Meet the uni student and TikToker who can only eat nine different foods due to allergies
The few things Jenna can eat include turkey, cucumber and salt
A uni student can only eat nine foods, due to an immunological condition that causes her to suffer from hundreds of food allergies – and is sharing her journey on TikTok.
Jenna Gestetner, who studies art, technology at business at the University of Southern California in America, is only able to eat turkey, mahi mahi, cucumber, green beans, courgette, olive oil, salt, lime, and glucose supplements.
From a young age Jenna has suffered from symptoms including nausea, bloating and intense cramping pains, and has spent years eliminating foods and allergens from her diet as it was the only thing that helped. In March 2021 she was diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) after a series of tests.
Jenna usually has six small meals a day, along with multiple glucose drinks to make sure she has enough daily nutrients and energy.
It only takes her three minutes to do a food shop, because of her limited diet, and even though she can’t eat it Jenna keeps a cupboard of snacks for her friends when they come over.
Jenna doesn’t eat out at restaurants, as she’s had reactions eating out in the past, but she sometimes brings her own food or else eats before going out.
She says: “Over the years, I have become way more used to the way I have to eat. Food is social so I often feel left out when I am not able to eat with my friends but I have found my own ways of being included, whether that is bringing my own food or eating before I go out.”
Jenna documents her journey on TikTok, and hopes that sharing her story will raise awareness of people living with invisible illnesses. She has almost 17k followers and over a million likes.
She said: “Diet is only one part of health and health is subjective. I want to be able to make other people feel validated. There is so much online about being healthy, but what is good for one person isn’t always good for another.
“Having a chronic illness doesn’t always mean you have a medical device or life-threatening allergic reactions; people have invisible illnesses that you wouldn’t know about from an outside perspective.
“Those who have these challenges can still live a normal life – there are just extra things they have to consider when travelling or even leaving the house. It’s about living your life to the fullest within the parameters of your own health. I’m just trying to find out what healthy means for me.”
Mast cells are part of the body’s immune system, and are responsible for causing allergy symptoms. Jenna says: “With MCAS, mast cells release mediators in response to things that are commonly harmless. It is rare, but more common than people think.
“However, it affects people differently and therefore the treatment is extremely different for everyone. My limited diet is a result of years of tracking my symptoms and working out what makes me feel best.”
Jenna has described years of frustration, and said finally having a diagnosis has been “freeing”. She says: “I was always the kid that had issues and it always sounded like an excuse. Eventually I just stopped telling people that anything was wrong.
“My parents knew about my struggles but they didn’t know all the details – when they found out when I got diagnosed, it shocked them. I am very fortunate that my family supports me and helps me get the support I need.”
She is now working to stabilise her mast cells enough, through medication, so that she can eventually expand her diet.
Featured image via TikTok @jennaxhealth