Living life to the full with Coeliac Disease – at university
In a lot of ways, I consider myself to be quite lucky to have discovered my Coeliac condition a bit later on in life; I’m not sure I’d have been resilient enough to manage on my own at University, for example. This Coeliac Awareness week I’ve been chatting to lots of other Coeliacs to hear their experiences of managing and living with the condition. As I don’t have first hand experience of coping with the student life on a gluten free diet myself, I thought it would be more useful to get some insider insight from a Coeliac (or two) at university.
Izzy Forster (aka @gluten_free_life)
I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease in October 2016, a month after I had started my first year at University. This meant I had to deal with a major change to my diet whilst away from home and I didn’t have much help with this transformation. Being at university gave me the chance to quickly find out what new foods I liked and didn’t like. I have never been a fussy eater prior to being diagnosed with coeliac disease, but cutting out so many foods I was used to having felt quite hard. I didn’t know anyone who was coeliac or gluten intolerant so I had no one to swap stories with on dealing with the change and how to adapt and so on. But in a way, it made me become even more independent because there was so much I needed to look into and be cautious with, for myself. I spent a good amount of time searching online about other people’s stories and experiences as I was intrigued to find out more about how others have found the change to their diet. Coeliac UK was one of the main sites where found a huge amount of information and their newly developed app was also a great help when I was unsure about whether I could safely eat certain products.
I don’t personally feel that being coeliac at university is too much of a problem, but there have been a couple of things I’ve experienced as a newly diagnosed coeliac at university that I wanted to share. Firstly, the price of gluten free products has made me more aware of the amount of money I spend each week at the supermarket, as I feel that they are very overpriced when thinking about a student budget: as any student will agree it is very easy to over spend and not realise, and this has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to watch out for whilst being at university. In order to manage my budget, I had to firstly become familiar with different prices of gluten free products in different supermarkets, for example, I found Lidl better than Morrisons for certain snack products. Secondly, I realised early on that I couldn’t just rely on eating pasta, sandwiches and biscuits (as students do); I had to start being more creative and make meals from scratch using more fruit and vegetables.
Secondly, there’s a lot of eating over at other people’s houses at university and it can be tricky in the beginning getting other people to understand my needs and cater for me unless I brought my own food (which I started to do). However, as I got to know people better, they would make meals that I could have or buy gluten free products (mostly pasta) as they understood that it was hard for me.
Luckily eating out hasn’t been a big issue at university as the majority of restaurants and cafes cater for those with dietary requirements. It is very easy to search menus online prior to going out for food, which I did almost every time just in case, until I became familiar with certain places. I used to feel so awkward asking for the separate gluten free menu when eating out, but I realised that I am just one of many people that suffer the same issue and there is nothing wrong with it.
Even the late night/early morning post clubbing trips to McDonalds became possible for me one night at 4am when the Manager brought me the allergy folder!
Starting university and then suddenly having to change my diet that doesn’t fit the classic ‘student lifestyle’ was a shock but my overall experience with it has been pretty good. I’ve only had one encounter where I’ve experienced cross contamination (as far as I know) but apart from that it hasn’t been too hard to monitor. Since being diagnosed it has allowed me to explore more cafes and restaurants that I wouldn’t have previously looked at or considered and I have now become a regular at a few places because I can’t resist some of the amazing meals they offer.
Izzy’s top tips for having the best university experience as a coeliac:
- Experiment with new foods and see what you can add. Be proactive with your change in lifestyle and have a go at trying new things.
- Stick to your budget by doing your research; if you have favourite gluten free products, check where sells them cheapest and be prepared to shop around. Fill up your plate with more fruits and vegetables instead of pre packaged foods and that will help you save money too.
- Don’t be afraid to explain to friends about your needs – no one wants to leave people out at university and most dinner party hosts will do their best to make sure you can be included. Over time it gets easier because people around you become more familiar with what you can eat.
- Be confident about explaining your needs when eating out; you’re far from the only one with dietary requirements and most food places now have had training in catering for gluten free diets.
- Take care of yourself if you do have an accidental glutening. It can be scary the first time you experience cross contamination or you accidentally eat something with gluten in it, but in my experience it is best to rest and drink lots of water for a while until the pain has gone.
Izzy Forster is a 1st year student studying Business and Management at University. Before being diagnosed with coeliac disease her favourite foods included lasagne, pesto gnocchi and fruit tarts but she regularly experienced stomach problems after eating most meals during the day, which began about 6 months prior to her diagnosis. She started to monitor the foods she ate and cut out different foods such as chocolate, dairy products etc, until she made an appointment to see a doctor and found out she was intolerant to gluten and from then on was diagnosed with coeliac disease. Since cutting out gluten products from her diet, Izzy has experienced a noticeable difference to the way she feels after eating and no longer experiences the painful stomach issues she used to get.
Are you a student living with Coeliac Disease? What are your top tips for still having fun at uni? Please share your tips in the comments below!