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Celiac Disease Wasn't a Part of the College Plan

Celiac Disease Wasn't a Part of the College Plan
Within weeks of my celiac disease diagnosis, I had my two sons tested. Both grew up with “sensitive stomachs” so I was surprised—yet relieved—when their blood tests came back negative for CD. I knew firsthand the difficulties of cutting gluten out of a diet and I was glad my kids could continue their youth grazing on bagels, pizza, chicken nuggets, and French fries.

Fast forward five years. The youngest son is a Freshman in college and comes home for Thanksgiving break.

college life
He looks pale and gaunt, not at all like the robust boy who left home a few months before. He blames the cafeteria’s food, insisting they put laxatives in the food to keep kids from getting food poisoning--a popular urban myth, I learn through a quick investigation on the Web. My son has had a bad cold most of the semester and no amount of sleep makes him feel rested. This sounds all too familiar, I think. When he says his diet consists of bagels, sandwiches and pizza, a red flag not only goes up but waves crazily in the air. I suggest he eliminate wheat from his diet and see if he feels better. But he shrugs me off. Did I mention he's nineteen?

By Christmas break, he’s even thinner, paler, says he feels achy and dizzy much of the time, also forgetful and "fuzzy in his head." Without any prompting from me, he decides to go a few days without wheat.

Within a week, he feels new and improved (though it will take him months to get back to his old self). One mistake--oysters Rockefeller with a smattering of breadcrumbs on New Year’s day--sends him back ten steps. We are both positive he’s inherited my CD genes. I have the pleasure of having both the DQ8 and DQ2 genes. My blood tests came back negative too, and the gastroenterologist diagnosed CD with genetic tests and a endoscopy.

Surprisingly, neither my son nor I pout or panic. Okay, he pouts a little when he realizes beer and pizza are officially off-limits--he’s a college student and a guy after all-and I feel some mother’s guilt for passing my defective genes onto my child, but we’re both optimistic that he’ll enjoy college much more when he says good riddance to grains.

Goodbye gluten!Hello Gluten-Free!
Since my son has been a part of my gluten-free lifestyle change from the start, he already knows all the rules, such as never put a wheat-contaminated fork into a shared serving dish and use a separate toaster for GF toast.  He likes the staples of a celiac’s menu: quinoa, hummus, fresh vegetables and fruit, meat and fish, rice bowls, and stir-fry. He knows to check the ingredients on everything from cold medicines to gum and to stick to the golden rule: If it doesn’t say gluten-free on the package, don’t eat it.  After years of watching me struggle in restaurants--I’m a much better advocate for my family than for myself--I am certain my son will articulate clearly with waitstaff. Are the fries cooked with breaded foods?  Please don’t just remove the croutons on my Caesar salad; make me a new salad. Can you grill my burger on foil?

A sign you don't see often.
A sign you don't see often.

Still, I worry.  Going gluten-free in college isn't easy.  Like many universities, his college food service is not allergy-friendly. Visiting days confirmed that when I tried to eat in the cafeteria. There are few restaurants within walking distance. But my boy already has a plan: buy his own bread and get the GF-free meat and cheese from the school deli, make weekly trips to the grocery store, keep his room stocked with gluten-free snacks. I can’t help but feel proud. Without any objection, he takes the fastfood menus I’ve printed out and circled the GF foods. Yes, we know the contamination risks at such places, but a guy’s got to eat and fastfood joints are the social hangout of college kids. We visit healthfood stores and I show him myriad GF options that now line the shelves. And, of course, I’ll send monthly gluten-free care packages; I’ve already made a favorites list on my computer of GF mail order companies.

Celiac disease wasn’t a part of my son’s college plan--or my plan for him. But life is full of bumps.  I’m just glad he’s prepared to take this one head on.

HEalthy Life


My son is now starting his senior year and I'm happy to report his health has improved greatly since going off gluten. Living on campus and eating in the cafeteria proved to be a problem, so he moved off campus into a house with his own kitchen and clean cooking tools. He often shares gluten-free recipes and new products he discovers with me. He still struggles with peers and food-service staff not understanding his diet restrictions, but he shrugs it off. He's just happy to feel good again.

Celiac Disease Wasn't a Part of the College Plan appeared first at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

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