• Elana Withnall

What it's like suffering a disease; most people regard as a ''stigma''

Updated: Jun 26, 2020



The truth (Told by Lani) about Coeliac disease. My Story.

Coeliac disease: ''a disease in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten. Leading to difficulty in digesting food.''

Wheat. Flour. Bread. Cakes. Biscuits. Pasta. Cereal. Chocolate. All no-go-zones.

Coeliac disease affects on average approximately 1 in 70 Australians

But approximately 80% are undiagnosed sufferers.

I wasn't diagnosed with Coeliac disease until I was fifteen. That's a long time for my body to be eating foods its actually allergic to. I was tired for no reason. I would have cramps after eating. I was constantly getting an upset stomach - especially on race day and always feeling bloated after a big meal . I knew Something was seriously wrong.

It occurred at the worst times: My favourite pre-race dinner of ''carb-loading'' a beautiful Italian dish; was actually ''poisoning my insides'' making me extremely unwell. Little did I know I was allergic to everything in that meal. The wheat, the flour, the pasta, the sauce, the cheese.

Gluten.

This process then involved a series of many illustrious appointments. For suspected food intolerances nowadays there is a simple blood test you can get from your GP to determine whether you are allergic or sensitive to certain food groups. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for me. The process first entailed appointments with a dietician to try ''canceling out'' food groups. This is called a FOD MAP. Which is a useful process of elimination. But very hard to stick to, as it doesn't leave you with much meal planning to work with. Especially if you are still eating the food groups that are making you unwell; without realizing.

I then met with a ''Gastroenterologist'' who was able to determine whether I was suitable for an investigation procedure to see what food groups where affecting my stomach lining and digestion processes. After a colposcopy and endoscope procedure, the doctor determined I was not only suffering Coeliac disease - but also lactose or dairy intolerance.

Now, I'm a person who's favourite food in the world is cheese. So this was a very sad day for Lani. Alas do to the process of slowly reintroducing small Amounts into my diet, a lactose intolerance is much less severe than a gluten intolerance.

So there is hope that I will be able to enjoy my cheese again, pain-free one day!

For now, living with Coeliac disease is sometimes a difficult lifestyle to manage.

Especially for an elite athlete. I am constantly needing to ensure I am getting enough energy from my food - without heavy carbohydrates containing gluten (anything with wheat or flour). I can't go out for 'normal' food dates, without having to ask for special considerations. Living on my own means I do all my own cooking. Which can sometimes be plain and repetitive. But we cope.


Coeliac sufferers don't take it lightly. I've only recently, been 'accidentally' fed a gluten meal at a restaurant while ensured by the waiter is was safe for me to eat. It was an imperative, pre-competition meal also. I spent the next four hours, feeling extremely bloated, with sharp stomach pains, nausea, vomiting & toilet issues. That ain't fun.

People suffering with food intolerances are not a stigma.

It's not a choice, or a new diet fad.

They would not eat that way by choice if they didn't have to.

Trust me - I've been craving a doughnut since '09 !

If you think you're suffering similar symptoms of a food intolerance, please visit: www.coeliac.org.au To learn more about how to be diagnosed or what food groups may be affecting you.

Until next time...

Keep Dreaming & Believing

Xx Lani

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