My Story

From an early age, I’ve always been “a bit ill”.

According to my parents, I used to whine a lot as a baby and refused to eat food when I started on solids. I got really sick and became really thin so they took me to see several specialists and each confirmed that there was nothing wrong with me, and their solution to my eating habits (or lack of) was “she’ll eat when she’s hungry”… not exactly what you want to hear as worried parents. Then again, this was in the early 90’s and Coeliac Disease wasn’t heard of. So, I spent many of my early years in hospital. As I started to reach my first decade in life, I became more accustomed to food and started to eat normally… then a little too much… then when I had my train-track braces fitted I started to ease off the food and returned to a more healthy weight.

Throughout school (from the age of about 14) I can remember my stomach being a bit “off” now and again. Large meals and really rich/fatty foods upset my stomach, and I always remember the weird and wonderful noises my stomach would make and the paranoia surrounding other people hearing it. It would always perfectly time the noises to periods of rare classroom silence or during exams where it would echo throughout the sports hall and I would hope and pray that no-one figured out it was my stomach making all that noise. As an adult reading this back to myself, I think “why was I so worried? I wouldn’t care now”, but as a child (an unpopular, regularly picked-on child) seemingly trivial things such as a noisy stomach could make all the difference in a world of popularity contests and bully-dodging.

Despite this, I never recognised these issues with my stomach as a huge problem (when I say stomach, I am actually referring to my digestive system as a whole). In fact, I don’t remember ever complaining about it much apart from when I had the occasional stomach ache (which I always put down to that wonderful time of the month).

It was only when I started University that I began to recognise it as more of a problem. During the break between my 2nd and 3rd year, I moved in with my then boyfriend and undertook a few internships in London. His housemate at the time had Coeliac Disease – I’d never heard of it. This poor person couldn’t eat anything – he couldn’t share food with us, he couldn’t really eat out … this thing sounded horrible. And then, after a few weeks, I got really, really sick. I couldn’t get out of bed to stand up…once I stood up I couldn’t sit down. I was in agony. Nothing I was eating was staying in and my stomach looked like I was about to give birth to twins – so much so that I actually thought I was pregnant (in which case these would’ve been the quickest developing twins on record). I was in and out of the doctor’s surgery and hospital and  eventually they said they would test me for Coeliac Disease – the disease I had never heard of before I moved in with my boyfriend (to this day we still joke about him infecting me with the disease, which isn’t possible by the way!)

In October 2010 I moved back into student halls for my last year of University. A week after I moved back in I received a letter with confirmation of Coeliac Disease diagnosis. What an earth was I going to do? I could barely cook – my main staple was microwave rice and instant gravy – and my Mum had just stocked me up with about 12 week’s worth of gluten-containing goodies which were stashed under my desk. I was screwed. So, what was my solution? Learn how to cook gluten-free? Undertake extensive research to understand more about gluten-free food? Nope. My solution was to eat chocolate, crisps and dowse the disgusting excuse for gluten-free bread in as much cheese as possible. Unsurprisingly, I piled on around 1 and a half stone in weight (around 9.5 kg) within a matter of months. Due to the timing and the stress with the final year of University, I never noticed the weight gain until I saw a picture of myself with a protruding stomach. I quickly became depressed, anxious about going outside and started to isolate myself in the confines of my small bedroom. Things had to change.

Since then, I have steadily learned more and more about gluten free food, cross-contamination, the importance of sticking to a strict gluten free diet and the general ups and downs of being a Coeliac. Only now am I understanding the need for wholesome, gluten-free food on a restricted time schedule.

I hope that by sharing my story, others don’t feel so alone in their diagnosis and can perhaps relate to some of my stories and experiences. If you have anything that you wish to hear about or would like some advice on, please feel free to contact me.

Happy reading 🙂

Harriet 🙂