Sho Takahashi

Life As a Gluten-Free College Student: Valerie Kraft Q&A

Hi! My name is Valerie and I’m a college student with Celiac disease. I just finished my freshman year at Vanderbilt University and I would love to answer any of your questions about using my Nima in college or as a teenager!

Below are questions received through Nima’s Facebook and Instagram pages:

What was your hardest challenge as a teenager in high school? What would you have done different if you had the opportunity! – Julie

Hi Julie! I think my hardest challenge was the combination of having to adjust to the gluten-free diet and my new lifestyle. I was diagnosed in the fall of my junior year, so I had to adapt to an entirely new lifestyle on top of then having to explain to my friends and community about my new dietary restrictions. Socially, it was a bit of a challenge as well – many people didn’t understand that I couldn’t just eat gluten and I was often lumped in with fad dieters. Sometimes there was food at school that was “gluten-free” and people would get mad or offended when I didn’t eat it, especially because other students who were voluntarily gluten-free would. I honestly don’t think I would have done anything differently – high school can be especially tough when managing a gluten-free diet due to all the misinformation, but I know I did my part to adapt and help explain to others my situation.

Did your college provide gluten-free food for you? – Tricia

Are there a lot of gluten-free options in the cafeterias and dining halls? – Annie-Marie

What does your college offer for gluten-free dining, what do other colleges offer (are there resources out there that list colleges with good gluten free options)? Also, how do you adapt socially with being gluten-free – any tips? -Sara

Hello Tricia, Annie-Marie, and Sara! I’m very lucky that Vanderbilt has such a wonderful allergy program – it’s a big part of why I chose to go there! For those on the allergy program, we have access to an online portal where we can order our meals up to a week in advance. We select the location we’ll be dining at (we can eat at any of the three major dining halls and will soon be able to eat at a fourth opening in August), the pickup time, and what we would like to eat. When it comes time to pick up our meals, they are covered in plastic wrap and labeled with our names. The allergy chefs are absolutely wonderful and work with us to cook some of our favorite meals, sometimes when they’re not even offered on the menu. Additionally, we have allergy coolers that have assorted allergen-free breads, desserts, and individual condiment packs.

Gluten-Free College Student - GF food items from Vanderbilt
Some of the gluten-free college food items from the Vanderbilt dining halls.

Unfortunately though, not all schools are this Celiac-savvy. I know I struggled during my college search to find universities that would provide Celiac-safe meals – most just offered to let me out of the meal plan. That being said, I think schools are starting to turn that corner. Universities like Cornell and Kent State have 100% gluten free dining halls, and I hope that others follow suit soon. I personally think that the best way to get a sense of what universities are accommodating and which ones aren’t is to visit them and personally meet with someone from the dining team. While that isn’t always a possibility, it was very helpful for me to see exactly how the kitchen was laid out. For example, I spoke with a dietitian from one university who told me they had a gluten-free station completely separate from the rest of the food. When I visited, I noticed that the GF station wasn’t exactly separate – it was right next to the dessert station, and I saw one student grab the tongs from the GF station to grab a cookie. It’s things like this that you can’t know from a phone call or from a resource list. During these trips, I was able to observe their processes of preparing gluten-free meals, and these visits revealed that many universities fell short of their promises.

From a social standpoint, it was a bit tricky, but I have a wonderful group of friends that I’ve met this year who have been incredible about my dietary needs. Vanderbilt has a meeting before school starts for all of the allergy students, and I actually met one of my best friends there! She has other food allergies, not Celiac, but she completely understands the lifestyle that I have to live. My other friends don’t have dietary restrictions, but they have learned and taken the time to know what I can and can’t eat. They are sure to not bring gluten into my dorm, they always double check labels when they bring me any food, and they always let me choose the restaurant. Of course, not everyone has been as kind as they have been – there are still plenty of people who assume I’m on a fad diet – but the good people outweigh the bad by far.

Gluten-Free College Student - Valerie and her friends
My friend’s and I celebrating the end of our 1st year with a GF and Top 8 Allergy-Free cake from The Kind Cake in Nashville

There have been few times at my college where I have tested supposedly gluten-free items with my Nima that have come back with gluten found results. I want to address this with the dining hall staff but I am not quite sure how to go about it…any recommendations? – Emily

Hi Emily! I would start by contacting your school’s dietitian and either a kitchen manager or chef. If possible, I would set up a meeting with them and tell them about the Nima Sensor and explain cross contamination as well. You could also try talking to a chef immediately after you get a gluten found result and ask them to walk you through how your meal was prepared. You can also ask to double-check the ingredient list to see if there is any hidden gluten. I hope this helps and you start seeing more “smiley faces” soon!

