Leaving home to attend college is an exciting time! Students look forward to living on campus, meeting new friends and learning more about their chosen fields, yet things don’t always go smoothly at first. It takes time to adjust to a new environment, a new social scene and new ways of learning. But, young people who have celiac disease have an additional challenge — finding ways to nourish themselves safely. For some, even the smallest amount of gluten can make them very ill. So, here are a few tips to help someone with celiac stay healthy.
1. Reach out and make contact with others.
Make an appointment with the college nutritionist, if there is one. Ask if he or she can put you in touch with other students who have celiac disease. Someone who has been on campus can show you the ropes. Get to know the head chefs and the staff in the dining hall. If these folks can put a name to a face and understand your condition, they will likely be able to serve you better.
2. Scope out the scene.
Visit the dining hall during quiet times to understand the layout and where and how the gluten-free food will be served. This is also a better time to talk to the dining staff. When they are less busy and the surroundings are quieter, they will hopefully hear your concerns around gluten.
3. Create an emergency stash.
Keep gluten-free snacks and alternative meals in your room for those times when the meal options at the cafeteria are limited or not to your liking.
4. Educate your friends.
Talk with your community about your condition. Many people have no real understanding of celiac disease or a gluten-free lifestyle. When real friends learn that the consequences of eating even a crumb of wheat could be devastating to you, they will be empathetic, even protective of you. Also, if you’re eating with a group, let them know ahead of time that you might have to wait an extra 10 minutes for your “special” meal to be served.
5. Prepare for parties.
Most social events revolve around food. Be prepared and have a snack beforehand. Or pack a “to-go” bag. It’s no fun to stand around watching others eat while you’re hungry. Also, you don’t want to be tempted to eat something that you’re not sure is safe.
6. Trust your instincts.
Just because someone says a food is gluten-free does not mean it is. They are not the expert. You are. Some people are not aware of cross contamination or ingredients where gluten can hide.
7. Treat yourself.
If you can, plan a night out at a celiac-safe restaurant with friends or family who know you well and understand the challenges you are facing. The transition to on-campus living can be hard without having to deal with unique food needs. So, you deserve to enjoy a gluten-free meal where your guard doesn’t have to be up, and you are surrounded by those who love and support you.