By Fionnghuala Kelly,  eLearning Development Officer, IINH

My experience….

At the age of 28 I was diagnosed with coeliac disease.  This happened some 25 years ago.  At the time, here in Ireland, it was far less common then it is nowadays.  While I had personally heard the term and met a coeliac while in hospital I had just considered these people to be ‘odd’ and did not understand what coeliac disease was and, more importantly, what the diagnosis would mean to me.

The first reaction I got was from my mother who said to me “oh gosh, that’s the banana diet“.  I did a bit of research and discovered that a Dr. Sidney Haas in New York City had published a paper  “The value of the banana in the treatment of celiac disease,” in 1924.  This article was published a long time before it was realised that an intolerance of gluten was the cause of celiac disease.   When I read about this I was very grateful to be born after 1950, as by then a Dutch physician,Willem Dicke, had pioneered  the gluten-free (GF) Diet for treating Coeliac Disease.

It took me about a year to get comfortable with the GF diet and to stop missing things like‘lovely fresh bread’. At the beginning I was a bit lost trying to figure out what I could actually eat.  I quickly adapted my diet by cutting out processed food, as most processed food at the time contained gluten in some shape or form.  Also, labelling at that time was not great at specifying ingredients or stating if contents were GF.

I obtained a booklet from the  Coeliac Society that contained GF products available in Ireland. I found it a great help.  This book is updated by the society on aregular basis.  Thankfully I enjoy cooking and baking and bit by bit I learned to adapt recipes.  I found the GF flour was fine in many cakes, but not great for pastry.

The main problem I experienced initially was when eating out in hotels and restaurants.  At that time coeliac disease was not common, and I would have to ring ahead and let the chef know I was coming and what was required.  Happily this is no longer the case as now while I will still say when making a booking that I am coeliac the response in general is one of “that’s fine, we cater for coeliacs”, or something to that effect.  Many eateries today have a symbol that represents GF items on the menu, and they are often happy to adapt a recipe to GF.  In fact there are times when my friends are genuinely jealous of what I am served and are tempted to ‘pretend’ they are also coeliacs!  I have not been ill after eating out for about fifteen years, which is great testament to the awareness in the hospitality industry here in Ireland.

Have you recently been diagnosed as a Coeliac?  If so, don’t let it get you down! There are many positives these days, including the improving awareness of the disease in Ireland, the support out there and the growing range of products available.  So while it will take time to adapt, your experience promises to be far easier than it was 25 years ago.  The best benefit for me has been how healthy I feel and the energy I now have – something I never had in the early part of my life.

Check out a great ‘Gluten and wheat free cooking’ class happening on 6th April in Killiney with ‘The Soul Food Company’.