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I was exhausted for seven years. Then I found out why and my life changed.


At 16, Ellen Duncan should have enjoyed normal teenage life.

But instead of going out and having all the fun that comes with the energy of youth, she was battling extreme exhaustion.

It took Ellen, now 23, from Edinburgh, another seven years to work out the cause of her tiredness and poor health.

Just three months ago, she was diagnosed with coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by eating gluten.

Ellen said: "I first went to the doctor at 16 because my stomach was getting really bloated after eating wheat. I felt constant fatigue and exhaustion and I had a brain fog that made it difficult to think clearly.

"The doctor took my blood and I was told I was negative for coeliac. I've had so many blood tests over the years. I was told I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome first but the symptoms persisted."

In the prime of her life, Ellen barely had enough energy to get through school each day, let alone enjoy a social life.

It was a situation that continued relentlessly for years, during which she had periods of very low moods as she struggled to work out why she felt so poorly.

She said: "It's funny because people would think I was quite hyper but I was overcompensating for being tired all the time - I was trying to convince myself I felt energised. I think coeliac can cause depression too. It's the combination of the confusion, the tiredness, feeling so sluggish and unwell all the time that is enough to put you in a really low mood.

"I would get home and flake out.

I was just so tired. All my friends would be going out and partying and I just couldn't. It made me feel I was an introvert, but I wasn't. I was just really, really tired."

Not knowing the cause of her exhaustion also affected Ellen's self-esteem.

She said: "I thought, 'Am I just really lazy?' People would say, 'You're young, what do you mean you're tired? You should be full of energy'. Everything took twice as long to do. Others could blast through work and I was finding it difficult."

Six months ago, Ellen, who is studying film and English literature at Napier University, went back to the doctor.

She said: "I was getting really frustrated, being an adult living by myself, thinking, 'This is no way to live'. I had more tests and they came back positive for coeliac. I could finally say, 'This is why.'" From that moment, the way Ellen thought about and approached food had to change completely.

She said: "Straight away you have to get used to really having to think about what you're eating and educating your family and friends too.

"The first month was OK. I threw out everything in my flat but then there were times I'd forget, and order a Chinese and demolish it, then realise there's gluten in soy sauce. Now I'm getting really irritated over simple things. I miss being able to go out to eat and order what I want. You really have to put your faith in people as well when you eat out because cross-contamination can bring on symptoms.

"If I accidentally eat gluten, I get really bloated and get brain fog instantly. I wake up the next morning and feel like I have a hangover, I have a thumping headache and I'm very sluggish."

For Ellen, food labelling has now become the difference between good or poor health. She said: "When I'm shopping, I immediately flip the pack over and scan the ingredients list.

"I'm looking for wheat, barley and rye and they will usually be highlighted in bold so it couldn't be easier.

"On some though it says, 'May contain traces of gluten'. I was told by a dietician to avoid that completely in my first year because it's so important for healing. Without careful labelling, I wouldn't stand a chance.

"Cutting out gluten has made such a difference to how I feel. My energy has changed, I don't get bloated, I feel more comfortable, less irritable, I can do stuff without being so exhausted.

"My gastric symptoms have practically gone and my weight has dropped too.

"It will take more time for the tiredness to subside because I've been malnourished but I'm getting there."

'' I was just so tired. All my friends would be going out and partying and I couldn't. It made me feel like I was an introvert


LABEL LOVER Coeliac sufferer Ellen Duncan relies on food labelling to make decisions on which foods are safe for her to eat

new lifestyle Student Ellen Duncan has completely overhauled her diet since diagnosis of coeliac disease
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 22, 2015
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