Ever wonder what it is like to have a child with celiac disease? This week, we talk to Noa Harari, a nutritionist at UFIT and mother to two celiac children.
In this interview, she shares her journey from their initial diagnosis to now having gluten free be part of her lifestyle, tips she has for others, and so much more!
When did you find out about your children/ when did they get diagnosed?
I have three children – aged 11, 7, and 5. The first two were diagnosed when they were 6 and 3 respectively and the youngest is currently able to eat gluten.
Why did you decide to get them tested for celiac disease?
My eldest son started to experience stomach aches and began withdrawing in school (mood changes). At first, the laid back mum that I was, I simply didn’t think too much about it but after a while, he started having some mood changes and withdrawing from day to day activities as well. My mother advised me to get him tested for celiac disease – and we found out that he was. Ever since then, we have gotten my kids tested yearly – and given the genetic disposition, we found out that my second child was celiac as well.
What was the hardest/ were the hardest changes you had to make?
The hardest thing was accepting the diagnosis as something that would be a permanent situation in my life… it definitely took a few weeks. It was only after I got the biopsy results that I was finally able to accept the diagnosis and make the changes required.
The second hardest thing was having to let go of the spontaneity in life. Every time you go out of the house, you need to be incredibly planned and organised. For example, you need to know what food you are going to take with you or plan in advance where and what you are going to eat.
How do you handle lunches?
Thankfully, lunches are relatively hassle free. My youngest son goes to a school where gluten free options are available. My eldest son is responsible and has been educated for a long time so he has the luxury and freedom to purchase and prepare his own food. Obviously, we still have to make sure that they are getting the right kind of food so we send them for routine check ups to make sure that is the case.
Do you and others in the household follow a gluten free diet?
No. My husband and I do not eat much carbohydrates to begin with – so we naturally follow a more gluten free lifestyle (except when eating out). However, my youngest child and helper eat things like bread… we just make sure that there is no cross contamination by having two toasters, separate counters, etc.
How do you handle travel?
Travel is definitely an area that takes adjusting to. Often, a lot of research is done prior to the trip ranging from making sure the hotel is accommodating to researching the cafes and restaurants around the area. We also make sure to pack a bag full of gluten free food such as cereals, bread, and other snacks. When we are on the trip itself, I often try to find 1-2 restaurants (often small cafes) around the area… make friends with the owners and ask if they are willing to prepare foods on a separate counter etc. I also have an app downloaded on my phone which translates “gluten free” phrases and requests that I use in countries where I do not speak the native language.
How do you feel when there is a “fail” or when your children have been gluten-ed?
I try to remember it is part and parcel of life – we can’t be perfect! I don’t feel guilty as a parent because I know that I’ve tried my best – and as a mother, I can’t say “no” when they tell me they want a gluten free pizza! At the end of the day, though, I know that these “fails” are opportunities as well – because they need to learn for themselves as well… seeing that they will eventually grow up and have to take care of themselves too!
As a parent, it is very important how you explain and present celiac disease. Don’t get hysterical – don’t scare them. Don’t make them feel pathetic and victimised. Encourage them that they are forging a healthier lifestyle.
Do you think that it is easier living in Singapore compared to where you were?
Yes, it is definitely easier living in Singapore now compared to Israel six years ago. Part of this has to also do with the increase in the amount of products that can be found and increase in societal knowledge about gluten free living – now you can walk into most supermarkets and find substitutes to anything ranging from crackers to cake. Of course, these are not always the healthiest because other ingredients have to be put in in order to get the same taste… but it is definitely helpful to be able to have a gluten free pizza available for a child who has to attend a pizza party.
What is your favorite go-to gluten free recipe?
It would definitely be my birthday chocolate cake! It is made of premier high quality chocolate… and is loved by both gluten free and non gluten free eaters – in other words, it gets a thumbs up all around. It was actually the first gluten free dessert recipe I tried… and its stuck with me since
Another fantastic healthy and gluten free recipe I love is my Tahini muffins (see recipe). I make them with my children every week as they love it – it’s also healthy with a ton of calcium from the whole sesame butter inside.
What advice would you give to mothers who have just found out their child has celiac disease?
I would tell them not to panic – remember, your children catch onto your emotions quickly. By panicking, you are making it seem like an “end of world” situation which will only scare them more. It is very important how you present and explain celiac disease to your children – don’t make them feel pathetic and victimised. Rather, encourage and empower them – they are in control of making healthy changes to their lifestyle!
Second, I would tell them to take things step by step – take time to digest the new information and introduce the concept to your child a step at a time. For example, don’t try clearing out the entire kitchen all at once… introduce new dishes over time.
Sometimes, parents panic or worry that there won’t be anything to eat when they are on the go – and end up carrying a ton of sweets and snacks to compensate for that. By doing so, they actually aren’t doing the child any favours but just over loading the child with food void of nutrients (“empty calories”).
Last, I would tell them to seek support and help – there are many nutritionists and support groups that can give advice… you aren’t alone! I would also remind me them to be thankful and remember that this is just a situation – something that can be easily addressed by a change in diet as opposed to something that cannot be solved or needs a heavy reliance of things such as medication.
About the Author
Although she is actually half American, Nicole considers herself a true blue Singaporean as she has lived there her entire life. She recently graduated from University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Arts (specialising in languages/ life coaching/ religion). Good workouts and sunny days uplift her and she believes there is no such thing as too much Disney, salmon sashimi, or love.