One of the greatest pleasures in life is food. If you even just try to think of your favorite food, whether it be a simple cheeseburger or a fancy-schmancy filet mignon, you will probably start to water at the mouth. When we’re hangry (hungry and angry), not being able to eat our favorite foods or even any semi-tasty foods will make us even more upset. I had to learn to deal with this seemingly horrendous problem when I was diagnosed with Celiac disease as a child.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages a person’s intestinal tract as a reaction to gluten — the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Symptoms can range from severe stomach cramps and nausea to a mild rash. For a 7-year-old, food is just starting to become something that can be thoroughly and truly enjoyed. A warm pizza at a Chuck E. Cheese or a crunchy taco from Taco Bell are both exquisite meals that can bring a smile to any child’s face. For a 7-year-old me, the whole world of cuisine was about to be thrown upside down.
When I was first diagnosed with Celiac disease, I — like any other kid at that age — had no idea what gluten was. I didn’t know what the diagnosis meant; I just wanted to stop having stomach pain. I soon realized that in order to stop my symptoms, which would get more severe as I aged, I had to give up some of my favorite foods — no more Big Macs, no more KFC, no more of the food I considered top tier. At the time, this was perhaps the biggest struggle I thought a young boy could endure. Instead of eating pizza and cookie cake at a friend’s birthday party, I was stuck bringing my own gluten-free ham sandwich in a paper bag. Whenever I had to bring my own food to events or parties, I would always feel inexplicably embarrassed about having my own special meal. I would never cry or throw a tantrum over not being able to eat a certain food, but I would feel disappointed and left out. However, my complaining would always stop when my symptoms would spike after accidentally eating gluten. For many years, I genuinely thought it was a huge sacrifice to not eat gluten.
It wasn’t just me that had to adapt, either. My whole family adapted to a gluten-free lifestyle. Eventually, supermarkets and restaurants began offering more gluten-free options. My family and I started to eat out more, I started to care less about my food being different, and my rising hunger meant I was more than happy to eat whatever was on my plate. Looking back, I realize how not-big-of-a-deal my Celiac disease was and is. Sure, it is always tough to be abruptly forced to change one’s diet and diagnosed with a disorder, especially for a kid, but I really didn’t appreciate what I had. Luckily for me, most of the dishes my family eats from my mother’s Peruvian heritage are naturally gluten-free, so many of my favorite foods weren’t affected. I was also extremely fortunate to have siblings who were more than willing to change their diet for my sake without a second thought. I realized that even the gluten-free food I considered less tasty would probably be gladly eaten by someone less fortunate than me.
What seemed to be a huge sacrifice for me at the time now seems little more than an occasionally annoying hindrance. It is still sometimes a hassle finding a good restaurant my friends and I can eat at or having a waiter in a restaurant think I asked for a gluten-free menu because I’m a hipster, but, in the end, these inconveniences don’t really matter. I’m grateful for these challenges because I was able to gain a new perspective and appreciate the little things in life.