Gluten-Free Girl: living the lifestyle

I bring forth some inspiration this semester to the gluten-free culture on campus.

If you find yourself constantly probing the small, lonely tables situated neatly in the corners of either Chase or Emerson, desperately seeking something your stomach can easily digest, then you and I share the same pains and frustrations. Yes, we are the gluten-free eaters on campus who struggle daily with our finicky digestive systems and who vent silently to ourselves about the limited, and rather unappealing gluten-free menu that Wheaton’s dining halls offer; or maybe that’s just me.

Either way, it is safe to say that there is a growing gluten-free community emerging on campus, as wheat-free products and foods have slowly squeezed their way onto the menu of Wheaton’s dining halls.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and ryeAs a member of this unique community and a relative newcomer to the gluten-free lifestyle, I have slowly become accustomed (not by choice) to the many challenges and frustrations that come with this strict dietary regimen. From financial woes and unfortunate upset stomachs, to limited food options both on and off-campus, becoming gluten-free has been an ongoing hassle. I am confident that other gluten-free “Wheaties” would agree with me on this one. So, it is with the constant trips to Whole Foods and bitter attitude about the limited, and painfully over-priced wheat-free products available, that I bring forth some inspiration this semester to the gluten-free culture on campus.

But first, for those who may be unfamiliar with or baffled by my “gluten-free” banter, let me first provide you with some brief insight. The gluten-free diet is practiced by (and not limited to) those who suffer from Celiac disease or wheat sensitivities. Celiac disease is a condition that directly affects the lining of the small intestine. When individuals with Celiac disease consume gluten, the body’s immune system responds by damaging the villi, which are responsible for the proper absorption and passage of the food’s most important nutrients needed by the body. The lack of proper absorption that is a result of the intestine’s inability to break down the gluten thus leads to several gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms may include bloating, indigestion, constipation, gas, nausea, diarrhea, weight-loss/gain, lactose-intolerance and decreased appetite. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Other symptoms from the irregular absorption of essential vitamins and minerals’ may include: depression, fatigue, hair loss, itchy skin, muscle cramps and joint pain.

Although I only account for one of Wheaton’s numerous gluten-free students, I feel empowered through my experiences and obstacles with this new dietary lifestyle to establish further dialogue about what it means to be gluten-free and how one goes about dealing with its challenges and annoyances. It is my hope that by sharing my experiences with being gluten-free through this written space that I can provide students with a relatable narrative that will offer some advice and tips on living a worry-free, hassle-free and enjoyable gluten-free life.

I encourage further discussion among gluten-free students and inspire those living with certain food allergies to share their own stories, recipes, or advice. I hope to hear from you!