“Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.” -Heather Morgan, MS NLC
On Going Gluten-Free
I was rescued by a hurricane.
The problem started soon after I had our first son. Every time I ate, I had so much pain I had to lie down on the couch and try to keep myself from writhing in pain. When I had my second son, I realized I might have lactose intolerance, an idea inspired by an infant’s struggle with indigestion. But, truthfully, even after cutting out all lactose, I still dealt with the same stabbing pain. And, I often wondered how I could feel so terrible after eating something plain like Saltines or pretzels.
Fast forward to September 2008 …
The Cincinnati area dealt with the 80 miles per hour winds leftover from Hurricane Ike. We didn’t lose our roof like most of our neighbors, but we did lose power—for days. With the power out, we had to improvise with our cooking. That was the trigger.
Having eaten only rice from a box of Whole Grain Rice-a-Roni, with carrots on the side, I couldn’t understand what could’ve caused me so much digestive pain afterward. Then I read the box. The only debatable ingredient that jumped off the box was GLUTEN. Actually, something like “extra gluten added”.
Once we had our power again, I read every website I could about gluten. It didn’t take long to discover the autoimmune disease called Celiac, wholly caused by gluten. A few tests soon confirmed that the excruciating pain I’d felt for eight years was indeed due to Celiac Disease. But, amazingly, medicine doesn’t help with Celiac. The symptoms only disappear by cutting gluten out of all consumed food. Thus began my first gluten-free year.
Apparently, gluten (or the proteins found in whole wheat and other grains) acts like little burrs when it passes through a digestive system. Scraping the digestive tract of someone with Celiac, it causes every problem imaginable (including cancer), along with every symptom. I could write for days on the topic, but since I don’t enjoy gory details and am not a physician, I’m providing further links here (if you’re interested).
In one year gluten free, my skin color darkened about five shades to its rightful color, I felt far more energy and strength, and I didn’t feel even an ounce of the pain I used to have to suffer.
My 6 Years Gluten-Free
When my family and I moved to Prague in 2009, gluten-free eating became much harder. The language barrier created a huge learning curve on which foods might have gluten and which did not. I learned the words bezlepkova (Czech), senza glutine (Italian), glutenfrei (German). I consumed known gluten-free packaged foods in mass quantities–Lay’s potato chips and Snickers–until I could no longer even look at them. They made me feel terrible. Obviously, I had to find another option.
We become what we eat. Food is medicine, for good or bad.
The foods available in Czech grocery stores were limited, though the selection and quality improved over the four years we lived there. One store on the other side of Prague soon sold gluten-free pasta and corn flakes, which I bought in large quantities. But over the four years in Europe, I became less interested in eating processed pasta, bread, or cereals with the gluten taken out, and mysteriously more satisfied with whole foods which were naturally gluten-free: avocados, nuts, yogurts and cheeses, eggs, fruits and vegetables, and meats.
Now, almost 2 years back in the U.S., I’m amazed how many foods are available in a gluten-free version. I love Chex cereal in the morning and a flaxseed cracker for an occasional crunch. My favorite foods include anything with salsa and/or guacamole, and dark chocolate to top things off.
If I ever do eat something with a trace of gluten (soy sauce seems to be the sneakiest offender), I can feel it almost immediately. The world is upended and everything hurts. But those times might happen only once a year, at most, and reinforce my need to stay completely away from gluten.
These 6.5 years haven’t been easy, not eating anything with gluten. Bread, cakes, cookies, pies, pasta—you name it—everything good has gluten. But I have happily resisted, because I can’t even begin to tell how truly great and healthy I feel. No pain anymore. Amazing! All because of gluten.
Friends ask questions all the time. So many people have problems and pain with their digestion, and there are no easy answers. Tests don’t always prove conclusive, and allergies, sensitivities, and Celiac seem to mingle in strange ways. I do think if you have severe pain after eating, especially after eating bread or pretzels, try going gluten-free for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. If you feel an improvement, it’s worth it to pursue more answers. You just might find yourself feeling GREAT soon.
For you: have you tried gluten-free eating? What do you think?
More to come this January: I’m writing a month of posts on health. I look forward to seeing you back here next week, a healthy 2015 ahead!