you eat gluten, essentially destroying your small intestine, among other things. Gluten intolerance is the same basic principle, but less severe and with fewer long-lasting effects.
I went gluten free two months ago. I never found out if I had Celiac, since that involves an endoscopy and that sounds horrifying, but I find that I feel healthier when I don’t eat wheat. I also had to cut out dairy, eggs and soy at my doctor’s advice, since it is pretty common to have other allergies in addition to gluten. I won’t lie—it is really hard. Healing from any kind of long-term autoimmune condition is a roller coaster of ups and downs, and I have a whole new respect for college students who have battled medical conditions while at school. I’m almost positive that my body hates me. Some days I just want to go home—but I know that staying here will ultimately make me stronger.
For those who are gluten free at W&M and are struggling like I am, there are several resources that I have found to be immeasurably helpful. The first is undoubtedly the Gluten Freedom club, established this year by junior Hannah Boes (it’s her 21st birthday today—happy birthday Hannah!) We meet on Thursdays to hang out, snack on gluten free nom-noms, take trips to Trader Joe’s, and go out to dinner. It’s great to hang out with people who know what you are going through, and trust me when I say these people are all awesome.
The second is Larry Smith from Dining Services. He was excellent at helping me navigate the dining halls at the beginning of this semester, so if you have an allergy—be it gluten, soy, or dairy—he is a great resource. You’ll even get your own file, which I think is pretty snazzy. I actually cook for myself now since I have so many allergies, but if you’re just gluten free or lactose intolerant you should definitely check him out.
And finally, friends and peers are a great resource. This semester I joined a sorority, and all of my new friends and sisters have been so helpful and understanding when I explain to them exactly why I can’t eat that cookie. This past week I went out to Food For Thought with some of my new sisters—they actually suggested the restaurant because they knew it was gluten free friendly! The chef made me my own meal and I even got my own special bread roll. And tomorrow, I am getting coffee with the president of my sorority—she also has Celiac disease—at her suggestion, because she knows I am struggle-bussing.
It’s not easy having a restricted diet in college, a time when most people are eating junk food right and left because they’re young and they can get away with it. I know, because I used to be among them. However, I feel like I’ve learned so much in the past few months and gained so many new friends and resources. Most people out there are willing to understand and to listen, and Williamsburg has many options for gluten-free students on a budget. As for me, managing my health has been one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced—but with the help of my friends, family, and Udi’s gluten-free muffins, I feel confident that the end of the tunnel is not so far away.