James Madison senior Liz Wall was told that freshman year of college would be the beginning of a 4-year rollercoaster, a trial and error period of adjusting to life on her own. But no one told her how to adjust to living the college life with celiac’s disease.
“When I first found out I had celiac’s, it was literally the worst two months of my life,” said Liz Wall.
With being a division one lacrosse player at Davidson College, her athletic stature was maintained by eating bread and carbs to refuel after a long practice. After months of unexplained stomach pains she had thought were stress induced, her doctor diagnosed her as gluten-intolerant, causing her to essentially give up all her favorite foods.
“All I ate was cereal, chicken nuggets, and pasta. Even the tiny bit of breading on chicken can be upsetting so now I stick to mainly salads and rice chex,” said Wall.
Beyond having to forfeit her favorite foods, Wall had to adjust to the costs of living a gluten-free life. Having to buy products with a gluten free label were harder to find, and fresher foods were more expensive then what Wall was used to buying.
Upon transferring to James Madison in the fall of her sophomore year, her gluten-free obstacles were made that much easier due to the availability of eating gluten free on campus.
“I was definitely pleased. The main dining hall’s D-hall and E-hall have their own gluten free stations with something new everyday,” said Wall.
Even when rushed between classes, Wall finds it easy to grab a gluten-free wrap from Market One, or order a gluten free pizza from Dukes to share with her roommates.
“It’s our obligation to incorporate options in the meal plan that fits into the diet these students have to follow due to their medical need,” said Michele Cavoto, James Madison’s licensed campus nutritionist.
On a daily basis she meets with a number of students, who like Wall, cannot physically process the wheat gluten. Her goal is to educate those students on menu’s, recipes, and product labels so they can find alternatives for the foods they love. For Cavoto, its about showing the students that they don’t have to restrict themselves to just one line on campus as long as they know what options there are.
And that’s where Dwight Campbell, director of D-Hall, comes in. Campbell has instituted the gluten free sections at both E-hall and D-hall as of last year.
After students are referred to him by Cavoto, he sits down with each student on the special gluten free diet to get a feel for what foods they like to see if he can order a gluten free alternative. Campbell works closely with and trains each chef at the station in order to follow strict preparation guideline
“We’ve built a program based on trust. Many of the students have never eaten on the diet outside of their home and their parents rely on us to make this learning experience that much easier,” said Campbell.
Matt Clancey, head chef at D-hall, makes it his main goal to ease students into the life-style adjustment and give the students a sense of comfort. Clancey said that for students who are so used to eating something their whole life and then having it taken away can cause more stress in an already stressful environment,
So Matt designs the programs menu according to the requests. Clancey in particular can remember one student who was in love with pancakes. Clancey personally went out and bought a bag of gluten-free pancake mix, and each day made the student pancakes for breakfast at D-hall.
“It may have been extra work but it’s such a big change we want to make them happy,” said Clancey.
Mari Kent, a junior at James Madison University, developed a gluten-sensitivity this past summer. What she thought meant only avoiding bread was actually a way more complicated diet.
“Eating on campus has made it a lot better then I expected,” said Kent, who goes to the on campus grocery store Mr. Chips for her breakfast cereals and snacks, and then visits the dining hall for variety she needed to make her change to gluten-free as easy as possible.
Having a meal plan allows Kent to try new things, with no added costs. Her advice to those beginning their gluten-free diet on campus is to look at it as an opportunity to adapt and find what you like and don’t like.
Wall stated that she too has taken steps to trying new things, but it is still hard to give up everything.
“Last night I had pasta. It’s hard to give up all foods I love, but it’s a learning experience,” said Wall.