Originally published by the Huffington Post. Who made a few minor changes before publication, including lengthening the title and adding a typo; this is my original version.
I am standing in Marks and Spencers, glaring at a chocolate éclair.
I have to admit, in the back of my brain, I know that the éclair hasn’t actually done anything wrong. Its only problem is that a month ago I would have bought it and eaten it, and now I can’t. And frankly, I resent that. What right do chocolate éclairs have to be unavailable to me? How dare my body acquire a non-éclair-eating disease? What are M&S thinking, selling éclairs with wheat flour in? Don’t they know that stuff is poisonous? Should I complain to someone?
I had been gluten free for about a week at this point, and the reality of it was starting to sink in.
At first I didn’t mind being diagnosed with coeliac disease. It was nice having a proper diagnosis rather than just unidentified stomach pains (like a UFO, but with fewer aliens, unless you’re very unlucky). People were sympathetic. And it’s a controllable disease; you don’t suffer from it, provided you can manage never to eat gluten again. Any of it. Ever.
So gluten and I were through, like a partner you think is tasty and delicious, but then it turns out they were secretly poisoning you all along. It’s not literally a case of never eating bread, cereal, pasta, pizza, cakes or pastry again, because you can get gluten-free equivalents of all of those. But you can’t walk into most shops and get them. Those cupcake cafes around London have become forbidden fruit. (Though luckily, fruit itself is not forbidden. But if you’re craving the squishy fluffiness of a cupcake, apples just don’t satisfy. I suppose I could coat them in bright pink butter icing.)
But the thing I hadn’t quite realised is how wheat gets into everything. Like chips.
I had friends who were openly sceptical about this. Chips are potato, they pointed out, and potato is fine. But I’d joined the Coeliac Society and read up on this, and I knew that some chips were fine and some weren’t – for example if they’d been fried in the same fryer as onion rings. So now I have to be someone who goes up to the bar in a pub and says, “excuse me, are your chips gluten free?”
I hate the idea of being that person. In fact, I hate it so much that I haven’t actually done it yet, I’ve just eaten the chips and hoped.
But I’ll have to get over that hurdle, because if I eat gluten-contaminated things I will damage my intestines and increase my risk of getting various cancers, all of which seem to have terrifyingly high mortality rates. I will do a lot of things to avoid dying of bowel cancer, and if one of those things is going to have to be sounding like a fussy eater in public, then so be it. Picky wins over dead.
I do wonder how it’s going to be, never eating a Double Decker again, or a bowl of Ricicles, or a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. (For those who are worrying about my appalling diet, don’t worry – it also features food that is not composed mainly of sugar.)
On the other hand, there are always Twirls. And as I discovered the other day, I live in a world where Tesco will sell me a gluten-free, raspberry-jam-doughnut-flavoured milkshake. Frankly, that’s a world I’m okay with.