Penne vodka pizza right out of the oven used to be my weakness. Cheese toppled over the hardened crust leaving sweet grease staining the plate underneath. This was my favorite along with any cake that I could find paired with five long pumps of chocolate syrup in a tall glass of creamy milk.

pizza, sauce, BBQ, chicken, bbqpizza, onions, spinach
Lauren Kruchten

A few months ago I was told by my doctor that I would need to eat strictly gluten and dairy-free meals for an indefinite amount of time, possibly the rest of my life. This change in diet was caused by colitis, an inflammatory disease that decided to make a home in my body.

Rather than worry about how this disease would change my life, my focus was on the list of foods that I was no longer able to have. As a true foodie, this list frightened me more than the piles of pills I would need to take daily, the various tests ordered by doctors or the pain that I endured.

Would I ever be able to eat normal foods again? What would I order when I went out to restaurants? How am I supposed to go back to college with all of these restrictions? 

The beginning of this new normal started with a series of trial and error. Buying different brands of ice cream, milk, cheese, breads, cakes and anything else that I could potentially want to eat in the present or future. I mean, you don’t have to ask me twice to eat anything and everything I could get my hands on. Eating is my favorite pastime, so naturally this excuse to buy five different types of pasta was the least of my concerns.

Grocery, supermarket, Trader Joe's, Market, shopping cart, shopping
Caroline Ingalls

But the hard part was actually finding things I liked enough to keep eating or even to find foods that I was able to have in the dining halls or at restaurants. I hated being that person who was the waiter’s worst nightmare, constantly asking for the ingredients of dishes off of the menu.

If it was gluten-free it wouldn’t necessarily be dairy-free.

If it was vegan, it could still contain gluten. Finding foods to meet both requirements took time that often lead to frustration. But, it wasn’t impossible.

Adjustments may take a while, but when you get there, the final destination isn’t so bad. I learned to look at the menu before going out to eat. I learned the brands that were “Jenna friendly.” And I learned how to still love food when so much of it was limited to me.

Now, my favorite pizza is Amy’s with spinach and vegan cheese that browns when its ready to be scoffed down; a bakery a few towns over makes me a chocolate cake that still has the rich flavor that I crave… well, always; Silk almond milk is bought by the gallons to sweeten my tea.

Jenna Pizzi

Some people choose to live free of gluten and dairy, but for me, it was either living in calm acceptance or painful disapproval. I chose the one with the least pain.

The only hurt I feel now is the judgments made by others when they hear about my new lifestyle. I live with the constant mottos of “Oh, it’s not that bad” or “Wow this is actually good.” These products are not very different from the normal. But change often scares people, even if it means swapping out a single ingredient. 

Cookies are still cookies. Chicken cutlets are still chicken cutlets. The words “gluten-free” and “dairy-free” tend to turn people away, but food is still food. There’s nothing to be scared about.

Living gluten and dairy-free means learning to change oneself for the better – learning to realize that being different isn’t always so bad. In the end, you need to do what is best for you, even if it makes you stand out a little bit more.