The impact of dietary restrictions isn’t limited to health implications with social and financial burdens experienced by many. It is estimated that up to 10% of people in the UK live with a food allergy or sensitivity and 1 in 100 will be diagnosed with the autoimmune condition Coeliac disease.
In this blog we speak to Emma, who runs the blog The Student Coeliac, and our Content Manager Kirsty. Both students with a diagnosis of coeliac disease, they explain how the financial cost of their condition has impacted them and what their top tips are for others receiving a new diagnosis.
Hi Emma and Kirsty, can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
“I’m Emma, a 22-year-old student at the University of Stirling. I’m in my fourth and final year studies of my degree where I study Human Resource Management with Marketing. When I was 17, I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease, meaning I can’t eat gluten. This proves extremely restrictive for my diet as I need to be super careful of not only what I’m eating but avoiding the opportunity of cross contamination- especially living in shared accommodation.”
“I am 22, and I study English and Scottish Literature at The University of Aberdeen, and flat-share with my younger brother who also has Coeliac disease. I was only diagnosed last year however my brother was diagnosed two years before I was and so I had some knowledge of what was to come.”
Can you tell us how your condition affects you financially?
Initially, when I moved to University, I found buying products that were gluten free more expensive as I typically bought products that were pre-made (i.e. gluten free pizzas, chicken nuggets- typical student grub!). These were all quite expensive when accumulated across my weekly shops, so trying to manage that, along with a new budget for myself living independently from home, was quite difficult to adjust to. It meant I would maybe spend more money on food than my other flatmates because of this. Additionally, going out for food always proves more expensive as the majority of the time, gluten free items involves a surcharge. I understand that the ingredients could be more expensive to buy for the organisations, however my autoimmune condition means I don’t have any choice, so I don’t think this is fair for the consumer at all.
Budgeting with a dietary requirement is hard. It’s easy for outsiders to say, “there are plenty of options out there, no one is forcing you to eat pasta!” but it’s much more complicated than that. I’ve had to make some changes to my day-to-day life to cope and I’ve had to learn to keep a bit of an eye on my budget. Ready meals from the Free From section in the supermarket are often more expensive but I have discovered that some of the other ready meals are safe for me, they just aren’t branded that way. I now use the product search function on the LiberEat App to find products I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. For example, by searching ready meals on the app with my Gluten Free profile activated, it filtered out unsafe results across the store, not just the free from section. I was therefore able to find a cottage pie ready meal that was £1.40 cheaper!
How have you changed your approach to shopping and cooking since your diagnosis?
Nowadays I tend to cook from scratch and in bulk, so I buy fresh ingredients and make meals myself. I love cooking and like to put in my time to make delicious meals for myself that I can then freeze for later dates. I think this could be because I’m maybe understanding the value of money more now that I’m older, in combination with myself managing my condition a lot better than a few years ago.
I Bulk buy because essentials can often go out of stock or be discontinued. This can be difficult on a budget, but it does work out cheaper in the long run. I try and stock up when things are on offer and I always have two or three bags of spare flour because if my local supermarket is out of stock, the next closest is a good 50p more. Also, I always pack a packed lunch. This isn’t just to save money, it’s also so that I can guarantee safe food everywhere I go. This way I never have to worry that there is no option or that the only GF option is expensive.
What tips and life hacks can you give for making your money go further when you have a dietary requirement?
BATCH COOK! – definitely my new favourite thing and it’s a good way of getting your money’s worth. I think maybe plan ahead as well, if you’re looking to go out for dinner, I’d maybe weigh up options and know where surcharges are appropriate and choose from there. If you choose one restaurant over the another you may get more for your money than you would have at a restaurant that charges more for allergen friendly meals.
Keep an eye out for deals. After Christmas excess stock of biscuits in Christmas packing was reduced by 60% so I bought 5 or 6 boxes of each kind. This was costly at the time but helped me to ensure there were always biscuits in the house without paying double. I would agree with planning ahead too. I use the LiberEat App to help filter for safe recipes for lunches and snacks to save buying expensive prepacked options and I split my shopping between large supermarkets for the specific gluten free things like bread, pasta etc and the budget stores where I get my fresh produce. I find this really helps.
What advice would you give to those with a new coeliac diagnosis?
Try everything you can get your hands on! Having to adapt your life to a strict diet that’s new to you is daunting and frustrating. For me, it definitely made me emotional at times. Not being able to eat whatever you like was the WORST thing for me (I cried watching my brother eating a Jammy Dodger within the first couple of weeks…). Definitely try out different brands of things to see what you like best and although it may prove financially daunting at the time as well, it will be worth it when you get the hang of things and realise that nowadays- there’s not too much you can miss out on! I also recommend joining Facebook communities like ‘Coeliac UK or Coeliac for Beginners’ etc, it really makes you feel less alone and you can all bounce ideas, recipes, products and frustrations off on one another!
I would also say join a Facebook especially if you have a group for your area. People will share deals, new products, and unexpected products on the page as well as give recommendations for your local area. They are often great communities for finding new info about your condition as well as product info. This helps you save money because you get to know the deals when someone else in the group spies them, as well as seeing products in the ‘muggle’ sections which are also suitable.
How do you use the LiberEat App to help with budgeting?
I’m going to be honest in saying that I’ve not actually used the LiberEat app! Now that I’ve been introduced to it, I think that it could be a really useful tool for myself and others to budget how much they are spending on food.
I love the app. I use it in supermarkets to filter for foods that are safe for me that might not be in the ‘Free From’ range, I use it to find recipes to make food from scratch with is a lot cheaper than pre-packed and I use the restaurant filter to check out what restaurants near me have safe foods on their menus.
Forward planning, clever shopping and cooking from scratch have all helped Emma and Kirsty with the management of both their condition and their budgets, and with the addition of tools like LiberEat we hope to support these activities to and elevate the social and financial burden of dietary restrictions.
Follow Kirsty @Northern_Paints
And Emma @thestudentcoeliac