If you would have told me seven years ago that I would be living a life deprived of bread, pasta, and baked goods, I never would have believed you. When the Atkin’s diet hit its hey-day around then, I used to think I could never, ever eat that way. The things I love to eat and can make any meal off of are simply: cheese, bread, fruit, cereal and cake. There was no way I was trading those things in, especially not for steaks and salads.
Fast forward to 24 year-old me. I start to have a few complications that concerned my doctor. Dizzy spells, extreme fatigue–especially in the early morning and late afternoon, and feeling faint upon standing. These symptoms would come on remarkably strong when I would exercise and sadly the running I had so formerly loved had become a little scary–as there were times mid-run I was afraid I would keel over and black-out. Many, many tests later confirmed only one thing: that I had an extremely low resting heart rate and therefore my body would sometimes go into “sleep mode” if I lay down or was relaxed for too long. Well, there’s not really much you can do for that diagnosis, and I’m not one for unnecessary meds anyway, so I cut back on my running and tried other ways to alter my lifestyle in order to cope.
Another year passed and one of my coworkers became really passionate about some health books she was reading. She became aware that she had a gluten sensitivity and I got swept up in her excitement. I’d like to do a post about those books at some point, but suffice it to say, I ended up removing gluten from my diet and then self-diagnosing myself with a gluten-sensitivity as well If you don’t know, gluten is found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. It is not in rice or corn. It is what makes wheat flour the perfect ingredient for making baked goods because it adds that wonderful, chewy texture that we all know and love. Those of us with a sensitivity to it find this protein really hard to digest and our body reacts negatively to it. People with Celiac’s disease are highly allergic to gluten and eating it–or even coming into contact with small doses of it–can make them very ill. This is a tricky allergy though for several reasons but one of the main ones is that it often goes under-diagnosed because it can disguise itself and/or some people can simply live their normal lives ignorant of the negative symptoms it has on them.
Gluten-free diets have become somewhat of a fad lately (and made popular by the likes of Elisabeth Hasselback + others). Sure, people have probably lost some weight on this diet due to giving up high-glycemic carbs, but this is not a diet that is easy to maintain if that is your sole reason for doing it. And while I’m no scientist, I have read that eliminating gluten from your diet without an allergy or sensitivity can be dangerous. So I get mildly defensive when people jump on the g-free bandwagon just to “lose weight”. Part of that resentment also stems from: I would love to just pick and choose when I can have gluten in my diet…but unfortunately for me, my body literally punishes me when I cheat or reintroduce it into my diet. So I take it a lot more seriously then just a fad diet.
You can actually get blood-work done to diagnose a sensitivity or Celiac’s disease if you suspect you have either (although it can be a little tricky to do so), but I discovered it by eliminating it from my diet altogether for about six weeks. The results were immediate and fantastic: the dizzy spells went away, I regained my energy (which in the past had curiously dipped about 2 hours after every meal) and I felt clean. It is weird to describe it this way, but I felt like my body was thanking me rather than punishing me every time I ate.
And then I got pregnant.
And I starting throwing up and dealing with non-stop nausea. The only thing I could stomach was Saltine crackers. So I reintroduced gluten back into my diet throughout my pregnancy. Besides, I was a little nervous to have a baby that had never been exposed to wheat. I didn’t want her to develop an allergy because she had never come into contact with it in the womb (not sure how scientific that is, but you understand my mother-bear reasoning)
Post-partum I made a conscious effort to cut back on my gluten intake, but with people bringing us delicious meals and my metabolism skyrocketing, I had a really hard time completely eliminating it from my diet. Besides, I was too sleep-deprived to pay attention to any negative effects it was having on me anyway.
Fast forward to now. For some reason, my body still hasn’t come to grips with the fact that it is no longer growing or nourishing a child. The hormones are still a little off-kilter, and things just feel a little unbalanced. About 3 months ago, I had once again started to become acutely aware of the effects that gluten was having on me. At that point, we (N has a sensitivity to it too, but it affects him differently) had mostly eliminated it from our diet save for the homemade flour that we grind from organic wheat berries. We did, however, partake of it liberally at friends’ houses or at restaurants (it’s in so many things!), and I would notice the effects immediately. I decided it was time to go radical again, as I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired all the time. So I said goodbye to my sandwiches, my cake, and even N’s delicious homemade bread while I detoxed my system. I’m happy to report that in the six weeks I’ve done this, I’ve noticed that the eczema on my hands has completely cleared, my skin in general is softer and clearer, and I don’t feel the effects of the morning and afternoon drag.
The best part is, I feel like I am doing the best I can for my body to regulate and for my hormones to finally bottom out. Cause we all know how wacky wacky hormones can make us feel. I did catch myself going weak in the knees over an English muffin commercial (English muffin of all things!) the other day…and was sad at a party that I couldn’t partake in the cupcake…only the icing. But when I walked away from those things…I knew I had made the right decision for me. The reason why I know this is because there have been a few times where gluten has accidentally made it’s way into my food (because I’m still not good at reading all of the labels) and I know instantaneously. My heart rate increases, I feel anxious, I get a headache, and my skin breaks out the next day. See what I mean about my body punishing me? It’s just not worth it.
Right now, I have no idea where this journey will take me. I really can’t think about the future right now because I don’t want to make any promises and I don’t want to really give up pizza forever. I have found a lot of g-free alternatives so we can still enjoy spaghetti and have brownies every once in a while…but ultimately I know that it is more important that we just eat more naturally. That is the ultimate goal, right? Not substituting gluten with synthetic ingredients just so we don’t have to make any sacrifices, but making wise decisions about our food choices, just like we try to make with our finances and lifestyle.
This post is not to induce guilt into any of you about what you eat, nor keep you from inviting us over (please don’t stop, I promise I will still be able to find enough food to eat <>), nor do I want people to feel awkward around me at the dinner table. For a long time, I was embarrassed of this part of my life so I would either try to hide it from others or just play it off as not being a big deal. But the truth is, it has made itself a big deal in my life and it is something I have finally recognized that can’t be ignored. So there, I’ve said it…I’m g-free and I’m proud!
Delicious recipes and product tips to come (for my g- and g-free friends alike!)