During my junior year of high school, I began developing symptoms of celiac disease. I assumed that it was simply a result of the stress from AP courses, the SAT, and getting prepared to apply to college. My favorite meal was gnocchi — I was an avid pasta lover and could eat it every day. But my immune system was definitely not a fan of pasta, and more specifically, gluten. Feeling pain every time I consumed food led to other health and body issues.

My senior year, the pain was unbearable, and I was so confused. At this point, I had reverted to consuming meal replacement shakes in the hope that the pain would ease. I later found out these shakes contain gluten. After multiple visits with a gastroenterologist and several tests, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease last April. It was a relief. It wasn’t all in my head, and no, my body didn’t hate food. The main step in the healing process was falling in love with food again.

Various autoimmune disorders and chronic illnesses, such as Celiac disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), affect diet in several ways. Being undiagnosed and eating foods that your body cannot handle can lead to so much anxiety around eating. However, the transition from being diagnosed to finally starting to fall in love with food again is a feeling that can’t even be described.

Once I changed my diet to avoid gluten, I realized how valuable food was to my overall wellbeing. Within the period of a year, removing gluten and allowing myself to eat led to less brain fog, more energy to participate in activities with family and friends, fewer migraines and dizziness, healthy hair, and so much more. Over time, I had learned to love food again with gluten-free alternatives and expanding my picky palate. Although healing isn’t linear, my whole journey with an autoimmune disorder taught me how important it is to fuel our bodies and build a positive relationship with food.

TikTok and Instagram influencer Talia Siefker had dealt with gastrointestinal issues and didn’t want others to suffer alone like she had. So, she turned to social media to share her story of being diagnosed with Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMAS), a rare condition in which two arteries crush the opening to the small intestine that connects to the stomach, and her own journey with food. Growing up, Siefker’s mother would always bake her chocolate chip cookies, and it was her favorite dessert. Along with these cookies, Siefker loved going to the gym and lifting weights. It had eventually become an outlet for when she was upset.

At the beginning of college, Siefker dealt with gastrointestinal issues but thought that the symptoms were universal to everyone. After the spring semester of her freshman year, Siefker went home over the summer and was determined to discover the root of her pain. The suffering had reached a point where she was not able to eat any food at all, not even the chocolate chip cookies. Siefker also had to take a break from lifting at the gym. As small as this may seem, it was devastating to have to give up things that she loved when she was experiencing beginning symptoms of SMAS.

As the symptoms worsened, Siefker went to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL and begged for a CT scan. The results of the scan diagnosed her with SMAS, a disease that only affects less than 0.5% of the U.S. population and has a one in three mortality rate. Siefker was relieved when she had received a diagnosis because it reaffirmed her belief that something was wrong with her body and that it wasn’t in her head.

The first step to healing was weight gain. Siefker was admitted to the hospital and put on a feeding tube and infusions. She would tell herself, “If I could just eat one thing, I would be happy for the rest of my life.” While a healthy body’s intestine is supposed to be at an angle of 38 to 65 degrees, Siefker’s was six degrees. When she lost the weight as previously mentioned, she also lost a pad of fat around the organs. This led to the vascular compression. With physical therapy, a feeding tube, and the determination to be healthy again, she pushed herself to gain weight.

“I’m doing so much better now,” she said. “I will never throw up now, and I don’t really get nauseous anymore. I could not have imagined that I would be doing this much better. I am so grateful.” Through her healing process, Siefker was finally able to eat chocolate chip cookies again and enjoy meals without experiencing the painful symptoms. She was also able to lift weights again and build her social media platform around her diagnosis, learning to be grateful, and working out your body. Because of her condition’s rarity, Siefker wanted to become an influencer in order to educate. Her relationship with food through her healing process has become way more positive now that she has been able to maintain her ability to eat.