By Aanya Gupta
Hi! My name is Aanya. I am a 14-year-old from the suburbs of Chicago. I am a food blogger, ‘End Allergies Together’ Ambassador, and an Alan App ambassador.
Besides my family, the two things I love the most are food and basketball.
I am a huge foodie and love everything to do with food! I’m at my happiest when I’m trying new foods and new restaurants! Basketball is also a really big part of my life; I love every part of the sport. It’s hard to imagine a time in my life without food and basketball, but there was a point in my life when I thought I had lost both.
Here’s The Story
In December 2018, I started choking on solid foods. I had severe stomach aches, symptoms that would continue to persist for many months to come. By March 2019, the issues with swallowing solid food became so bad that I was on an almost entirely liquid diet, drinking only soup, water, and smoothies. The only solid food I ate was whole-wheat bread. Oh how, I would regret that choice!
In a matter of months, I had lost almost 15 pounds. My doctor made the decision that in order to prevent any more weight loss, I was to halt all physical activity – including basketball.
After a long period of cluelessness, an endoscopy finally revealed damaged villi (fingerlike structures in the small intestine). This is a clear sign of celiac disease. Bloodwork confirmed this observation and in May 2019, I started my gluten-free journey.
No one else in my family had celiac disease, so the diagnosis was both scary and confusing at first. I was not expecting such a big lifestyle change and I wasn’t prepared. Being a huge foodie, to suddenly have a long list of foods that I was no longer able to safely eat broke my heart.
Creating new recipes
My mother saw how upset I was about my limited food options and gave me the idea of cooking the foods I craved at home. With her help, I was able to create dozens of delicious new recipes, replicating those I was no longer able to eat.
I found so much success in this that my friends, who aren’t gluten free, found some of my creations and gluten-free products better than the ones with gluten!
Once a friend commented after trying a piece of my gluten-free pizza, “This doesn’t taste gluten free, it’s so good!” This is a commonly held misconception; so many people think that gluten-free foods can’t taste good and that gluten-free diets are very restrictive! But that’s far from the truth!
By August 2019, I completely recovered from the pre-diagnosis events, the gluten-free diet truly does work magic for celiacs! Soon, I was healthy enough to return back to basketball, the sport I love.
But I didn’t stop there…
My experiences with cooking and celiac inspired me to create the Instagram account, @living_the_gf_vibes_, to share my recipes and favorite safe products with others in the community. My continued goal for this account is to be able to spread positivity, relatability, and share new recipes with those with dietary restrictions!
On this account, I share all types of recipes ranging from lunch/dinner ideas to snack ideas and even desserts! However, I also try to use my account to raise food allergy and celiac awareness.
I held my first food allergy awareness campaign last summer when I hosted a virtual 5K to raise money for End Allergies Together (EAT), a nonprofit food allergy charity that helped fund leading researchers to find cures and treatments for allergies. (EAT has since disbanded, but you can still access their website for resources.)
My campaign started in June when I reached out to End Allergies Together and joined their teen ambassador program. The manager of the teen ambassador program told me about how EAT helped fund leading research for food allergy cures and how as an ambassador I had the ability to host a fundraiser with their help.
Loving basketball and staying active as a whole, I came up with the idea of doing a virtual run. With EAT’s help, we set up an official hashtag and made a website to receive donations and share run experiences! I gained leadership skills by reaching out to friends and family to ask if they’d like to participate, giving flyers out to neighbors, and holding Instagram Lives spreading the news about the run. EAT also helped spread the news to the food allergy community.
The run ended up being a huge success! Globally, participants of all ages- young children, teenagers, adults, grandparents, all joined in to run for a great cause! With so many generous contributions, we were able to raise $1,200 for food allergy research!
I love sharing this story because this experience helped me grow as a person and food allergy/celiac advocate. Through the run, I was able to digitally connect with so many people like me and learn about their experiences with celiac and food allergies as well! I found a feeling of relatability and comfort in talking with these people, and I hope that others felt the same way when speaking with me. Most importantly, the run helped me for the first time see the positives in my diagnoses.
The positives of celiac and food allergies
Seeing the positive in my food allergies and celiac was a very hard thing for me to do. At first, I only saw what I felt I was missing out on, but there are so many good things that I had been overlooking! Firstly, food allergy/celiac experiences have helped me become a healthier person as a whole! Reading labels for allergens has led me to be more aware of what exactly I’m eating and has helped me find an appreciation for minimally processed meals. I also credit these experiences in helping me make the decision to learn cooking, a valuable life skill as well! But that’s not all! My diagnosis has helped me connect with a whole community of people and friends who have similar experiences as me and will always be there to support me!
For this reason, to all those who have recently been diagnosed with celiac disease or food allergies, I strongly recommend getting involved! There are so many different ways you can connect with people just like you! I found success in making connections through social media and would definitely recommend doing that if it is something that interests you. You can also reach out to non-profits who have ambassador programs (like the Teen Advisory Board at FEI) and share your experiences either by word of mouth or creating a food allergy/celiac website. The different ways to connect your talents and hobbies with food allergies are endless!
When life gives you lemons, bake a gluten-free lemon cake! Or check out my recipe here for Gluten-Free, Vegan Macadamia Nut Brownies.
To see new recipes and follow Aanya’s journey, visit her Instagram page @living_the_gf_vibes_ and website at Living the GF Vibes.