Why I had to go gluten free almost a year ago, and what I’ve learned.
Warning: this post may include content related to things that ladies don’t typically discuss on the internet. Be warned and rejoice in the fact we live in a time where women are allowed to talk about poop.
I had been sick all week. Sick enough to miss work, go to the doctor and camp out on the couch; but not sick enough to miss out on my first Coeur d’Fondo. After training all summer I wasn’t about to bail on my riding partner and miss out on our victory cruise across Lake Coeur d’Alene to Oktoberfest. But as I hacked and coughed my way up the never-ending hill leading to Harrison, stomach gurgling all the way, I majorly regretted my decision.
That decision haunted me further as I spent a good portion of the cruise in the ship’s bathroom. I wrote off my gastrointestinal distress on pushing myself too hard on the ride paired with whatever bug I seemed to have. But once I got home and thought deeper about my situation, I realized that my stomach issues extended long before the Fondo. Before training, running, hiking, illness, I had been experiencing these symptoms for MULTIPLE YEARS.
That week I scheduled an appointment with a family medicine doc and told him my issues and family history (or lack thereof). He then proceed to ask about the following symptoms:
- Bloating/gassy after eating? Yes.
- Frequent diarrhea? Yes.
- Frequently tired? Yes.
- Brain fogginess? Yes.
- Anemic? Yes – pretty severely in the past.
- Depression or anxiety? Yes on occasion.
- Menstrual disruption? Yes.
- Headaches? Yes.
And the list went on. The diagnosis? Celiac disease.
You see, celiac disease isn’t a minor food intolerance or even an allergy, it’s an autoimmune disorder that affects one in 100 people worldwide. The Celiac Foundation explains it this way:
“When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems. These include the development of other autoimmune disorders like Type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers.”
That’s pretty serious stuff. The good thing is, celiac disease is 100 percent manageable through diet. The bad thing is, there is no cure.
When my blood test came back confirming what my doctor described as “one hell of a lucky guess,” I wasn’t sad or disappointed. I was RELIEVED. Everything suddenly made sense.
Last year when I did the Whole30 Challenge, I felt amazing, better than I had in a long time, and this diagnosis explained why. Back then I thought I had a dairy intolerance, but it turned out gluten was the culprit. I was on the right track but failed to see the evidence in front of me.
Since beginning my new diet I do feel better. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and rice, quioa or potatoes for starches. I avoid things with soy sauce, certain medications, wheat, barley, and rye. There are times that I’m sitting around with my friends at a brewery, sipping some yummy local beers, and I feel a bit left out, but overall I feel I’ve adjusted to the change quite well.
A few things I’ve learned:
- There are some awesome gluten free bloggers out there with great recipes and alternatives.
- My friends and family are amazing. As soon as word spread, everyone was doing research, asking questions, and trying new recipes. The week following my diagnosis, Kyle helped me clear the kitchen of all items (except a few of his favorites) containing gluten.
- When done right, there is little to no difference between regular and gluten-free baked goods and beer. “Done right” is the key element there, I’ve had quite a few flops along the way.
- There are a ton of options. Overall, I really don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. Occasionally at a restaurant with limited options, or somewhere that has an amazing dessert I loved, I’ll feel a bit nostalgic of my pre-celiac disease days (I’m talking about you, chocolate chip cookie from Fire).
But with the good, there are definitely a few new hazards and stigmas I’ve encountered:
- Some people think it’s not a real thing, just a fad diet. Oh it’s real. It sucks. Please don’t tell me it doesn’t. If I eat something contaminated with gluten, in about 20-ish minutes I will have to excuse myself and will probably remain in the bathroom for a very long time – or at least on and off over the course of a couple days. It’s not mild discomfort, it’s a full-on gastrointestinal attack. There is one benefit to the fad dieters though, in the past few years the number of gluten free products has grown exponentially. And (to quote one Mr. Daniel Tosh) for that, we thank you.
- Cross contamination. When things are labeled gluten free on menus but somehow gluten free items are fried in the same oil as glutenous items, or something like that, it’s just a really bad surprise.
This past year has been one of learning and growth. I’m thankful that our diet beforehand was already pretty healthy and quite different from a lot of people’s, but the immediate and ongoing support from Kyle and those that we eat with has been astounding. He never forgets to ask about food items when planning a get-together, or speak up on my behalf when I’m worried about being a nuisance at a restaurant. Change is hard, but it’s doable – especially when you have a husband that will let you sniff his beer.
Living vicariously through the gluten tolerant,