Why coeliacs should be treated like vegetarians
Whether you’re a coeliac or avoiding wheat or gluten for other reasons, life can be tricky, I’ve learnt a lot from fellow avoiders of the grain and some of them have been kind enough to share their experiences on here via A Gluten Free And Gorgeous 5 minutes with... So I’m pleased to welcome our first man (yeah!) to the spot. Kevin Gollop’s Twitter bio says he’s a massive Plymouth Argyle fan and from his blog, Gluten Free by the Sea it seems quite fond of Pizza too!
I am a coeliac diagnosed through blood test and biopsy
2. When were you diagnosed?
I started really suffering in Easter 2011. During a family holiday to Dorset I spent most of the four days inside public bathrooms with stomach issues. This settled down after a week but I never really recovered. My side and stomach were painful and tender, which I thought was just a hangover from the Easter stomach problems.
Things took a turn for the worse when I started passing blood in May. A series of tests followed including liver scans and eventually a blood test showed coeliac disease. A biopsy followed at the end of September and a month later diagnosis was confirmed.
3. How long had you been suffering for?
I think in hindsight I had been suffering for years without realising. I was never really that ill until Easter 2011, but I can now look back and see a number of signs. I had started taking probiotics as long as five or six years ago due to a weird discomfort in my side, which seemed to go away. This is the same discomfort I was experiencing whilst I was being diagnosed. Around the same time I started using mouth wash as I was getting a lot of ulcers, which I now know to be another symptom. I also remember getting occasional palpitations, which I now get when glutened. I would often be tired or have minor stomach upsets, but I just put this down to lifestyle and working away a lot at the time. All minor issues really, but it never occurred to me they were connected.
4. How has diagnosis changed your life?
In the period between my positive blood test and my biopsy (about 3 months), my health continued to go downhill. I was so fatigued that I would be struggling to stay awake at seven in the evening. The stomach pains got progressively worse, I was getting joint pain and I was depressed about my health and having to continue to poison myself with gluten. I was also depressed at the new lifestyle I would have to lead gluten free.
So one year on the immediate impact of diagnosis is positive in that I am feeling so much better. All my symptoms are virtually gone, though there are of course days when I don’t feel my best and accidental glutenings along the way. I have also enjoyed becoming part of the gluten free community, and now like to think I am starting to help others by passing on my knowledge. I also think I generally lead a healthier lifestyle now as a result.
The biggest negative has been losing the ability to be spontaneous. I always go everywhere with either a plan of where I am going to eat or bring my own food. I miss just being able to pop in somewhere and grab something I fancy. It also makes me sad that I now dread going to things which should be fun due to food concerns.
5. What’s been the worst experience of having coeliac disease?
From a personal point of view it’s eating out. I get very anxious when eating outside of my home now and as I am quite shy I hate asking restaurants all sorts of questions when I go out to eat. The reality is though that it is my health and I simply have to ask. It’s getting easier the more I do it, and I always try and ensure I go to somewhere that I know is “gluten free friendly”. My last experience of eating out spontaneously was eating at a Greek restaurant in London with work colleagues. The waiter assured catering gluten free would be “no problem”. After we’d ordered drinks the waiter came over and asked if I could eat potatoes. After a 15 minute conversation we came up with something I could eat, but the whole meal I was just waiting to get sick and it was just awful.
6. What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
When eating out always call ahead to make sure both you and the restaurant are happy with your dietary requirements. Stating it when you get there can be a nasty surprise for both parties so best avoided. Even if you have told them prior, always tell them when you arrive, when you order and when each course arrives. It is your health and you cannot tell them too many times!
7. What do you think needs to happen to make being Coeliac/ gluten free more acceptable?
There are millions of people in this country that are coeliac, gluten sensitive, gluten intolerant or have wheat allergy/intolerance. The restaurant industry is starting to listen but we need to keep getting the message over. In my opinion every restaurant should have at least one gluten free choice marked on the menu, just as a vegetarian option is now. Nothing against vegetarians (my wife is one) as the catering industry should look after everyone, but they have a choice. We don’t.
8. How has the range of gluten free products changed since you first started using them?
I think it is fast improving all the time. I have noticed a huge increase in the number of products available over the last year. As well as national companies, it’s also great to see a lot of local smaller companies starting up in my area. I am very keen to support local free from companies through my blog, and I think that’s important. Of course recently we have seen the gluten free pizza chains launching GF products, and it feels like we are getting closer to being mainstream. Hopefully other companies are taking note.
9. Name 3 of your favourite gluten free products
Pom Bear crisps
Baked to Taste pasties
10. Best place you’ve eaten a gluten free meal out?
Annie’s Supperclub. Fantastic to eat in a totally gluten free environment and have absolutely no concerns or worries about what I was eating. Magnificent food and great company with some gluten free Twitter friends. Bruschetta in Kingston also well worth a visit.
11. What’s the most Bizarre / Funniest/ Strangest thing anyone’s said to you about being Coeliac?
Friends and family have been very understanding and supportive so I’ve been quite lucky with not too many strange things. The one that sticks out though was when I rang a really nice Italian restaurant in Bristol to see if they could cater gluten free for me. I was told “you cannot eat salad can you?”. Needless to say I didn’t visit this establishment!
12. What would you like to have gluten-free rant about?
The lack of choice in supermarkets really frustrates me. For example Sainsbury’s have just introduced their own range of gluten free pizza. Great, another product on the market, but now they have de-listed the Dietary Specials pizza everyone seems to prefer. Is a choice of two brands really too much to ask for? There are repeated instances of this in other supermarkets too, and I have even seen that companies like Genius have had to stop making some products as they can’t get anyone to stock them. Surely coeliacs deserve choice too!
Also a frustration is companies like Mars who don’t provide an allergy box, and will not include “may contain” warnings if there is a possible contamination risk. This is made even worse when you contact their customer services team who tell you to read the label!
I could go on, but I think my 5 minutes is up. Thanks for having me! Kevin.