Thursday, 16th May, 2019

What is Coeliac Disease?

Have you recently been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, or know someone who has? This week’s guest blog has advice and tips to help you live your best gluten-free life.

So this week is Coeliac Awareness Week. Having recently been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, I thought it would be helpful to share what I’ve learned over the last few months - like tips on living a gluten-free life (it can be done) as well as some helpful information for the non-coeliacs out there.

Coeliac, the same as gluten-free, right?

First off, a definition of what Coeliac Disease is. Coeliac Disease is a common digestive condition where the small intestine becomes inflamed and unable to absorb nutrients. It can cause a range of symptoms including diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating.

Basically, being Coeliac means your body has a pretty strong auto-immune response to gluten. Having gluten doesn’t just cause some bloating - it damages the lining of the intestines.

Following a gluten-free diet has become something of a trend-focused exercise in recent years, for the sanity of all the coeliacs out there, please note the differences between being gluten-free and Coeliac:

- Being Coeliac is not a cool fad diet.

- Being Coeliac is not a choice.

- Coeliacs are not ‘being picky’. We simply don’t have the option to have gluten.

- As a Coeliac, the only option is to be gluten-free, for life.


Side effects

There are some complications that can arise from being Coeliac. Your intestines are damaged so it can be very hard to absorb nutrients. You may also have a lack of vitamin D, calcium and folic acid, so you’ll need to supplement these with vitamins. If you don’t go gluten-free, it can cause side effects such as a higher risk of osteoporosis and bowel cancer. Sudden weight loss is also an indicator of Coeliac Disease.

Being diagnosed

When you’re diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, it can be a daunting time. But please, believe me, there are several benefits! This is the start of a new chapter, one where your diet and medication can help control the symptoms of Coeliac Disease. You can enjoy things like:

- No longer curling up on the sofa feeling sick and having no idea why

- Getting your energy back from cutting out gluten

- No longer feeling bloated

- Someone actually telling you this isn’t all in your head and you have a genuine problem

The sad things:

- No more cake, unless you make it yourself or have a rare find in a shop.

- No decent bread. The gluten-free versions really do suck!

- Cross-contamination which lulls you into a false sense of security when you think you’ve eaten something gluten-free and then found it really wasn’t... Which brings me to dining out. You can still eat out!  You don’t have to live like a hermit or become resigned to a life of lunchboxes. It helps to be prepared and plan ahead.

Things that helped me when dining out:

🍽️Choose a restaurant with GF options. Sounds obvious, but it’s one tip to share with friends, too.

📞Call in advance to discuss their menu and to ask about things like cross-contamination.

📣Inform your server & explain what Coeliac Disease actually means, and what foods you can't have. 

❓Ask questions about the menu - one I find useful is ‘what oil were the GF fries cooked in?’.

😝Be prepared to eat something that isn't your first choice.

One thing I found really helpful was using Echo to organise all my new meds. Reasons I love to Echo:

-  It can take ages to be diagnosed, so personally, having all my meds on my phone to reel off to the latest new doctor was amazing.

- You need a lot of vitamins prescribed until you start being able to absorb nutrients again. It’s great to have these delivered to me for free and to know when I’m running low and need to re-order.

Helpful information:

Coeliac UK is a great resource for all things coeliac, and you can also take their online assessment to find out if you should get tested for Coeliac Disease. You can also check out the NHS's website for more information and support.