Why I Went Gluten-Free

by Ashleigh on July 12, 2010

Foods With Gluten

Dealing with Dining Out
by Melissa Galt

Gluten-Free DessertI’ve known for awhile that gluten is an issue for me, but wasn’t able to get a hard diagnosis.  I have recently opted to live gluten-free and can safely say that not only has my weight dropped but my energy is up, and I certainly feel a lot better.  It used to be that gluten would cause such intense bloating, that even going to sleep at night if I’d eaten out (I love bread and desserts in restaurants) meant suffering with a stomach that felt like I’d swallowed several watermelons (and I’m usually a size 8).

For me, the biggest hurdle is eating out or with friends.  I love dining out.  I don’t cook at home, and it’s stunning how much obvious gluten is served as well as the hidden sources.  It means eating a lot healthier and sticking with veggies, protein and nothing fried.  (I live in the south were mac and cheese is a vegetable, lol!)  I also have given up desserts, and I’ve always believed life is short and that should come first!  Since I’m not into sushi, that isn’t an answer.  Fortunately, I gave up pasta years ago as I always reacted and didn’t know why.  (Gluten intolerance has been building for years with me.)  I do find alternatives like rice.

While I love bread, I never keep it at home and now have to train myself out of reaching for it in restaurants.  It just isn’t worth feeling so crummy, gaining the weight and tanking my health.  I also gave up cereal years ago and do a breakfast shake – easy solution.

My hope (and what I’ve been told) is that there is a chance that if I stay true blue and off gluten for two to three years, I may be able to reintroduce it.  By then I probably won’t care.  I do not each much in the way of gluten-free cookies or such.  They are awful.  It’s like the carob substitute for chocolate.  I believe that if it isn’t real, I don’t want to eat it.

Living with a Dream of Indulging
by Susan Harrow

Wheat ThinsTwenty-five years ago, my acupuncturist, who was also a Chinese herbalist, told me not to eat wheat.  I could down a box of wheat thins in a day and often did.  I was young.  I didn’t listen.  The symptoms?  My muscles ached, and I was constantly fatigued.  Pleasure in the moment was more important than the dreary after-effects of lethargy and moodiness.

Fast-forward to five years ago when I was tested and highly allergic.  I gave up gluten, reluctantly, and continued to “cheat” by eating pie.  Just a little bit won’t hurt.  The occasional bowl of pasta and cake at special occasions.  I’m Italian.  Something is not right.

I tested my condition by seeing how many cookies I could eat before the allergy took effect.  Once I hit the limit, I couldn’t stay awake no matter what I did.  I passed out for two hours, then awoke feeling like I’d been hit by a Mac truck, worse than any hangover I ever had.  I’d feel foggy, irritable and constipated for a week after that.

Today, I’m very strict about not eating a crumb of anything that has gluten in it.  A friend just got back from Paris and regaled me with stories of eating all their glorious pastries – the same pastries I ate 30+ years ago when I lived there.  Now it would be torture to go to Paris and gaze at clafoutis, mille fuille, tarts, bread, croissants and quiche.

Am I still tempted, deprived?  I have a recurring dream of standing before a buffet table, piled high with pies, cakes, cookies, crisps and crumbles stuffing myself, tasting everything.  I always wake up with a tummy ache after my imaginary binge.

While I feel great, I still long for the days when I could indulge.  Parties can be torture.  My diet today is 99 percent grain-free.  Almost every morning, I eat half of a gluten-free bagel with melted cheddar goat cheese, or eggs with a teff burrito wrap.  I occasionally eat gluten-free cookies or crackers, but, for the most part, these processed flours don’t agree with me.  However, I did make a smokin’ good James Beard gluten-free persimmon bread that even non-gluten allergic people devoured.  I make one raw food drink a day in our vitamix with vegetables fresh picked from our garden.  My diet is mostly protein and veggies.  Though when I have sushi or Thai food, I eat my full share of rice and noodles.

Thank god French fries are gluten-free.

Helping Others Go Gluten-Free
by Manda Stepp, Owner, “Gluten Free? Ask Me!” Consulting

VegetablesI was diagnosed with celiac disease in the summer of 2001.  Celiac disease is an inherited, autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged from eating gluten and other proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats.  I’d had digestive problems my entire life, but, due to viral infection, which triggered the celiac disease, I started to lose weight very rapidly.  I lost five pounds every week for a month.  I could not keep anything in my body, was extremely tired and slept whenever I could.  I was referred to a gastroenterologist that finally did both a colonoscopy and an endoscopy.  It was from the endoscopy that they realized that something was wrong with my small intestines. The doctors recommended that I have a blood test done to see if I may have celiac disease.

