Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Math lesson: Health > "Fitting in"

"Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got."
~Janis Joplin

College and peer pressure go hand in hand. In most cases it's the first time you've lived away from your parents. You don't have them telling you what to do all of the time nor do you have to check with them before you go somewhere or do something. This freedom is great, but it's easy to make the wrong choices without the watchful eyes of your parental units staring down on you 24/7. As someone with celiac or gluten sensitivity, it's easier to fall into a downward spiral of bad choices. It only takes one little slip to put your health at risk.

If you think I'm exaggerating, stop and think about the stereotypical college life, living off of pizza and ramen and easy access to beer and other alcohol (most of which is NOT gluten free). This stereotype, although cliché, is pretty accurate. You are put into a lot of situations where you will feel pressured to do what everyone else is doing, whether it be eat a slice of pizza, or drink a beer. When these situations present themselves, you have to ask yourself "is it really worth getting sick?" The answer to this is no. 

Having food sensitivities is a big responsibility and it takes a lot of will power. If you find yourself in these types of situations a lot, it might be time to reconsider who you hang out with, or reiterate to those people how important it is that you not consume gluten in any form. I have been lucky to have great friends who look out for me and never make a big deal out of it when I can't eat something. However, I have seen other "gluten free" students making poor choices, which saddens me. 

Remember that every time you "cheat" on your gluten free diet, you ruin a lot of the progress you have made in your health. In most cases, it takes your body a long time to heal from the gluten in your system, and permanent damage can be done if you don't adhere to your diet. Is that pizza or alcohol really worth lifelong damage?

My advice is to accept that you're different and find ways to make yourself feel more included that don't put your health at risk. Make gf versions of foods you and your friends like to eat, when you go out to eat, make sure the restaurant has gf options, or eat ahead of time and just get something to drink. Lastly, if you choose to drink alcohol, be smart about it. Find out what types of alcohol are gf and don't overdo it. I personally avoid alcohol and still have just as much fun sober being the "designated caffeinated friend."

College should be enjoyable and one of the best experiences of your life. Being gluten free shouldn't get in the way of that nor should it add a lot more stress. Stand up for your health and have fun at the same time, it isn't hard once you take the first steps. You can do it!