Coeliac Disease: (pronounced see-liac, spelt celiac disease in other countries) is an autoimmune disease. Gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye triggers an immune reaction in people with coeliac disease. This means that eating gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. Other parts of the body may be affected.*
This week is Coeliac Awareness week so I thought I’d share my experience plus my new philosophy of eating which is replenishing my body with the nutrients that my body was deprived of for so long prior to diagnosis.
Some of you will know that I am a Clean and Lean convert! It is amazing and simply means cutting out processed food, refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol as much as possible for a healthier and lean body. It is in no way a fad diet but instead about wellness and enabling your body to perform at its optimum, which is now so important to me after my struggles with food and eventual diagnosis with coeliac disease.
I’m in no way extreme about it though. As much as anyone I love to treat myself with dessert, take away and a few drinks with friends, however I do make sure that the majority of my food is as natural as possible and have reaped the benefits. I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease in early 2008 at the age of 26 after nearly ten years of being unwell. Over the years the doctors have treated me for numerous conditions, relatively unsuccessfully resulting in food becoming a major issue in my life.
I have had problems with food since childhood, I was known as a young child to take hours eating a boiled egg and toast and through primary school my parents would often find my packed lunch hidden away in my bedroom where I hadn’t eaten it. I was bullied for being so thin and lacked any self confidence. I always felt unwell and exhausted and the teachers would get fed up of me bothering them when I felt sick.
For a time my weight and health picked up, I then became interested in athletics and running became my life. Training made me hungry and I was eating better than ever, mostly meat, vegetables, salads etc to become healthier and aid my training. I was a promising athlete, running for my club, school, county and country and became focused on a career in athletics and competing in the Olympics my long term goal.
However, I started to become unwell again, tiredness set in and I started to get injured more frequently which was put down to me over training and not eating. The truth was, I was eating but it made me sick. At one point when I was 16 I was taken into hospital by my parents where they were told that I had glandular fever even though the blood test results did not confirm it. I was so unwell that I could not walk unaided, had to be helped up the stairs and suffered severe gynaecological problems. Even when I was well enough to attend school was so weak that I only went in for essential classes. This lasted for the duration of my GCSEs and into my A Levels. All I could see is my life passing by, I obviously had to stop athletics and visits from my friends became few and far between. I can’t blame them, they were off doing the normal things teenagers did, whilst I was complaining that I was too tired to do anything and becoming ever more depressed. I left school during my A Levels, partly as I felt too tired and unwell and partly as I had lost touch with my friends and felt like an outsider.
My health continued to deteriorate and by my late teens I had developed a serious eating disorder. I was living away from home so to some extent it was easier to hide. I was living off a small bowl of cereal, chocolate bar and milk some days or alternating between flatly not eating and binging / vomiting. I still couldn’t tell you exactly what it was about food that made me not eat. I wasn’t scared of eating and most of the time not scared of getting fat. In fact I hated losing my curves and looking like a child. I even enjoyed food and just felt uncomfortable after eating, vomiting was easy and made me feel better. I was regularly taken into hospital as a result of fainting and at one point spent almost two weeks in bed purely down to exhaustion.
When I became pregnant at 20 with my daughter I knew I had to eat properly for her sake. Although suffering with morning sickness I forced myself to eat but this left me vomiting even more. I spent a lot of my pregnancy in hospital finding the whole experience very traumatic. By this stage I was used to my body being extremely thin and the changes that were occurring and the weight I gained as a result were very frightening to me. I was on a drip and my weak body was struggling to cope, at around 8 months pregnant my overall weight was only 7.5 stone. Amazingly though I had a 9lb 1oz baby!
Over the years I have been treated for anorexia, bulimia, depression, as well as one GP telling me that it was all in my head and there was nothing actually wrong with me! Even though my sister had been diagnosed with coeliac disease in early childhood and I had made this known to them, not once was it suggested that I should be tested for it. After years of being treated for an eating disorder I managed to convince another doctor that although I now had a body image disorder and was not eating properly, when I was eating it was the food that was actually making me sick. Finally he arranged blood tests which showed that my white blood cell count was higher than normal which indicated coeliac disease. An endoscopy confirmed this and I was put on a strict gluten free diet.
I stopped being sick when I ate and started to put on weight. However, years of not eating and being extremely thin made the process of putting on weight very uncomfortable and I found myself once again not eating. I was once again referred for assessment and diagnosed with anorexia. The doctors believe that I had coeliac disease all along from the time I was told I had glandular fever at 16. It is thought that over ten years of gluten making me ill had subconsciously made me not eat. When I started to eat again and gain weight as there was no gluten to make me sick I felt fat even though I hated the lack of curves and looking like a child, my body did not feel as if it was my own. Three years ago even though I was not as underweight as I had been previously, I was told that if I carried on the way I was my muscles would deteriorate so badly that it was very possible I would have a heart attack and die. I found an amazing therapist who has taught me how to live my life again. She gave me the tools to retrain my mind how to deal with the anxiety and insecurities that have developed over so many years of being unwell and to help me come to terms with eating again and putting on weight.
As a result of having not been diagnosed with coeliac disease for so many years and my subsequent illness I have now got osteopenia (weak/low bone density), a weakened immune system and suffer with frequent kidney infections.
I used to get angry that I have been left this way due to the lack of a simple blood test, however anger and bitterness won’t do me any good therefore I now try to put all my efforts into staying as healthy as I can. Don’t get me wrong, I do sometimes get down and frustrated that I get tired easily and often don’t feel 100%, my eating habits will always take a great deal of effort to keep on track especially if I am unwell or feeling down. My natural response when I feel like this is not to eat or I crave and binge on carbs and sugary foods for energy and calories. However, my training in nutrition for the best part carries me through.
This is why I love the Clean and Lean Diet by James Duigan*. I obviously do not want to lose weight and to do this I just make sure that I am never hungry, but by following the plan and cutting out refined sugars and processed foods I have much more energy and am maintaining a healthy and lean weight. The recipes are packed full of nutrients and replenishing my body after so many years of neglect.
Bodyism and the Clean and Lean plan is not just about diet, it’s about feeling good about who you are, which is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. When I became ill I lost my dreams of a career as an athlete and most of my teens. I still have my insecurities and get paranoid about my body, but I am no longer considering surgery and am more comfortable in my own skin. I can no longer train as intensely as I could and there will be no Olympic medals, but through a balanced exercise programme, a gluten free and clean and lean diet and a new attitude based around mindfulness, I will hopefully gain a body that will carry me for many more years to come!
I will post some of my favourite gluten free recipes some of which have been adapted from the Clean and Lean plan, but most of them will be based on the same principles. Whether you are on a gluten free diet or not, I’m sure you will find them just as delicious 🙂
For more information on Coeliac Disease go to www.coeliac.org.uk
For more information on Bodyism and Clean and Lean Diet go to www.bodyism.com or follow @bodyism or @CleanandLean on twitter.