By Jiya Chawla Opening Doorz Editorial | March 08, 2021

International Women’s Day Special

At first glance, Jiya Chawla from Tagore International School, New Delhi, is just an ordinary girl. Once you get to know her, however, you realize that this 14-year-old is no ordinary teen. The maturity she displays is rare. When you probe the source of her maturity, unlike anyone her age, you realize that she has Celiac disease!

So what does it mean to have Celiac disease? For the uninitiated, it simply means eating any kind of gluten triggers an immune response in ones small intestine. Having said that, this Grade IX student who likes Rock Music, Chocolates and writing short stories, makes light of her trauma by showing us how to live life to the fullest despite the ‘restrictions’ and ‘temptations’ in diet!

On International Women’s Day, Jiya talks about her life, Celiac disease and how she has found a way around gluten to enjoy delicious meals. Of course, there are restrictions. Of course there are temptations. Overcoming that is what has matured her beyond her age. And yes, you will not know she has Celiac disease because she is just an ordinary girl with an extra-ordinary outlook to life.

Opening Doorz to Jiya Chawla who opens up on her fight with Celiac disease.

Jiya Chawla, the little fighter…

I’m sure you all must have had Maggi, right? If by chance you haven’t, you must’ve had Oreo biscuits or Dominos Pizzas? Or even simple bread and cheese? Now can you imagine that one day, out of the blue, you get to know you can’t ever have these again? Can you imagine your life without all these daily life foods… especially for a young teenage girl?

Well, I can, because it’s the exact thing I’ve gone through.

14-year-old Jiya Chawla
Jiya Chawla with her support system, her mother, father and little brother.

I was four years old, and I was sick 90 per cent of the time. To add to it my parents noticed that height did not increase. Naturally, they got all worked up and took me for some ‘blood tests’. After the initial tests, I was taken for some more ‘tests’; this time, under anesthesia. Thank God they didn’t tell me that a doctor would be inserting a little camera inside my tiny little body. Well, it’s partially good that they didn’t tell me that because I’d have died of a panic attack before the biopsy even took place!

As you would have suspected, there was something wrong. But thank God again, it was nothing major! I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, which simply means eating any kind of gluten triggers an immune response in my small intestine.

Initially, of course, my parents were shocked. They started researching a lot on this disease, and side by side they began encouraging me to always look at the positive side of life. I’m extremely thankful for my parents who constantly support me, and try to make me feel as normal as possible.

What really is gluten?

Gluten is a collective term that refers to many different types of proteins (prolamins) found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. You must’ve also heard of people saying they’re ‘gluten intolerant’. Now how is this different than having Celiac disease?

When a Celiac person ingests gluten, their immune system will attack against its own body’s tissue. Whereas, if a person is gluten intolerant, the consumption of gluten will cause short-term bloating and belly pain. Unlike Celiac disease, gluten intolerance doesn’t usually cause long-term harm to the body.

14-year-old Jiya Chawla
Jiya Chawla enjoying a gluten-free delicacy with her father and brother.

Now let me tell you, being Celiac has its benefits, but oh boy do I hate it sometimes? Like when I’m at a birthday party and there’s this absolutely beautiful cake which looks delicious as heck! I can’t eat it! All I can do is just look at it while the others relish it. Sad, I know. Also, when I’m at a sleepover, I can’t eat Pizzas, or Maggi, or even some kinds of Chocolate. Now I’m fine with not eating Pizzas but Chocolates? I can’t just sit and watch my friends put that dark, mouth-watering chocolate in their mouths.

Jiya Chawla, the little mature girl…

Overall, I think being gluten free and ‘different’ from everybody else has increased my maturity. I have never let this ‘slight setback’ stop me from living life to the fullest. I would say I’ve grown a lot as a person because of this experience and would like to help others like me, recognize their true calling and not let a mere inconvenience stop them from doing things they like.

Sure, there are some setbacks, but to sum it up, life, gluten free is actually pretty good. And people like me don’t need you to feel sorry at all. Instead, encourage other people to lessen their intake of gluten themselves. I’m not going to get into details; we don’t want to make this boring, do we? Gluten provides no essential nutrients according to studies.

14-year-old Jiya Chawla
Jiya Chawla with her brother Tanay (who she fondly calls Noddy), her constant supervisor.

Oh yes, being Celiac has its advantages too. Whenever I go to any resort or hotel, the chefs there are extremely helpful and always make sure that all my food needs are catered to. My breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared separately so as to minimize chances of contamination. The food they prepare is delicious! From their pies to their noodles, everything is completely safe and tasty. I have a lot of respect for these chefs who go out of their way to make me feel happy.

And yes, my younger brother Tanay, does get overprotective, too. Like when I try to give into the temptation of eating food containing gluten in it, he immediately nags me about it. Just like Noddy! Which is a good thing, and I completely appreciate it! But I do get quite mad about it sometimes.

I’ve often been told that I’m an inspiration for people with Celiac disease, but honestly, I’m pretty much just a normal kid going through life. 

Also Read: Dr. Sharad Nagorao Sagade: A surgeon with a Halo

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