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Tales from a Gluten-intolerant Coeliac

by Richard Cawte

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I count myself lucky.

Remember all those birthday parties when you were small? The table laid out with sandwiches, cookies and sticky buns – not to mention the cake itself, its candles flickering as you and your friends burst into “Happy Birthday!”?

gluten free birthdaysI never got to eat any of those. Ice-cream and jelly was what I ate  – at every party. I have to admit to drooling with envy as my pals sank their teeth into what looked like slices of heaven on a plate. But I count myself lucky now.

What about at school? How about the burgers, pastas, pasties, pizzas and pies? The chocolate digestives and rich t biscuits; those sticky toffee puddings, apple turnovers, treacle tarts and plum duffs? Never touched those either. And I still don’t.

So how come I was lucky? Because I’m both gluten intolerant and coeliac – and I got diagnosed early on, whereas many people live with these conditions all their lives without knowing it.

I guess my condition was a chronic one. For the first few months of my life I enjoyed my mother’s milk and was completely healthy. Then came the big change. The first solid food I was given (mashed rusk) came right back out again. My Mom waited a while, gave me some more and ditto, same response.

It was obvious that there was a major issue, so at the tender age of 15 months I was packed off to a hospital for two weeks where various tests were done until it was established that I had Coeliac Disease.

“The boy must have no wheat, barley or rye,” was the prognosis. So my Mom duly cut wheat, barley and rye from my diet and I stopped throwing up and having diarrhoea at the same time. That’s one of the reasons I was lucky!

Another was that, because I was diagnosed early it has almost certainly saved me from some of the long-term effects of eating gluten had I had a milder version of gluten intolerance or “sleeping coeliac disease” (I’ll talk about these in future articles, as well as the fact that you should be aware that it’s not just wheat, barley and rye that contain gluten).

You see, modern methods of diagnosing gluten intolerance are inadequate and many people slip through the net only to have serious health challenges later in life.

One of my sisters for instance was diagnosed only in middle-age and now has irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and persistent diarrhoea. Her diet is far more restricted than mine and she is often in pain. My other sister also has IBS, gets chronically tired and is anaemic, requiring regular shots of B12 to be able to function in any way “normally”.

For me, the biggest inconveniences are not being able to have a cold pint of beer on a hot summer’s evening, watching a dessert-trolly sail by without being able to choose anything other than fruit salad, and having to check the label of anything in the supermarket that isn’t fresh (it’s amazing how many products contain gluten that you really wouldn’t expect to). It can be a bit embarrassing having to ask in a restaurant exactly what is in each sauce too. But if those are the worst of my worries I am, as I say, the lucky one.

I’m not a medical doctor, but I know what it’s like to live with both coeliac disease and gluten intolerance (they’re not the same thing by the way) and have done about as much research as any layman can into a topic that we’re only really beginning to get a handle on.

For the past decade and more I’ve worked with clients who are looking to improve their quality of life and have seen the results when many of them remove gluten from their diet. Hopefully their experiences and mine can help you to achieve and maintain your optimum health!


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