Young, Wild, and Gluten Free and Fighting for Celiac Awareness
The first thing that went through Stephanie Wilkes’s head when she got the call that she had celiac disease was food. Now, she’s using custom t-shirts to help others like her.
She admits that when most people get their diagnosis, they probably think about finding doctors and treatment, but food wasn’t just her passion, it was a central part of her life.
Stephanie was working in the food and restaurant industry at the time and was contemplating going to culinary school, so she set out to find resources in the Washington, DC area for living with celiac disease. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much out there.
“I very quickly realized I was going to have to go out and explore and figure out what I could eat and what was good to eat. I wasn’t willing to drop my passion for food,” she says.
Stephanie launched EatGFree, an Instagram account that showcases her culinary adventures and gluten free finds. She features mouthwatering treats like gluten free doughnuts, cupcakes, sandwiches, and more. And because she lived most of her life eating gluten, Stephanie says she really and truly only shares things that in her opinion, you would not be able to tell are gluten free.
Thanks to better awareness about celiac disease and a growing community of people who eat gluten free, there’s been an uptick in better gluten free food options. Stephanie says some grocery chains like Wegmans do a great job with gluten free offerings, and there are also brands you can order from that will deliver gluten free foods, such as bread, right to your door. Luckily, her favorite cuisine, Mexican, has remained a favorite since she can rely on so many corn based and gluten free options. But awareness is still a challenge.
While Stephanie’s found her stride, living with celiac disease comes with its difficulties. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means that if the body detects gluten, it sends signals to start attacking itself–specifically the tissue in the small intestine. This leads to malabsorption of different vitamins. She finds that there’s a huge gap in knowledge of what celiac disease really is. Restaurant staff often give her a blank stare when talking about celiac, and even friends and family sometimes have a “have just a little” mentality when they don’t quite understand. But if a crumb of gluten even touches her food, she’ll become very ill.
Despite the frustrations, one of her favorite parts of her journey, and running EatGFree, has been helping to get the word out and connecting with others who face the same challenges.
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“It’s so, so rewarding. My favorite part of it is getting messages from people who say it’s been a huge help to them and also just connecting with people, sharing their experiences and commiserating on the difficulties of the lifestyle,” says Stephanie. “I can’t emphasize the true sense of community in this gluten free world. It’s been a comfort to me and has really made me feel like I’m not alone in moments when the people around me can’t always relate to what I’m going through.”
As for a cure, Stephanie doesn’t know if she’ll see it in her lifetime, but there is hope. “I have read that they are working on a vaccine which makes me hopeful. It would be wonderful.”
Since May is Celiac Awareness Month, it seemed like the perfect time to do something special for the cause. Stephanie came up with the fun t-shirt slogan Young, wild, and gluten free and is partnering with Custom Ink with custom t-shirt fundraiser to benefit the Celiac Disease Foundation. You can order a custom t-shirt bearing the exclusive design Custom Ink created for EatGFree’s fundraiser or donate money directly to the Celiac Disease Foundation right on the page. They’re only for sale during the month of May, so get yours today!