Becky O'Leary, mum to six-year-old coeliac Peggy and wife to lifelong Crohn's Disease sufferer, Chris shares her experience of juggling multiple auto-immune conditions and diets under one roof.
My mum's always been an excellent cook. Everyone knows you can expect a slice of homemade cake and a brew (made from a teapot) when you pop round to Rose’s. The problem with having a Mum with a Mary Berry-like reputation for cakes is that it made me lazy in the kitchen. Nothing I ever attempted to make was anywhere near as good as Mum’s, so I wrote myself off.
For our little family to have diverse dietary needs (a husband with Crohn’s Disease on a low-fibre diet and a six year old daughter, Peggy, with coeliac disease) has been a challenge for me. It’s forced me into breaking the ‘I’m a terrible cook’ mould and dive head-first in to the Free From world.
Chris has been living with Crohn’s since 1990, but Peggy’s diagnosis is much more recent, dating back only to September 2017. Peggy has adapted to the gluten-free diet in a way that makes us want to burst with pride, demonstrating hardiness, resilience and a flexible, mature approach, which leaves me wondering how we made such a marvellous little creature.
Chris, our Crohn’s Disease warrior, continually struggles with abdominal pain, taking a cocktail of drugs and cutting countless foods from his diet (rice, pasta, alcohol, many fruits and vegetables, cereals, too many spices and flavours to mention) but he does it with great humour and determination to not let this define him. If my daughter and husband can do that, I can learn to cook to make sure the memories we make always feature a gluten-free cake in the background.
On eating out
I can’t blame people for not inviting us round for dinner. The language that surrounds catering for dietary needs can be quite terrifying. Words like ‘cross contamination’, ‘unseen gut damage’, ‘poison’ and ‘anaphylactic shock’ all strike the fear of God into us, and make something simple like rustling up a spag Bol seem like a death-defying leap of faith!
So when Asda approached us about being involved with its inclusivity campaign, it was a no brainer – of course we would! To inform people of the ways we avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen, showcase our family favourite recipes, how to handle parties and school is a fantastic opportunity. We hope it’s a big step towards educating the nation on understanding dietary needs and intolerances, and to be brave enough to cater for those people in their lives with conditions like ours.
Dealing with diagnosis
Dealing with your child's diagnosis is not only upsetting, but also stressful. To begin with, my husband and I went through a period of self-blame; wondering whether anything we did caused her condition, which then became anger (why her?), and finally, sadness (I wish it was me not her). Now, we are relieved. Relief that the symptoms that had been causing her pain and distress have been identified so we can get on with making changes so she doesn't have to keep suffering.
If that is you – a parent of a child with a recent diagnosis like coeliac disease - my advice would be to;
Look for support
Tap into organisations such as Coeliac UK or groups set up through social media where people just like you are supporting each other.
Embrace the world of Free From cooking
For every new dish I cook for my family that's a hit, there have been 10 other dishes I’ve prepared which have been huge misses. Don’t let the fails get you down because before you know it, you’ll have a bank of recipes you can rely on whenever the time calls for one of your ‘go-to’ dishes. You can pass these 'hit' dishes on to family and friends who want to cook for you, relieving some of the burden they feel in the process. Some of our firm favourites can be found here at Asda Good Living; fish pie, spaghetti Bolognese and lemon cheesecake.
Spend time hanging out in the Free From aisle
Discovering a new Free From product that you know your child is going to love feels fantastic. When introducing something new to the family, try to engage everyone by asking for their opinions and feedback. Let other family and friends know which ones you all love - then they know which biscuits to buy when you’re calling round for a cuppa and a catch-up!
Go out for dinner
Prove to yourself that life can still go on and don’t become social hermits, like we did for the first six months! True - when eating at home you have total control and when eating out you hand over that control to someone else, but there are some great restaurants and cafés out there that have gained GF accreditation and are considered safe places to eat. Top tip: research menus online before heading out to be sure there’s something for you all to enjoy.
Check out our Inclusive Eating series here.