What’s Gluten Free Got to Do with Fire & Tea?

On the back of tennis star Serena Williams’ win at the Australian Open in Melbourne over the weekend, I have been drawn to her sister Venus’ personal win to conquer her auto-immune disease and return to professional, top-level tennis. As Venus stood at the podium to deliver her speech as the runner-up, her words brought a tear to my eye. Both Venus and Serena are well-known vegan athletes, yet it was Venus’ story that drew me in the most.

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You may have noticed in recent posts that I’ve been documenting my food and travel with a sprinkling of references to gluten free. ‘Gluten free’ has launched into the blogosphere in recent times and #glutenfree is achieving an explosive presence on digital platforms worldwide thanks to the gluten intolerance movement. My choice to report from a gluten free frame of writing, alongside my vegan mission, is based on medical merit. I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease mid-last year.

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According to Coeliac Australia, Coeliac Disease is a heredity auto-immune disease occurring when “the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage”. What I’ve come to learn is that Coeliac Disease is “one of Australia’s most commonly under-diagnosed conditions”, and affecting only 1 in 100 Australians. The common symptoms, as I’ve experienced, are fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes and severe dermatitis. The effects are debilitating, with the potential to bring daily life in general to a sudden halt. Family life, relationships, work and basic day-to-day functioning are all affected. There were times I couldn’t cook dinner, go out with friends for a meal, work at optimum level, check out bands, new restaurants and new destinations with my husband or even embark on meaningful travel in my own city. Blogging and writing stood still for a while there, too, as much as it pained me.

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Just as an example, my hike through the Three Capes Track in Tasmania early last year was my first multi-day hiking trip, a ‘bucket list item’ if you will. The trip was a physical struggle for which I had no explanation why at the time. , Despite extensive training, at the end of each hiking day my knees and feet were swollen and sore as I hobbled around camp and I went to bed unusually early each night so that I could keep my energy levels up for a day’s hiking by next morning. My pre-packed meals weren’t fulfilling and I was constantly hungry and losing weight. While I enjoyed the trip immensely, the excruciating pain dampened the experience for me internally; feelings I kept within myself. I hid it all, and celebrated my reaching the finish line with an exuberant, though fatigued and exhausted smile on my face as I hobbled down the last few steps into Fortescue Bay. I stayed positive though and I assured myself: ‘This is definitely not the finish line for me and hiking.’

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Since my diagnosis my food choices have whittled down dramatically, yet I have found options at every vegan establishment I have visited and reported on. The benefits heavily out-weight the new choices in food mapped out for me. I’ve built strength within myself physically and emotionally, I’ve gained control of my energy levels and the fatigue has been set to idle so that I can enjoy all the vegan food and travel I can welcome into my life. I’m now looking ahead to more trips, and my husband and I have even been invited on a tempting hike across the southern rim of my home-state, too. If we take that invitation up, it will definitely be completed without pain and fatigue, but with loads of energy fuelled by a backpack crammed with vegan, gluten free hiking foods! 

With correct diagnosis, proper management and the benefits of a vegan diet, I’ve rewarded myself with my personal gains; the gold after the personal battles I experienced. I’m well and truly back to doing everything I love – travelling, eating, writing and blogging in particular. I’ve just had to reframe the narrative a little. Change is always a good thing, one of the valuable lessons I’ve learned thanks to my travelling ambitions. I hope you continue to enjoy Fire & Tea as much as I enjoy writing and blogging it all for you.