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Esther Stephens - Actress

Esther Stephens is a kiwi actress and singer based in Melbourne. After study at Unitec School of Performing and Screen Arts, Esther did theatre work before landing the role of Olivia in kiwi TV comedy/drama Go Girls. Other TV credits include Underbelly New Zealand, House Husbands, The Dr Blake Mysteries and WW1 mini series When We Go To War. Most recently Esther plays a young Ngaire Monroe in The Outrageous Fortune prequel, Westside.

I was diagnosed with coeliac disease when I was 24. For a number of years I’d been concerned about my immunity as I was constantly getting colds and flu and this was interfering with my singing work. My doctor did some blood tests and the marker for coeliac disease came back positive but because I had no other symptoms and no family history of the disease, he decided it was probably a false positive. A year later, my instinct told me something was still not right with my health so I went to a second doctor. Once again the blood test came back positive and he sent me for a gut biopsy. I thought I was an unlikely candidate for coeliac disease as I had no gut issues, so I was very surprised when I was diagnosed as having CD. The doctor explained to me that some people can be asymptomatic as their gut is able to tolerate a small amount of gluten without them noticing any gut related symptoms, even though the gut is being damaged.

I then faced the task of making a major transition in my life when I felt like I didn’t need to. But after I went gluten free, I instantly noticed the difference. My immunity perked up and some long standing issues magically righted themselves. Overall I experienced a marked improvement in my general health.
Two years later my mother was diagnosed with coeliac disease, so it was in my family line after all! That experience left me wondering: what if I hadn’t followed my instincts and had left it another twenty years like my mother had, until other symptoms revealed themselves? I’m glad I managed to get on top of it at a young age so I could get settled into the lifestyle change earlier in life.

Most of my work is in Auckland or Melbourne so I don’t have to deal with any language barriers or major dietary challenges as both cities cater very well to gluten free. When I am on set we are well taken care off with the caterers providing healthy gluten free options. I regularly fly between the two cities, and sometimes people assume you can’t take food on a plane. You can take any food through customs (except liquids). You just can’t take it off at the other end.
For snacks I tend to eat fruit, dried fruits and nuts. My mother makes batches of bliss balls with coconut, date, dried fruit and nuts which are also great.

The key challenge I faced in the early days is that I felt embarrassed when eating out. I didn’t want others to assume I was some high maintenance actress who was seeking attention by being difficult. So I was very timid at first. I’d sit back and fumble around in the dark with the menu and not ask the wait staff for the best options. I didn’t want to put people out. I felt like framing my biopsy report and taking it to restaurants with me, so I could prove I wasn’t some jerk making the
waiter’s life difficult.

Over the years I’ve got more confident. Eventually I worked out that it comes down to your manner when ordering. I’ve discovered that, even on a busy night, as long as I’m friendly and relaxed about it and ask politely, then the wait staff will make it work for me. Getting their advice about what options on the menu are most suitable has been invaluable.