Alex Shimalla is no stranger to Celiac Disease. Having been diagnosed over a decade ago, she definitely has the Celiac lifestyle down. I was lucky enough to talk with her about her experiences. Read her story below!
Hi Alex! Thank you so much for talking with me today. Can you explain a little bit about yourself?
I’m a 21-year-old writer and photographer who absolutely loves blogging about gluten-free recipes and unique finds!
Awesome! When/how were you diagnosed with Celiac? How long did it take for you to get diagnosed?
It’s a long story, but basically we had family friends who found out that their entire family (husband, wife, and three children) had Celiac disease, and they recommended that we get tested as well. So my mom, my two younger siblings, and I soon found out that we also had Celiac. This all happened in 2003, when I was 8, so I’ve been gluten-free since then!
How did your friends/family react? Did they do anything to help support you (i.e. going gluten free)?
Having almost my entire family go gluten-free at the same time I did was incredibly helpful. My mom really took over, finding all the safe foods, redoing our kitchen/house to be gluten-free, and helping my siblings and I navigate this new world. It was especially difficult given that all the gluten-free companies and restaurants weren’t around and no one really knew what this “food allergy” was.
How did having Celiac affect your high school/college years?
Celiac didn’t affect my high school years as much as it did my time in college. I took my lunch to school every day, so high school was quite easy to manage. College was different. (I actually wrote an article for The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness about it!) During my college search, I had to keep an eye out for more gluten-free friendly universities, then talk to food services once I decided which school I was going to attend. Having lived with Celiac for so long, the process itself wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. It just took a lot of research!
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were diagnosed?
To be honest, the only thing I vividly remember about my diagnosis was the blood test and that our food was very different all of a sudden. I was incredibly blessed to have undergone such a life-altering situation with the support of my family. I guess I wish I could have told my middle/high school self that having food that looks a little different doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. You’re just eating the food that won’t make you sick.
When did you start your blog? What inspired you to start it?
I actually started blogging back in 2013 with Healthy Food for a Healthy You, which I then converted to Asking Alexandra just last fall. I’ve always been a writer at heart, and (as cliché as this is about to sound) I woke up one morning and decided to start a blog. This moment was just a week or two before I started college, so I thought it would be a cool idea to document my journey in college as a gluten-free person, and this created a space to share all of my family’s favorite recipes. Since then, the blog (now Asking Alexandra) has morphed into a venue for my writing, photography, and of course, gluten-free favorites.
What advice/tips do you have for teens with Celiac?
It’s not the end of the world. It’s definitely going to be difficult at the beginning, but trust me, you’re so much luckier to be going through this diagnosis now. Everything you crave now has a gluten-free alternative! The benefit of finally being healthy far outweighs whatever other people might think of your new lifestyle.