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The Struggles of Eating Gluten Free in College

There are a lot of things to worry about as a college student; homework, exams, social life, your laundry that’s been building up for three weeks, and then for some unfortunate souls like myself there’s the added worry of avoiding gluten in all aspects of your life. Now, there are two types of gluten free people in this world; gluten free by choice of mind and gluten free due to the fact that your body actually physically rejects it and sends you into a spiral of deep dark misery if ingested.

To those of you who choose this diet by choice, I commend you because all I really want in life is to eat one of those damn beautifully golden muffins from the dining hall…or a slice of DHOP would hit the spot too. When I was diagnosed with Celiacs in college I knew it was going to suck quite honestly, however I didn’t realize it would turn my life into a never ending cycle of questioning the involvement of gluten in every activity I partake in. I could probably write a novel’s worth of problems I’ve encountered but here are just a few.

Trying to explain what gluten even is.

Ahhhh. This spiel is always a fun one. I could probably recite this brief overview “what gluten is and where you find it” in my sleep at this rate I’ve done it so many times. I’ll admit it’s not the easiest concept to grasp, gluten is not something most people think about on a daily basis or even know exists, so the conversation usually just ends with a confused nod and half smile as they falsely claim to know what I’m talking about.

Eating like rabbit all the time.

The UNH dining hall does make an effort to provide us GF students with some options, I mean hey we have one whole fridge full of pretty much just different forms of bread… how diverse. We also have fruits and vegetables as long as they aren’t cooked in some sort of gluten invading sauce. I often make an entire lap around the dinning hall multiple times a day full well knowing I’m probably just going to eat salad or soup, but hey a girl can dream and at least I’m getting my steps right?

Reading every label on everything, ever.

I didn’t realize how many things contained gluten until I became forced to read every label of everything that goes into my body EVER…like, I’m serious- even my toothpaste. It’s a good thing I have decent vision because if you haven’t noticed nutrition labels have probably the finest print that is still actually legible. Grocery shopping now feels a lot more like a trip to the library than trying to buy food.

My late-night snacks are way less fun than yours.

Let me paint the scene for you: it’s late on a Friday night; my friends have decided to order pizza…you can probably find me looking sad and close to tears. This has got to be one of the worst things about being a member of the GF Squad. Watching a room full of people eat pizza after coming home from a late night out and not being able to partake in this quintessential college pastime never ceases to hit me in the feels…I’ll just eat a rice cake or something.

Gluten can sometimes sneak up on you.

This isn’t cute. You thought you were being safe… You took all the necessary precautions but somehow something terrible has happened. There is gluten inside you and there is nothing you can do about it. The following hours, possibly even days are going to be misery filled as a slew of symptoms take over. You win some, you lose some…. and when you accidently eat gluten you REALLY lose.

Gluten free or taste free?

I haven’t had a piece of non-toasted bread in ages and let me tell you it’s not because I’m obsessed with toast. Most gluten free bread is dryer than the Sahara Desert and pretty much falls apart and sucks unless toasted. They always say “don’t try to be something you’re not”…a lot of gluten free foods do this. Gluten free versions of things that usually contain gluten are always so crumbly…and dry…and sometimes leave me questioning if I really just ate cardboard.

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What I like to call the gluten “bend and snap”.

As someone who has not been gluten free my whole life I often find myself thoughtlessly reaching for something I used to once eat (and probably love, holla at Wheat Thins) only to sadly remember that this seemingly innocent snack is my own personal poison so I retract my hand, hang my head and walk away.

You think you can’t afford your snacks? Don’t even start with me.

All I’m saying is why does my gluten free sandwich, that is half the size of the regular sandwich on the plate next to mine, cost several dollars more? If you thought being broke in college was hard before having all of your snacks, or groceries if you don’t have a meal plan, cost what seems like an arm and a leg more…or maybe a colon would be a better comparison here.

The stigma that comes along with it.

Besides not being able to eat a lot of what used to be some of my favorite foods and having very limited options in some cases (many of them being tasteless and comparable to cardboard) there’s something else that comes along with being gluten free. There’s a response you often get when you say you can’t eat something offered to you because it has gluten in it and it’s usually pretty derogatory. The “gluten free fad” has given a bad name to those of us who medically can’t eat gluten. No, I’m not doing this because I want to loose weight or be a hipster, I literally can’t process this substance. Believe me I would do baaaaad things to eat some delicious gluten-containing foods. I know how annoying and inconvenient it might be for me to ask for a different version of something, or to always be asking for the ingredients in something, but before you judge me try to think about what it might be like to constantly live your life in fear and avoidance of something that’s in what seems to be, like- everything.

While a lot of my life does revolve around avoiding gluten, reading labels, making sad faces at food I really want to eat, and being disappointed in the lack gluten free options or versions of food, I try not to let being gluten free label me…although I do appreciate gluten free labels. I didn’t choose the gluten free life, the gluten free life chose me.

Do you know anyone who has a gluten allergy? Comment below or share this post with a friend!
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Katerina Bessey

Katerina is a writer for the UNH Chapter of Society19. She is currently studying Environmental Conservation and Sustainability. She is a member of the #glutenfreesquad.

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