Gluten-Free Fun: My Celiac Story
Erin Smith began her gluten-free lifestyle website, Gluten-Free Fun, in 2007. This website shares recipes, product reviews, and personal experiences of living with celiac for more than thirty years. In 2011, she launched Gluten-Free Globetrotter during a trip in the Czech Republic. Gluten-Free Globetrotter shares travel tips, international celiac resources, itinerary planning assistance, and positive encouragement to those living with celiac disease who want to travel (gluten-free) across the globe. Erin is the lead organizer of the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup group, a social community that has grown to over 1,800 members in the eight years she has been organizing the group.
My gluten-free journey began more than three decades ago. I was a very sick toddler. My parents struggled to find answers from doctors as to why their child was not thriving and stopped growing. Test after test proved inconclusive until 1981 when a pediatric gastroenterologist diagnosed me with celiac disease. This was a very significant and life-changing diagnosis for me and my family.
When I was diagnosed, celiac disease was thought to be extremely rare. There was no internet, almost no support groups, and when we uttered the words “gluten-free” people looked at us like we had ten heads. As my family started to navigate the gluten-free waters, they soon realized they had a steep learning curve ahead of them.
My family was my advocate and support system throughout my childhood. We knew no one else with celiac disease and it was up to us to advocate for my health. My mother read food labels religiously and mail ordered for my gluten-free food from a company across the country. My grandmother in Canada discovered a local support group and started shipping me gluten-free food after each meeting. Eventually, we discovered a local chapter of a national celiac support group. It seemed everyone in the group was at least twenty years older than me, but at least I was no longer alone.
I slowly started to meet more people with celiac disease and notice more gluten-free products on the shelves. It was then that I realized I had a lot to contribute to the celiac community. With a lifetime of experience, I started sharing my story and soon became a strong advocate for the celiac disease community.
In 2006, I became the lead organizer of the New York City Celiac Meetup Group. This group allowed those of us living with celiac to connect on a social level. I never wanted this group to be a depressing support group setting so I focused on organizing fun, social activities. I worked directly with restaurants in Manhattan to ensure they could feed us gluten-free food, set up roundtable discussions, and even held happy hours with gluten-free beer. Now, the NYC Celiac Meetup Group has grown to more than 1,800 members and we’ve hosted more than 300 Meetup events!
Around the same time I joined the Meetup group, I started writing my website Gluten-Free Fun. I had a lot of gluten-free experience to share and wanted a way to advocate on a larger scale. As someone who grew up living with celiac, I knew I had a very unique position in the celiac community. Then, in 2011, I launched Gluten-Free Globetrotter while on a trip to the Czech Republic. This website married my gluten-free advocacy and my passion for travel. I hoped to use this platform to guide and encourage those with celiac disease to travel the world while remaining gluten-free. Today, I love connecting with people from around the world through my website.
One of the biggest changes I have seen over my thirty-three years of being gluten-free is the major increase of gluten-free options in stores. As a kid, it was rare to find pre-packaged snacks that were gluten-free in regular stores. My mother was always packing snack packs that she made for me at home or we had to find a specialty health-food store that carried gluten-free products. Now, with convenient and readily available snacks like LÄRABAR, I can buy a gluten-free snack while on the go. I have found LÄRABAR in supermarkets, drug stores, health food stores, and even airports. There is something comforting about seeing a familiar gluten-free brand that you know is “safe” to eat when you are looking for a quick snack. This would never have happened thirty years ago!
Growing up gluten-free was not easy and I took a long time to truly accept myself as a person living with celiac disease. I am passionate about sharing my gluten-free experiences and expertise with others. If I can help just one person navigate their celiac diagnosis, then I feel like all of my time and effort are worth it.