How often do you use your Nima? Does it get really expensive buying capsules? – Rachel

Hi Rachel! Yes and no – I have multiple autoimmune disorders, so when I get glutened, all of them flare and I get really sick. Paying for the capsules is a lot less expensive than my medical bills for when I actually get glutened, which Nima helps prevent. Plus, I find it hard to put a price on my safety. It’s definitely an investment, but it’s worth it to me, especially since I use my Nima more often than most because I eat all of my meals in a dining hall.

Gluten-Free College Student - Nima and a gluten-free meal
At our last club meeting, the organization ordered a separate gluten-free meal so I can eat together with the group.

I’m still on the fence about Nima. How practical is it at a restaurant when you go out with friends? You order, wait 20 minutes for your food and it tests positive – then what? You re-order something else and wait and test again? Do you pay for the food that Nima doesn’t deem GF? Is it practical for someone eating dorm/ cafeteria food/ out with friends or more of a hassle? – KY

Hello KY! To me, waiting a few minutes after my food arrives while my Nima tests it is much more practical than eating it and potentially getting sick. I always make sure to do my research on restaurants before I dine there to minimize the chance of having a non-GF meal served to me, though I know that can only do so much. Personally, when I get a “gluten found” result at a restaurant, I ask to speak with the chef or the manager and explain what happened. I usually don’t bother to order anything else, and most times, the manager/chef will comp your meal. It can be frustrating for sure, but I would rather not eat anything than eat something that would have made me sick. As for eating at dining halls, I think it’s still just as practical. Even if you don’t have a long break to eat, the Nima tests pretty quickly, and again, I would rather wait the extra few minutes just to be sure. It hasn’t been a problem socially either – my friends know about my Nima and even will wait to eat their food until I get a smiley face. I definitely don’t see it as a hassle – I’d rather wait three minutes than be sick for three weeks!

To be honest I don’t trust Nima 100%, I’m always afraid of eating the food I test after it gives “ happy” in testing. I want an answer to make me more comfortable and not afraid of eating. – Sereen

Hi Sereen! I completely understand your anxiety. I know it can be hard to trust anything when eating gluten makes you so sick! For me, I use Nima to double check my own work. I never walk into a restaurant without already having checked reviews (either on FindMeGlutenFree or the Nima app) and speaking to a manager. I make sure that I set myself up for success, and then I use my Nima to reassure myself that my food truly is gluten-free. I trust my Nima’s result because I know I already put the work in to communicate my needs. I also trust the Nima because I haven’t gotten sick once since I started using it, so I know that when I’m eating dishes that Nima has deemed safe, they truly are.

I don’t understand the backlash against Nima and other sensors for gluten, do you? Why do you think even respected GF sites would recommend against using Nima and similar sensors? It makes no sense to me, even the reasons they give make no sense and assume people are too dumb to use it. Please address this issue because it’s cruel and divisive. – Angelica

Hi Angelica! I think it truly depends on how you use the Nima Sensor. The Nima is a tool, not the “end all be all.” It’s still up to you to make sure you’ve done your due diligence to ensure your safety, and the Nima merely double checks that. I think GlutenDude said it best in his article. It’s all up to how you use it and what your expectations are. For me, since I’m a college student, I’m eating at a “restaurant” (meaning that I’m not cooking my own meals) three meals a day, seven days a week. That’s exponentially more than the average Celiac, so I use my Nima to make sure that I keep myself healthy. Does that mean I’ll ever leave the allergy program just because I have a Nima Sensor? Absolutely not – I put myself in the best position to have safe meals, and the Nima works to verify that.

Hi! My husband and I are Vandy alums and we live in Brentwood. Our 11 year old daughter has celiac. We just got a Nima a few days ago. What restaurants in the Nashville area have you had problems with and what restaurants have done a good job. Our daughter seems to have delayed reactions so we never know what places were problems so we have stopped restaurant food totally for her now until we feel more confident about safety. We hope Nima helps with this. We also just bought Glutenostics Gluten Detective stool tests to see if they help keep her safe too. – Bonnie

Hi Bonnie! I recently put together a city guide for Nashville! Additionally, on the Nima App you can find other restaurants that have been Nima tested. I personally have never had a “gluten found” at a restaurant in Nashville. I think the Nima will be really helpful for your daughter – having the confirmation that her dish is gluten-free should hopefully ease some of that fear!

 
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