17 and Gluten-Free

by Lauren McMillan | Print This Page

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We are delighted to have Lauren McMillan, aka Celiac Teen, here with us at Zenfully Delicious. She’ll be writing a monthly feature on her gluten-free teenage life, including Q&As for teens and parents on how to accommodate celiac guests for sleepovers, parties and all the fun things they shouldn’t miss out on.

Lauren wanted to offer a little introduction of herself, and why she savors every moment of her gluten-free life. We’ve also included her scrumptious recipe for Maple Date Squares below, so get your taste buds ready.


I’m 17. I’m also in high school. I’m also gluten-free. The further I go in that series of descriptions, the more likely you are to cringe. Being 17 means that most of my friends are also in that age range; that rumors are flying and there is always some sort of drama (“Did you hear?”) and the all-important fitting in thing. And being gluten-free means that I’m automatically different: I can’t eat all of the food that my friends eat. Thank goodness.

I’m lucky; no, I’m insanely lucky. I found out that my body cannot tolerate gluten in grade 9, but the average diagnosis time for celiac disease is 11 years. 15, 20, 30 years; these aren’t unheard of numbers. But by some stroke of luck, the ER doctor I saw — after having been ill for 11 months — checked the box for gluten antibodies on my blood test sheet. I had 15 vials of blood taken that day. After 13 vials, they had to switch arms, because the blood wasn’t coming (superbly low blood pressure and volume was also one of my issues). By January, a mere 2 months later, I was having an endoscopy, and a week later, we knew: I had celiac disease. I was (and still am) ecstatic.

Some people wondered why I was so happy; I was told that I would never eat gluten again — shouldn’t that be sad? For me, no. It meant that I knew what was wrong; that I could fix it. It meant no more medication, and that I could get my long-lost energy back, and wouldn’t be having daily stomach aches. It meant that I was free. That I was back.

When I was at my sickest, standing was a nightmare. When I stood up, the blood would pool in my body as it fought against gravity, which caused there to be not enough in my brain to keep the blackness away. As my blood pressure attempted to normalize, and blood circulated through my head, the world would ease back. I barely had the energy to make it to the bathroom and back. That’s not a healthy 14-year-old. When I think back to my life at that point, I am incredibly thankful that I was always positive, and that I never thought this was forever. Sure, other people did — but I didn’t know that. Once I’d been healthy for a while, my mom told me that one of my relatives had asked if I was going to die. I can’t type or hear that without tears streaming down my face. I’m grateful I didn’t know how bad I was doing. Sure, looking back, I saw these things happening, but it’s all in retrospect now. A bad day was one where I did nothing; not just a mindless summer thing, like fiddling on the computer for hours, but nothing. I laid on the couch. No book, no t.v., just there. Sometimes I slept, sometimes I didn’t.

So, no. Being gluten-free is not a burden to me. In exchange for leaving one protein out of my diet, I get to live. Tell me: Would you trade your ability to live (have energy, play sports, leave the house, think, stand up, travel, go out to dinner, cook) for gluten? I know I wouldn’t.

[Ed: And why would she trade, when she can eat things like the gorgeous treats below?]

Maple Date Squares

350 g pitted dates, chopped
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (maple extract would be lovely too!)
1 cup certified gluten-free oats (100 g / 3.55 oz)
1 cup quinoa flakes (82 g / 2.90 oz)
1/4 cup sweet rice flour (35 g / 1.25 oz)
1/4 cup tapioca starch/flour (33 g / 1.15 oz)
1/2 cup millet flour (87 g / 3.10 oz)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp orange zest
6 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8 by 8 inch pan.

In a saucepan, place the dates, maple syrup (just the first 1/2 cup), and water. Place over medium heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the dates are soft. It’ll take about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in your extract.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, quinoa flakes, flours, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add the orange zest, making sure it doesn’t clump.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and maple syrup. When fairly well combined (it won’t emulsify or anything, just until the bits of butter are quite small and the maple syrup is becoming incorporated), pour into the dry ingredients and beat together. Once the batter is mixed well, press half of it into your prepared pan. Spread the date mixture over the first layer. With wet hands (keep a bowl of water handy), cover the date mixture with the remaining batter*. Sprinkle it on top, ensuring to cover the entire pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. Enjoy!

