'I Gave up Gluten, Here's How It Changed My Body'

For most of my life, I have loved freshly buttered toast with Marmite. It stems from when I was sent to boarding school when I was 12. I didn't enjoy school, the food was disgusting and I wouldn't eat it. But every night, I would make myself toast and Marmite for supper. It reminded me of home, as my Dad always liked Marmite. I found it comforting, and continued to enjoy the snack into adulthood.

But everything changed when I went traveling at the age of 26. I spent 21 months in Asia and South America, eating the cheapest food you could buy—usually pizza, pasta and noodles. It was very heavy on the gluten.

When I returned home to London in 2001, I didn't feel right. Whenever I had bread, I felt bloated and uncomfortable. I was also conscious of the fact that I looked different—I thought I looked six months' pregnant.

Following the bloating, I would feel very, very tired—almost to the point where I could fall asleep immediately.

I didn't know what was wrong. I would be out for dinner with friends and then suddenly feel really tired. I'm a private person and I didn't want to be a party pooper, so I would suffer through it, even though I felt uncomfortable.

Katie Roberton in London
Katie Roberton in London. Roberton gave up gluten 20 years ago.

This went on for four or five months. I wanted to know why I didn't feel right in myself—I felt my body was telling me something for a reason. My parents recommended I see a good friend of theirs who was a dietitian. I was tested for coeliac disease, but the test came back negative.

The dietitian asked me to write a diary of everything I ate. I experimented with cutting out certain foods, but I still didn't know which ones were causing me problems. Then I did an allergy test, and my dietitian diagnosed me with a severe gluten intolerance.

Even though I had been fine with gluten my whole life, she thought I might have developed an intolerance to it as I consumed so much of it while traveling.

Giving up gluten

I found it hard to give up gluten. A lot of going out involves going to pizza or pasta places and I felt too embarrassed when I was with my friends to say, "Oh I can't eat that." I didn't want to be difficult. I missed a few parties because I didn't know what I wouldeat.

But giving up gluten has been worth it. I'm more comfortable now—both physically, because it was uncomfortable when I was bloated, and mentally. Giving up gluten has made me feel happier with my appearance—not being bloated makes you look and feel better. It has made me feel more positive.

Woman Holding Stomach and Smiling
Stock image of a woman smiling and holding her stomach. Katie Roberton feels happier in her body now she is no longer bloated from eating gluten. iStock / Getty Images Plus

I also have more energy to do the sports I enjoy. I cycle, I play tennis and I love wild swimming. When I'm careful with what I eat, everything is a lot easier.

That's not to say it has been an easy process. Even now, I feel anxious when friends ask me over because I think, should I say something about my gluten intolerance, or should I just eat what I can eat? I feel like I'm a nightmare dinner guest.

Adapting to a gluten-free life

Being gluten-free can be restrictive when you're out at a restaurant. I still feel awkward telling the waiter that I'm gluten intolerant, and there is still a risk that they'll accidentally add something with gluten to my food. I went out for dinner recently and told the restaurant I had a gluten intolerance. But as soon as I tucked into my meal, I knew it contained gluten because I was totally floored and felt like going to sleep on the spot.

There is a lot of food that you don't realize contains gluten, like soy sauce. I eat quite a lot of sushi because it's delicious, so now I carry gluten-free soy sauce in my handbag.

I find it much easier to cook for myself than go out for dinner. I've always enjoyed rice dishes, Thai food and anything spicy. I also enjoy eating meat with salad, or burgers in gluten-free buns. It wasn't easy finding nice gluten-free buns. The quality of gluten-free food is not great, and I feel it hasn't improved much in the last 20 years.

I have totally given up gluten now for over 20 years. I find it slightly frustrating that I can't just eat what I want. But no matter how much I love freshly buttered toast with Marmite, I know that feeling good in my body is more important.

Katie Roberton is a ceramics designer at Outlandish Creations.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Katie Russell.