This article was dictated by Ian to his mom, who helped organize the information for Latitudes readers.
If you’ve never heard of the gluten-free diet before you should probably get a quick lesson into why it is important to do for some people. Some people are born with a special gene that doesn’t allow them to digest gluten. So when they eat it they get sick. Some kids will throw up, some will get headaches, and all sorts of other types of problems. My problems are migraine headaches and throwing up.
When I was little I used to always get fed gluten, wheat, and corn because they were my favorite foods. I ate them every day. I used to always get lots and lots of problems. I started having problems with eye blinking that used to happen all the time. I couldn’t keep myself from doing it. I used to do a lot of shoulder lifting, lip-licking, and I was obsessed with washing my hands and changing my clothes all day long. Usually when it was happening to me I used to wonder why. I never understood how come I had these problems but my friends didn’t.
My mom told me that I could be allergic. She was going to take me to the doctor to find out. The doctor told us that I had allergies and that I should stay on a diet until my symptoms go away. I have been on a gluten-free diet for 3½ years. Now I am sick a lot less than I used to be. And I really like that. I haven’t had any gluten or wheat in such a long time, and I don’t have any desire for the taste of them at all.
So if you think you may be allergic like me, you should get tested by a doctor. If the doctor says you need to stay on a special diet, then do it without ever cheating. If you cheat you won’t get healthy. You will go back to being sick. This happens because if you have a gluten allergy your body cannot digest wheat at all. It will just irritate your body. Some kids have skin problems from wheat. Some get really bad stomach aches and bloated bellies. If you have these symptoms a lot of the time you need to get tested for food allergies and gluten intolerance.
When you find out that you need to be gluten-free, there are a lot of things you can do to make yourself feel more normal and to keep yourself safe. I think we can all agree that getting on a new diet can be pretty tough. So I’m going to give you a little advice on how to get used to eating the gluten-free way everywhere you go, including your home, school, and your friends’ houses. The first thing you need to know is that you are not alone. There are plenty of kids just like you, maybe even some at your school, who are already eating gluten-free.
So here are 10 easy tips for kids getting started on a gluten-free diet:
- Find a support group for gluten-free and join it. The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) is very helpful for non-celiac gluten intolerant families and they have chapters all over North America. I met a really cool kid my age with celiac disease just like me at a GIG meeting.
- Make a list of all your favorite foods and then sit down with your parents and search for recipes that are similar to the dishes you like to eat but that don’t have foods you are allergic to. This makes your new diet easier to handle. I like to eat gluten-free cookies and brownies. I like chocolate rice cakes, porridge, and pizza. I can get all of these foods gluten-free. There is even a new cheese that is dairy- free and soy- free for kids who need to stay away from those things too.
- You need to talk to the rest of your family and to your friends about your allergens just so that they know how to help you. This year my friend Lily asked her mom to make something safe for me to eat for her birthday. I really loved that. But my mom and my teacher also keep special foods for me to eat at school when the other kids get treats. One time all my classmates got tiny cup cakes but I got a huge gluten-free brownie. My teacher laughed and called it a monster brownie. My classmates though my treat was better than theirs. They were a little jealous that day, and I thought that was pretty cool.
- Cross-contamination is another thing to worry about. It is when your allergen gets mixed in with your safe food and causes you to have symptoms again. Have your own jars and bottles of stuff with your name on it. Don’t eat stuff that was made in a kitchen that makes foods with wheat or gluten, either. It is really hard to clean up the flour dust that settles on all your cooking equipment. Even your towels, your wooden cutting board, and rolling pin will have gluten in them too. Make sure everything stays clean.
- If a person you have never met before offers you something to eat always ask if it has wheat or gluten in it. If they don’t know then do not eat it.
- If you are ever shopping, make sure you always check the labels on everything you buy. Foods with gluten or wheat have to be labeled that way.
- Did you know that meats do not have to say that they contain gluten? So when you buy meat, make sure the package says gluten-free. Sometimes seasoning on meat has gluten in it. Never eat meat at the deli. You have to buy your lunch meat in packages that say they are gluten-free.
- Ask your mom or dad to give you healthy snacks for trips to your friends’ houses and even when you go on long car rides. Make sure you know the names of a few products that are safe for you to eat and the locations of safe restaurants too. A good place to check out is the Allergy-eats website.
- A lot of kids don’t realize that some crafts are dangerous when you have gluten intolerance, such as Play Doh and paper mache. Some kids will get itchy red palms when they play with these things. Your skin will soak up the gluten, so you have to be very careful and stay away from these. Luckily there are loads of gluten-free craft recipes, and even a couple of companies that make gluten-free play dough.
- Don’t use shampoos and soaps with gluten in them either or you may get very itchy skin. A lot of kids don’t realize that wheat is in a lot of these things.
See also the article A Mother’s Mission: A New Nonprofit and a Book on Celiac Disease in this issue, by Ian’s mother.