Surviving College with Celiac

How to Survive College with Celiac

Hi Everyone! I’m still driving across the country. I left Cheyenne, WY and am hopefully in Canada by now at the Stratford festival. Fortunately, one of my favorite gluten free bloggers, Casey from Casey the College Celiac, wrote my first GUEST POST to help all the new freshmen get ready for college. Be sure to check out her blog too! 

For most, college is the perfect mix of food, friends, and teenage fun. For celiacs, however, college can instead be a dangerous combination of food, fear and frustration.

I had no idea what to expect as a college celiac when I first walked into my dorm room last September. How could I when I was diagnosed only a few months prior? When I’d never been away from home for longer than a week? When I’d have to endure a year in college that even normal eaters describe as “challenging?”

Surviving College with CeliacNow that I’ve survived my first year, however, this celiac is ready to answer all the questions and give all the tips I couldn’t find about living gluten free in college. Consider this celiac summer school

First, use that keyboard for good and start researching your college. By the time I was diagnosed, I’d already committed to Point Loma Nazarene University. Terrified that I’d starve at my dream school, I immediately scoured the Internet for more info. My mom and I literally did the happy dance around our living room after discovering that PLNU’s cafeteria has a station free of the top 8 allergens (including gluten). I also learned the names of the dining hall manager and head chef – facts that I’ll describe the importance of later on.
Besides your actual college, though, you should also research the area around it as well. I first checked out the local grocery stores, settling on Fresh and Easy. Gluten free options? Check. Fruits and veggies? Double check. The cashier probably thought I had a pet monkey by the a mount of bananas I bought each week, but easy access to safe food is worth any weird looks. Widening your Internet search can also help you find celiac-friendly restaurants and other services that make eating (and college in general) a whole lot more enjoyable!

On the topic of buying food comes my second tip: embrace your inner squirrel and start burying those nuts! Or, in other words, be ready to stock up on gluten free goodies. When I initially left for college, I didn’t bring much food with me. That changed quickly! By the end of the year, every trip home meant lugging at least two bags of food back to college with me.

My favorite gluten free goodies to bring are portable snacks like Lara bars, trail mix, pretzels, veggies and fruit. My dorm shelves also overflowed with gluten free cereals for late-night snacking, various breakfast components like quinoa flakes [] and cinnamon raisin bread, and desserts like brownies or dark chocolate kisses. Some people’s desk are overrun by books. Food rules mine. Same, difference, right?

Depending on your arrangement with the cafeteria (which I’ll cover next), don’t forget to also bring items that can act like lunch or dinners if needed. When my cafeteria meal fell through or I felt too sick to trek to the caf, I lived off of microwaveable brown rice packets and Gluten Free Cafe’s Chicken Noodle soup. It wasn’t pizza like my friends ordered in, but it fit the bill for an easy gluten free meal.

Thirdly, work with your school officials to find the academic and dietary arrangements that work for you. Halfway through my first semester, I was hospitalized because of celiac complications and missed a week and a half of school. Because I had filed my celiac medical records at my school’s Disability Resource Center, however, a representative helped me contact all of my teachers and work out a plan to make up my missing assignments.

Surviving College with Celiac

At first I worried that my teachers would view “celiac” as an excuse, but sharing my health struggles actually made us closer. I even learned that one of them has celiac, too! Talk about a small world!

Communicating with school officials is especially important concerning your eating plan. I began eating like a “normal” student from the allergen free zone and salad bar. Because everyone is allowed access, however, often no safe food was left or it became cross contaminated. After multiple calls to the Disability Center and dining manager, my meals are now specially made in the back by the chefs. It isn’t a perfect system, but it keeps my meals safe and nutritious. Don’t be afraid to keep pushing until you work out an eating plan that is right for you.

Finally, what I believe to be the most important tip: don’t hide your celiac disease like your high school yearbook. Rock it instead! Because of the endless social activities revolving around food during Orientation, I didn’t have a choice about revealing my medical file. It was written all over my ice-cream-less, pizza-less hands. Did I want to share my diagnosis right after my name? Heck no! But the more open I was with celiac disease, the more casually people accepted it.

Surviving College with Celiac
Courtesy of

Embracing celiac as a part of my personality instead of a fault in my physiology slashed my stress. Midnight burrito run? I jump in the car and keep others company. Ice cream social? I bring my peanut butter-chocolate Lara bar. And when I had to attend an Awards Ceremony with pizza, I ran to the caf, smuggled out my gluten free prepared meal of fish and steamed veggies and ate it out of my lunch box.

Yes, people ask questions. Yes, it’s frustrating to be different. And yes, it’s okay to hate celiac for singling you out in college sometimes. But, as long as you’re confident and don’t throw their gluten-filled pizza in the trash, no one will give it a second thought.

And those who do – like the people who bring gluten free brownies for the club meeting or try out the new gluten free restaurant – may become your best friends. I know my strongest friendships started out that way.

Surviving College with Celiac

Celiac and college don’t seem to get along at first, but as a girl who has lived through a year of them both, I promise it’s doable. And if you have any more questions (or want to share your own college celiac stories) feel free to contact me via my blog. Until then, stay awesome, gluten free and happy!

2 thoughts on “How to Survive College with Celiac

  1. Casey, I love how the chefs make your meals in the back of the kitchen! That’s so cool! Props to you for embracing your celiac disease as well, even when it’s difficult. Great post!

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