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Coeliac Awareness Week: Chat with Charlotte from ilumi

Tell us a bit about your diagnosis

My diagnosis story is much like everyone else's. I went through a period in my late teens when I noticed that I started to feel bloated and uncomfortable when I ate certain foods. Initially I thought it was dairy that upset my stomach, so I made the relevant food swaps and still didn't feel much better. The fact it could be gluten never crossed my mind!

A couple of months after my 25th birthday I got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, so for what must have been the 10th time of going to the doctors to complain about stomach aches, headaches, unexplained sickness and increasing anxiety, I found a GP who took me seriously and did the relevant blood tests. A couple of days later he gave me a call to say I tested positive for the antibodies and that I needed to go back.
After a bit of back and forth, results confirmed that I was Coeliac. I found out on the 22nd December - Happy Christmas to me! Of course, it wasn’t all that bad after all. In the months following my diagnosis I began to explore the ways of managing my diet to exclude gluten.

Is there any advice you can share on how you handle symptoms? 

· This may be obvious, but just stop eating gluten. You hear lots of stories of people who 'can just eat gluten sometimes', or that 'just deal with it'. That may work for some people, but definitely not for me - I've around 50% bowel damage and no one can really tell you how long it will take to heal so don't mess with progress.

· It gets better - I promise! After a couple of weeks of not eating gluten, I started to feel better     and the symptoms vanished. You just have to be strong!

· Get your vitamins. My hair used to come out, I used to look pale and ill, and I've developed super spotty teenage skin (not a good look in your mid-twenties). I was prescribed vitamins, and quickly saw improvements!

· Don't be too hard on yourself. I need to make sure I take on this piece of advice more often. Sometimes you can be super strict with yourself, but still find you feel ill and you just can't work out why. The important thing is to not beat yourself up. If I let feeling ill get me down, it exacerbates my symptoms. Yes, sometimes I think not being able to eat gluten is rubbish, but it's totally fine (really!). Just take some time to look after yourself.

Any tips you’d like to share?

· Eating out. I get a little stressed when going out to eat for fear of being 'glutened', but the most important thing is just to let people know you can't eat gluten. Sometimes I feel a little embarrassed as I feel like waiting staff think I'm just being awkward, but I'd rather feel a little embarrassed for 2 seconds rather than deal with a night of belly ache and sickness any day of the week!

· Be aware of cross contamination. There's nothing worse than being super good and managing your Coeliac like an absolute pro, to then get sick from using a utensil that's been used to cook or prepare a gluten filled product. This sadly does mean separate toasters. I usually just cook my bread under the grill to avoid any cross contamination.

· Always read the packaging! Brands are always developing their products, tweaking ingredients, and sometimes gluten just slips in and bam - I'm back to being spotty, sleepy and bloated. Not good.

· If in doubt, bring snacks. I'm a nightmare when I'm hangry, so if I'm heading out for the day I'll make sure I bring some snacks with me. Supermarkets don’t always have a great free from section (although it's always improving), so it's worth bringing a couple of snacks that can help to take the edge off your hunger.

What are your go-to products that make your life just that little bit easier?

My favourite products, but in no particular order:

ilumi cheese sauce - it's great with veggies and nice with pasta.
Rice/corn cakes - perfect to snack on, great for topping with avocado, tomatoes or cheese andfairly low in calorie.
Marks & Spencer Extremely Chocolatey Millionaire's Caramel Crispy Mini Bites - these are maybe the nicest sweet treat ever!
Warburton's gluten free artisan bread - Incredibly delicious, and as close to 'real' bread as possible
Goodness Grains Bagels - maybe one of the nicest bagels I've eaten outside of New York City.
Gluten free Soy Sauce - I love cooking with fresh foods and I love throwing together a stirfry after the gym, so gluten free soy sauce is a store cupboard must!
Peanut butter and Nutella - I try not to enjoy these two together, but they can take porridge and toast from zero to hero. Peanut butter is also super good stirred into a stirfry to create a satay sauce.
Skinny lager - it’s gluten free, only 89 calories and really tasty. The perfect Friday night treat for me!

Learn more about Coeliac UK’s Awareness week here . Follow us on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter for more taste tests of delicious gluten free products in the future.