At the time, I was one of approximately 300 people in Maryland that was diagnosed with this disease.  I was simply told that if I stay on a gluten-free diet that I would start to feel better.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of information at this time on what I could and couldn’t eat.  I felt somewhat helpless and confused.  I knew that it was now my responsibility to take care of my diet so that I’d feel better.  I researched on the internet as much as I could.  I made many mistakes during the first couple of years eating foods that had gluten in them because there are many hidden ingredients that are in foods that many people did not know about.  I even gained a lot of weight because I overcompensated for the fact that I could not eat many things.  After getting sick from making mistakes, whether going out to eat, eating at a friend’s house or buying food that I wasn’t sure about, I made it my mission to educate myself as much as possible.

I read, researched and asked questions.  I love to cook and learn about food.  Today there is a lot more information on the internet, food companies that are offering gluten-free items and restaurants that offer gluten-free menus.  Still, I know how I felt when I was first diagnosed with this disease and how confusing it was for my family and friends.  Because of this, I decided I would start helping other individuals and families who need guidance on how to begin adapting to a gluten-free life, while still feeling somewhat “normal.”  Whether it’s creating personalized grocery lists for them, going through their kitchen cabinets to flush out the “no-nos,” helping them to navigate through restaurant menus or just helping them work through their frustrations and questions, I’m there to help.  Ask me! mandytayman@hotmail.com.

A Food-As-Medicine Approach
by Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS, CD, Program Director/Owner Green Mountain at Fox Run

Food as MedicineAfter a number of years of not feeling well and going to just about every medical doctor specialty in our area, I finally stumbled onto a functional medicine medical doctor who put me on an elimination diet.  Being a registered dietitian, I followed the diet to a T and discovered gluten was the big problem for me.  After eating it, I felt like I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed in the morning.  I had also struggled for some time with chronic neck/shoulder pain that interfered greatly with my life.  That pain began to lessen over time after going gluten-free.  Today, after being gluten-free for almost five years, I am almost pain-free.  I do not find it difficult at all to follow a gluten-free diet.

Going gluten-free and starting to follow a food-as-medicine approach to eating turned my life around so much so that it spurred me to offer a Food as Medicine program at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women-only healthy weight-loss retreat in Vermont that I co-own.  To read more about it, visit http://www.fitwoman.com/food-as-medicine-program.htm.

My Husband is my Biggest Supporter

by Christine Gebhardt

I’m 28 years old and was diagnosed with celiac disease about four years ago, but it took a long time to diagnose it.

My journey began when I fainted two to three times during my college years and went to my doctor.  He gave me a blood test, and I received a call a few days later.  He told me that I needed to make an appointment with an oncologist/hematologist ASAP.  He told me my iron count was so low, he couldn’t believe it was functioning.  (He later told me that he suspected leukemia.)  I saw my oncologist/hematologist for two years, and he ruled out the regular suspects – I didn’t have blood in my feces, I didn’t have an ulcer, I didn’t have heavy bleeding while menstruating and I was eating food with iron.  I was taking heavy-duty iron supplements, and he did blood tests every other month… but nothing changed.  He was at a loss.  He referred me to a gastroenterologist for an endoscopy and colonoscopy to try and figure out the cause of the anemia.  The gastroenterologist suggested the blood test for antibodies against gluten because she had seen celiac disease manifested in this way: anemia without any apparent cause and no other symptoms.  She did the endoscopy to confirm her suspicions, and I was diagnosed with celiac disease.  From then on, I’ve been on a gluten-free diet.

It is a life-changing experience.  I read up on the allergy and saw a nutritionist.  Stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have been a blessing for me.  Everything is clearly labeled and there are many foods that are gluten-free that actually taste good.  I’ve even found a gluten-free section in Kroger.  I have also found many restaurants that offer a gluten-free menu.  PF Chang’s being one of my favorites!  Although it’s extremely difficult at times, I am thankful that I was diagnosed and know how to treat my gluten allergy.  I feel healthier with my diet because of the foods that are naturally gluten-free.

