Hello, my name is Athena and I've been on a gluten-free diet basically my entire life. And let me tell you, it can be really tough at times! But living with Celiac's disease for more than 20 years has taught me how to live my life without letting my food allergy control it. I can still have the occasional bad day where I'm angry for not being able to eat everything I want to, but I've learned that it really doesn't have to be that bad. Gluten-free can actually be pretty awesome! Plus I've learned quite a few tips and tricks along the way that I'm always willing to share!
Q: Who understands your food allergy requirements the most and how do they help you in particular?
A: This is a tie between my sister and my mom! My sister also has Celiac's disease so she completely understands it, but my mom is the one that has always helped us make life easier with our food allergies. She has always put a lot of time into learning about new gluten-free ingredients and products, and she has really helped me and my sister so much while growing up. From baking gluten-free bread every week to teaching us about the importance of reading ingredient labels to getting me translation cards when I went on vacation alone for the first time as a teenager. And she still helps me a lot! She buys me gluten free cookbooks, she tries out recipes for me, and she answers any question I ever have, even if it’s something I could just research myself (and she helps out with a little food money when I buy too much gluten-free junk food...) She’s the best!
Q: What product(s) are you most surprised contain an allergen?
A: Ice cream! Maybe it’s not the one I’m most surprised by, but definitely one I’m most annoyed by. I will never understand why a company would put wheat in single flavor ice cream such as vanilla or chocolate. It’s stupid!
Q: What is your favorite food allergy-friendly meal?
A: My favorite meal is also the one I cook the most, because it’s ridiculously easy to make! It’s a stir fry with shrimp, vegetables and rice noodles, seasoned with sweet chili sauce and soy sauce. It’s super quick, super delicious, and you can replace the shrimp with something else to make it completely allergy friendly and/or vegetarian.
Q: What foods are the most difficult to part with knowing your specific allergy requirements?
A: I was diagnosed with Celiac's disease when I was two years old so I’ve never really had to part with any non-gluten free food. But I go through periods where I get really upset about not being able to eat certain foods. The past few years it’s been pasta. Luckily for me I’ve found a few restaurants that serve gluten-free pasta so I’m pretty OK now. No more embarrassing meltdowns at restaurants.
Q: When were you first diagnosed and how did it feel to find out?
A: I was only two when I was diagnosed so I can’t remember what I felt. I do remember being allowed to try “regular” food when I was four though, and I remember getting super upset when I had to go back to gluten-free bread!
Q: Have you ever had an allergic reaction? What did you do to combat it and what was it like?
A: I am one of those people that doesn’t have a reaction to eating gluten. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s nice never getting sick, but it’s sort of scary not knowing if I accidentally eat gluten.
Q: Have you made any changes to your life to prevent contact with food allergies or to mitigate their effects?
A: I grew up with a kitchen of both gluten-free and non-gluten free foods, so I was taught well on how to separate my gluten-free food from “regular food.” Now that I live with roommates I have my food in a separate cabinet and make sure that all surfaces and kitchen utensils are thoroughly washed before I use them.
Q: What advice can you provide others?
A: There are so many things! But my number one advice is always to cook good food from scratch with fresh, basic ingredients. That way you know what you’re eating and you don’t have to use that many gluten free substitutes.
Q: Medication or homeopathy?
A: No medication!
Q: Are there others in your life who have allergies? If family, has it been proven genetic?
A: One of my sisters also have celiac disease, but we haven’t been able to trace it back to any other family member.
Q: Is it difficult to find allergy friendly foods while eating out?
A: Yes! But I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way.
Q: How accommodating are friends and family in social situations (either finding a place to eat or when making food at home)?
A: Extremely accomodating! My family always looks at the menu before choosing a restaurant and our meals at home are always gluten-free. When I eat out with my friends I get to pick the place 90% of the time because they want to make sure I can eat there. And when my friends invite me over for dinner they always double check if I can eat the planned menu or if it needs adjustments.
Q: Is the community surrounding your specific food allergy embracing and active? What level of involvement had you had in the community?
A: Growing up in Sweden I was very involved in the Swedish Celiac Disease Foundation, but since I moved to the U.S. I haven’t even looked into it. I should do that!