Sensitivity to gluten seemed to emerge out of nowhere. In the past 30 years, there has been a fivefold increase in the prevalence of this disease. But why?  What is gluten, anyway?  And how are people who are allergic to it handling the situation?

What’s “Gluten” All About?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye (ingredients in bread, cookies, pizza, pasta and much more). These foods can be toxic to someone with a gluten allergy.  Those that have gluten allergies suffer from something known as celiac disease. Foods containing gluten can cause stomach cramps, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and even acne in celiac patients. If people with celiac disease continue to eat gluten, they will have a higher chance of developing bowel cancer, intestinal lymphoma, malnutrition and lower bone density.

How Does This Affect Me?

The scary thing about celiac disease is that it can develop at any age. Even elderly people who have been eating gluten their whole lives have been diagnosed. One percent of the US population has been diagnosed with celiac, but 10% of the population has non-celiac gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance is not the same thing as celiac, but individuals with it also incorporate low gluten or gluten free diets.

If you do not suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, don’t follow a gluten-free diet to lose weight (Victoria Beckham and Gwyenth Paltrow tried this.  We highly advise against it!). Dietitian Tanya Thomas says you’ll end up gaining weight and develop low blood sugar which can cause headaches.

I met with Brynne Buell, blogger of A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Gluten-Free to talk about celiac disease and the hindrance of having a gluten allergy.  Learn all about what it’s like to live with celiac and how Brynne thrives as a gluten-free gal.

When were you diagnosed with Celiac?

Brynne: “I was diagnosed with Celiac in February, which was right at the end of my college swimming career. It was really hard to give up gluten while I was working out so much, but it definitely let me finish my swimming career better than I could have ever expected.”

What’s been the hardest part so far?

Brynne: “Honestly, the worst part about living a gluten-free life has nothing to do with the food I can’t eat. I hate the inconvenience that I cause to those around me. I hate having to say I can’t eat something when someone offers it to me or having to be the person everyone caters to when going out to eat or coming over for dinner. I don’t like being a victim and that is how I feel sometimes.”

What food do you miss the most?

Brynne: “I miss cookies, cakes and other baked things. I can still make them in a gluten-free version, but I can’t just pick them up at the store or eat them when I am at a friend’s house.”

You have recipes on your blog; what are the top 3 tastiest?

Brynne: “I have found tons of gluten-free recipes that are great. The two on my blog that I love the most are the oatmeal peanut butter cookies and the cookie cake. Another recipe that I love (that I haven’t posted) is quinoa salad. Quinoa is a great option for gluten-freers and it is delicious too. If you haven’t tried it, you need to immediately!”

How do you get through the tough days?

Brynne: “During tough days, I try to remind myself that there are people much worse off than me. At least I can make pretty much anything I want, I just have to go about it a different way and it may cost me a little more money. Also, my parents and fiancé do a really good job of keeping me on track and not teasing me with foods I can’t eat.”

What is a common food/beverage people don’t realize contains gluten?

Brynne: “I think the most common food that people don’t realize has gluten is seasonings and dressings. There are even some ketchups that have gluten. People know about bread, pasta and things like that, but you don’t think about the smaller things that can cause a huge problem for celiacs.”

Why did you decide to write a blog?

Brynne: “I decided to write a blog because when I was diagnosed with celiac, I wished that there was someone out there giving me advice from the very beginning. It is such a huge life change, and I had no idea where to start. I want to help others realize that eating gluten-free can be easy, you just need to know what you’re doing.”

What advice do you have for people who are just starting their gluten-free journey?

Brynne: “I have several pieces of advice for those who are starting a gluten-free journey: 1. Remember what the new diet is all about. It may not always be the most convenient option, but your health is the most important thing. When you realize the difference a gluten-free life makes on the way you feel day to day, there is no way you will want to turn back. Just stay focused. 2. Do not cheat. Every time you eat gluten, you start back at step one. It is an all or nothing lifestyle change and eating partly gluten-free is not exactly ideal. 3. Always keep some chocolate with you, so that when someone at the office or a party breaks out cookies or cake, you are prepared to stand your ground.”

Gluten allergies have been on the rise in the US so be sure to look out for the symptoms. And if you’ve already been diagnosed with celiac, check out Brynne’s blog for some recipes and advice. And remember—you’re not alone in this!