By Jillian Rodriguez
I was seventeen and a junior in high school when the phone rang with test results from my doctor: Celiac Disease.
I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2007, over a decade ago, when there was little to no information on this unfamiliar, seemingly brand-new autoimmune disorder. Celiac Disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that is triggered by consuming the protein gluten, causing an autoimmune response in the body that attacks the small intestine.
I was diagnosed years before the term ‘gluten free’ would reach the public consciousness, which meant my family and I were largely on our own when it came to researching the diet and explaining it to my teachers, friends, and family — to which I should pause and say a big thank you to my mother, who was (and still is!) nothing short of a Celiac superhero.
As it often goes with physical and mental health, you don’t realize how unhealthy you really were until you start feeling better. More than ten years later, I am significantly healthier than I was when my Celiac Disease was first diagnosed. But beyond being relieved from many of the symptoms and complications of Celiac Disease, managing my diet has also taught me so much about self-care and making good decisions about my health.
Here are a few key lessons I’ve learned about healthy living:
Be the expert of your own health. Over the years, I’ve had to learn to be unequivocally clear and assertive about my dietary restrictions, whether I’m dining out or at a family dinner. My health depends on it. You know what works for your health and what doesn’t — I’ve learned to explain my diet kindly and respectfully, and it’s more than fair to expect that same respect and kindness in return.
Make good decisions about what you eat. Not all gluten-free foods are created equal! For me, the days of living off of gluten-free equivalents like packaged macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets are over. These days, I opt for homemade, naturally gluten-free recipes and healthier on-the-go snacks I can trust. I almost never leave the house without a Gluten Free Bar (my favorite flavors are Coconut Cashew Crunch and Peanut Butter). No matter your dietary restrictions, healthy choices are always an option.
Perspective is everything. Practicing self-care means learning to love every aspect of yourself — pesky autoimmune disorders and dietary restrictions included! Have there been times when I let my Celiac Disease get me down? Of course. But I’ve learned to show myself some grace and focus on shifting my perspective. I have my health, I have control over my choices, and I have more healthy, gluten-free options than ever before. Life is good.
How are you practicing self-care and showing yourself some love this month? Share your thoughts in the comments below!