I know I have mentioned gluten free stuff randomly, but I have never talked about my whacky diet. In the summer of 2005, after a routine physical with a new doctor, I found out I was “allergic” to wheat. I have been gluten free ever since. Giving up wheat was the hardest thing I ever accomplished. It is in things you would not have ever imagined (cheese, vitamins, soy sauce) But once I eliminated wheat from my diet, I felt better than I would have ever imagined. It was so worth going against society norm (Oh the artisan bread community is large here in Asheville). I never knew I was living with a lifelong stomach ache. And there were related symptoms that I would have never guessed were tied to my digestive distress.
Specifically, I have Celiac’s disease. What that means is I was born with a digestive system that is unable to digest wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is the protein found in wheat and wheat products. When I eat wheat, the gluten damages the celia in my small intestine and I am unable to process or absorb my food and it’s nutrients. My intestine then becomes inflamed as it tries to rid itself of what it believes to be a foriegn invader. It is a hereditary condition. It is also severely under diagnosed. 1 in 150 people are believed to have Celiac’s disease, only 4% of them are diagnosed. The diagnosis is done with a blood test. Most regular MDs rarely look to this diagnosis as the cause of the many symptoms of Celiac’s disease. At risk of going down the path of the medical/drug company/insurance company conspiracy theory, I think that if it is not cured with a heavily promoted drug, than many doctor’s are not as likely to diagnosis it. I was diagnosed by a doctor who works with naturopathy first. There is no cure, or medication to alleviate symptoms of Celiac’s. The only solution at this time is to not eat wheat.
Some of the symptoms I was experiencing at the time of diagnosis were, IBS, severe heartburn, cramping, depression, fatigue and insomnia. My symptoms were relatively mild compared to some people with Celiac’s that have a complete wheat gluten intolerance. An example of someone with more severe symptoms is Shauna, the author of the book and website Gluten-free Girl. Her story is here (http://glutenfreegirlabout.blogspot.com/)
When I eat something containing wheat, It is not just a quick allergic reaction, I am sick for 2-3 weeks. The first sign is severe bowel distress. Meaning I can not be far from a bathroom for 24 hours. Sometimes I have severe cramping, sometimes I throw up. I am then left with severe bloating that lasts for a week and raging heartburn that is bad enough to wake me up in the middle of the night that usually lasts for 2-3 weeks. I have found the best thing to alleviate the severe heartburn is baking soda with a chaser of aloe vera juice. I also get eczema on my eyelids and cheekbones within 6 hours, and a painful itching eczema like rash in my armpits and groin area. This rash lasts for a week even with the greasy prescription eczema cream. Insomnia, fatigue and mild to severe depression lasting 2-3weeks because I feel like crap.
Yep all this because maybe there was some flour sprinkled in a sauce, or some GF pasta was boiled in the same water as a regular wheat pasta. No bread, pasta, crackers, most commercially produced cream sauces, flour tortillas, canned soups, breaded anything. It also rules out blue cheese (mold grown on bread then added to the cheese), some deli meats (wheat is a filler) some vitamins, soy sauce, and yes….beer. GF means related grains such as barley, rye, spelt (although I can handle spelt in doses), kamut, oats (usually milled with wheat) are off limits as well.
Once I eat wheat it will take 3-6 months for my intestine to completely heal.
Like I said, going gluten free was hands down the hardest life change I ever had to make. I loved to make bread and pasta. It took a good 6 months to really grasp the GF lifestyle. It was hard and frustrating and I cried for weeks. Gluten Free makes Vegetarian look like a walk in the park. But the trade off is great. I have yet to get a really bad cold or flu since I have changed my diet. My digestive system now absorbs the nutrients that help me heal. And years of insomnia and depression…gone. I never knew I had had a stomach ache for 39 yrs. Never felt better.