*Note: To create the top layer, I take a bit of the batter in my (wet) hands and form it into a flat piece then place series of those on top of the dates. Doing this makes sure that I’m not pressing on the date mixture and ending up with one half that has twice the amount of dates as the other. Then, I just take the last bit to sprinkle on top. Using wet hands prevents the dough from sticking to them as well as making it much easier to work with.  Doing it this way also creates a more uniform layer so that one side doesn’t bake faster than another.

Bottom photo: Lauren McMillan

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tricia Rivers October 24, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Great article. Definitely some perspective. Thanks for sharing- looking forward to reading more.


Jennifer Iannolo October 24, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Thank you! I hope it helps someone — it certainly helped me to be able to say it out loud. 🙂


Abisaac Saraga October 25, 2010 at 1:25 am

Great article! Thanks for sharing your story. I do not have Celiac, however my wife was diagnosed last year, a week before our wedding. I think being diagnosed at 30+ made it tough on her as she was already accustomed to many foods, that we now do not eat, or have modified. However like your story, she has felt much better since her diagnosis and starting on the gluten free diet.


Lauren McMillan November 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Thank you! It is definitely a process to figure out what works best for you when certain foods are eliminated. The first thing I felt was joy, but everyone has such a unique relationship to food that when it changes, our reactions are sure to vary. I’m so glad she’s doing well!


Lisa Wilson November 4, 2010 at 11:59 am

Dear Lauren: I am 56 and just got diagnosed with celiac. Reading your recipes and thoughts on having a gluten allergy and continuing to bake has been an inspiration as I try to think of life without baking with flour. I come from a long line of good Saskatchewan bakers and don’t want to give up old recipes that I treasure and that remind me of my dear mom and her sister, now gone.
Your blog is absolutely gorgeous and I think you are a neat person.
Lisa Wilson


Lauren McMillan November 4, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Thank you so much Lisa! By no means do you have to give up baking or stop enjoying baked goods when you go gluten-free. They aren’t always going to come out exactly the same as the memories, but I have found that there are many ways to make gluten-free baked goods just as good and sometimes even better than their wheat-based counterparts :). Have fun baking!


Michelle November 4, 2010 at 6:04 pm

I am struggling so much with Celiac and I don’t even have it! My 6 year old daughter does. But you inspire me. I would like to help her see it from your perspective so I read your blogs. Good luck with everything!


Jennifer Iannolo November 4, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Michelle, we’re creating a whole series around that, so stay tuned. I know how difficult it is being an adult with this and throwing temper tantrums about what I can’t have (those have passed, thankfully), so I can’t imagine what it’s like for a 6-year-old. It’s helpful to know you’re here so we can address those points of view as well. Thank you!


Katie November 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I don’t have much time, but I want to say thank you for writing this. I’m gluten-intolerant, and spent a hellish 2 1/2 years trying to find out what was wrong. I really identify with what you’re saying!


Mary Garrard November 23, 2010 at 12:12 am

You go girl! I was diagnosed at age 50. The ten years since have been the healthiest and happiest of my life! I decided, after getting over the shock of my diagnosis, that I wasn’t going to yearn after foods I could no longer eat. I lost some weight early on because I wasn’t sure what I could eat; I just knew what I couldn’t eat. But as I read labels (this was before the FDA rules requiring listing allergens) I realized I could still eat most ice cream! I could eat most chocolate! My dear aunt made me GF zucchini bread my first GF Christmas–she knew all about it because her DIL and grandson have sprue. I taught myself how to bake gluten free–in fact, I just pulled a lovely baguette out of the oven. But wow, how times have changed. Instead of a couple of cookbooks dedicated to GF baking, we have a zillion, not to mention the wonderful blogs with GF recipes out there, yours included. So, I salute your positive, healthy attitude. Best gluten free eating to you!



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