Health 101: Celiac Disease

True Story: "Our daughter ate dirt."

Crabtree family

Gary Matoso

At Kensley Crabtree's 3-year checkup, her mom, Linda, told the pediatrician that she was worried about two things: Kensley (in chair, left) didn't seem to be growing, and she was fascinated with soil -- not just playing with it, but eating it. A blood test showed that Kensley was anemic, but she seemed otherwise healthy. After seeing an endocrinologist about Kensley's growth, the family was referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist, who finally diagnosed celiac disease. Doctors later explained that the illness had caused Kensley's anemia, which in turn may have led her to want to eat dirt: Pica -- the frequent urge to eat nonfood items -- is sometimes associated with nutritional deficiencies.

"At first it was overwhelming, but I realized that I just needed to take it one meal at a time," says Crabtree. As soon as Kensley stopped eating gluten, she also stopped eating dirt and started growing. Both parents and all three of the other kids in the family have now been tested, and Kensley, now 6, is the only one who has the disease. "I don't think Kensley feels like she's missing out. Whenever she says, 'I wish I could eat that,' we find a gluten-free recipe or product so that she can," says Crabtree.

Her top tips:

  • For the sake of simplicity, try to make one gluten-free dinner for everyone as often as possible.
  • Label all of your child's food in the refrigerator and pantry with her name. Don't forget to include peanut butter, jelly, and other types of staples that could easily get cross-contaminated (with wheat crumbs from a sibling's toast, for instance).

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