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Meet Priyanka Chugh

Priyanka is 19 years old and was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 12.

Priyanka Verma was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was a kid. Now she’s 19 years old and is doing her best to stay gluten-free and healthy at college. She has a special message for gluten-free kids, too!

When were you diagnosed with celiac disease, and what were some of your symptoms?

I was diagnosed when I was 12 years old. I didn’t have any symptoms, but I was diagnosed because my brother was. The whole family got blood work done, and my results came back positive.

Does the college you attend have a special dining spot or meal plan for gluten-free food?

I go to New York University. They don’t have a different meal plan for students with dietary restrictions, but they are great about providing alternative options that I can eat. They offer gluten free pizza, pasta and cereal regularly. Then, depending on the day, they’ll have french fries and a variety of vegetables available. They also have grilled chicken and separate peanut butter for gluten-free students, but I don’t eat those since I am vegetarian and have a nut allergy.

NYU has multiple dining halls, so I have to work with the one that I plan on eating at the most to make sure gluten-free food is stocked there. Luckily, I live in New York City, which has tons of restaurants and grocery stores with gluten-free products to supplement what I get from the university.

How did you talk to NYC about your disease?

I started off by submitting a Reasonable Accommodations form with NYU’s Moses Center for Students with Disabilities. That let me request a dorm room that has a kitchen, so I can do some cooking on my own and have an oven to make my gluten-free pizzas and other food.

Then, I sent an email to Campus Dining Services to find out what they could do for me and received an almost immediate response. My parents and I set up a meeting with the head of dining services, the head chef, and the manager of the dining hall in my residence hall. It was great to get in contact with the people I would need to interact with on a daily basis. They showed me the kitchen and the pantry where my food would be kept and even offered to keep a space for me to put things that I pick up from grocery stores. They were really helpful and kept up contact with me throughout the year.

What have you learned from either one of your parents that has helped you be more independent?

My parents have always taught me to be an advocate for myself. It was especially helpful when I left for college because I was able to ask for what I need and not worry about it. They taught me that I shouldn’t feel like I’m different from other people and having celiac is not something to hide or be ashamed of. It helped me be very open with others and ignore any rude comments they may make because I know that being gluten-free is important for my health. I think that helped me not only deal with celiac, but also grow as a person overall.

What advice would you give to a child who had just been diagnosed with celiac disease?

I would say that having celiac may seem like the end of the world at first, but it really does get better. In fact, some of the greatest experiences of my life have come from having celiac and meeting others who have it too.

I would also say that it’s really helpful to learn all about the disease and to take a hands-on approach, whether it’s finding foods that you like or trying to cook and bake for yourself. A celiac diagnosis doesn’t have to be a bad or scary thing. After 7 years, I find it really exciting to discover new foods and meet new people.

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