When I was diagnosed, I was dating my now-husband.  He was my biggest supporter!  He changed his diet, would go to the grocery store with me so I didn’t feel overwhelmed and, to this day, we try new gluten-free recipes at home.  He helped me through one of the biggest challenges in my life and continues to support me everyday.

Just about a year later, my younger brother started having seizures.  While my parents and I frantically researched what could cause these seizures, as he went to a neurologist who wanted to prescribe medication, we came across a site that listed seizures under celiac disease symptoms.  So, I decided to ask my gastroenterologist.  Sure enough, she did say that was a typical symptom and that he should come in for testing.  My brother was diagnosed with celiac disease a year later, eats gluten-free and the seizures disappeared.

My brother and I have shared ideas, foods and frustrating situations (like finding a really good-tasting gluten-free beer) which has brought us closer.

Discovering my Gluten-Intolerance
by Sheila J Priest, EA, LLC

I have been gluten-free for about two years now.  I was a beer drinker my whole life.  I didn’t really like alcohol besides the occasional margarita and glass of wine.  So socially, I stuck to beer.  A few years ago, I realized that every time I drank beer, I would get stomach cramps and diarrhea.  Other times I had the same symptoms, but I really noticed when it was beer.

I went to the doctor to explain my dilemma.  The doctor sent me for test, after test, after test.  At one time, they even told me I probably had bladder cancer!  Of course my insurance was terrible, being self-employed and on a catastrophic health plan – I was mad.  All my out-of-pocket costs and no answer!  Never once did they say it could be a food allergy, and they ruled out Crohn’s disease.

Soon, it didn’t matter what I ate.  I was in severe pain and on the toilet constantly.  My business was affected, my social-life was non-existent and I was tired.  Obviously, I was not getting nutrients from my food because it was not being properly digested.

Finally, I ran into a friend of mine who happens to be a natural health doctor and chiropractor, Dr. Lisa Marsh.  She convinced me to come see her, even though my insurance would pay nothing for the visit.  With very strange methods, she diagnosed me with candida, a yeast imbalance in my digestive tract.  Wow!  What a relief after all I had been through.  Fix the imbalance, and I should be good to go.

She put me on a diet of protein and vegetables for two weeks.  She said to eat absolutely nothing that would turn into sugar that feeds the yeast.  I almost immediately felt better.  She also gave me some pills to kill the yeast.  I began eating yogurt daily and stuck to my diet, except I drank and occasional vodka.  It was the only thing that didn’t seem to bother me, and, somehow, it also killed the pain.

Well, the symptoms came back as soon as I returned to my regular diet.  I thought I was allergic to yeast, or somehow couldn’t handle it.  I went through an entire month of a program called “Yeast No More” for people with chronic yeast infections.  Still the symptoms came back.  I figured I would have to completely eliminate yeast from my diet.

I began searching the internet for information on yeast, yeast-free foods and yeast-free recipes.  The search engines kept sending me to gluten-free Web sites.  At first, I thought “I said yeast, not gluten.  What is gluten anyways?”  Finally I said, “Ok, well what is gluten?”  I read up on it, and said “What the hell.  I might as well give it a try.”

I went completely gluten-free for three or four days, then finally ate something with gluten in it.  I don’t remember exactly what it was, maybe a sandwich or something.  Oh my god!  It was an epiphany.  It was for sure a gluten problem.  I couldn’t believe it!

For the next six months, I was constantly hungry, trying to find foods that I could eat.  I had to cook everything myself, and how much rice and potatoes can one girl eat?  I purchased a book called “Healthier Without Wheat.”  It was a great read and really hit it on the head.  It describes the three issues you can have: 1) a gluten allergy 2) a gluten-intolerance and 3) celiac disease.  I determined I have an intolerance.

I have since gotten creative and found more and more recipes and food that I can eat.  I lost 13 pounds in a year, and I still only weigh 130 pounds and I’m 5’8″!  Now, it seems there is gluten-free stuff everywhere.  It’s in the grocery stores, at restaurants, even street vendors!

I asked everywhere I went if they had a gluten-free food section or a gluten-free menu.  I also asked to speak to the chefs at restaurants about gluten in the foods they cook. I hope everyone else does this because this is how we speak and get the word out.  There are also gluten-free support groups in my area, although I have never attended.

One last thing, I recently found a gluten-free beer called Redbridge, made by Anheuser Busch.  It tastes like a real beer!

I hope others will figure out if gluten is what has been bothering them.  It is great to feel good again after two years or more of suffering.

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