I haven’t posted in over a month. Yikes! I have been very busy with events, business trips, my birthday, new cooking adventures and looking back on my first year of being gluten-free.
A little over a year ago, I embarked on a journey that has taken me places and taught me things I never would have believed I’d experience. That was the beginning of my gluten-free journey. As I reflect on my first year of gluten-free life, I found that to fully understand the magnitude of the impact this journey has had, I needed to go back and reflect on what brought me here in the first place.
I have read a lot of blog posts in the last year where people recalled being diagnosed with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity, and as I’ve read them, they have eased my fears and provided me with comfort that I am not alone and that there is a solution to my problem. So in case there is one person that can find comfort in my story, I thought I’d share it with you. But let me warn you, this is not for the faint of heart.
As I went from doctor to doctor seeking relief from my symptoms, the common question among all was “When did you first notice these symptoms?” Well…let’s see. My whole life?
Yes that’s right. My whole life. My whole life I have had what I would call a “sensitive” stomach. And I’m not just whistling Dixie on that. I have rationalized it out to be stress related, work related, medicine related, but never food related. There never seemed to be a common theme among foods. And oh yes, I tried the food elimination trials – dairy, spicy, low carb, no carb, even wheat. Never gluten. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
Throughout my youth, I would say that major symptoms would only present themselves when I was severely stressed. But as I got older that started to change, and it couldn’t be attributed to solely a stressful event. Although I never attributed my problem to a food intolerance issue, I did realize that not eating was a way of avoiding it. But once I felt that I was beyond a stressful point, I was constantly hungry, and I could never feel satisfied. I can’t express to you the extra stress and emotion this caused as I never felt completely worry free. I can remember getting dressed in the pastor’s office on my wedding day and thinking not in anticipation of the new life that I was embarking on, but rather praying that I get through the day in my gorgeous white wedding dress with no issues or embarrassment. I did, but I ate very little of the beautiful buffet that my mother had so tirelessly prepared for our celebration, and didn’t even finish my slice of the gorgeous wedding cake that I had so proudly picked out and planned.
My work world has been a constant planning process to deal with my issues. As a certified road warrior – out on a plane on Monday morning and back on Friday – I never ate breakfast on Monday mornings, or lunch on Fridays. And if for some reason I couldn’t follow that routine, I sweated my trips to the airport. I knew where every restroom outside of airport security was located. As a commuter in a city where the average commute to/from downtown is over an hour, I also know every gas station, convenience store or other establishment on my route. I gave up on riding the park and ride bus.
As I lay in the Cardiac Cath Lab while having a pacemaker implanted in an emergency procedure, the first thought that crossed my mind, after I finally felt a little at ease that I was going to be OK from a cardiac standpoint, was “I hope my stomach doesn’t act up.” Like I didn’t have more important things to worry about. Ok so I am a worrying multi-tasker. I am actually very accomplished at worrying about multiple things at once, but you get my point.
I have already been on the Medical Merry Go Round with my heart. Despite the fact that I hate Doctors. And let me underscore…I HATE DOCTORS. I have learned that nobody knows my body better than I. As I told my dreaded Cardiac Electro Physiologist, whom I not so fondly refer to as Dr. Ego, “you may have 12+ years of medical school, and 20+ years of experience in Cardiology, but I have 43 years of experience with my body, so listen to me”, ( or in other words – focus, doc, focus on something other than my weight…) And as I choked him with data, he finally looked past the fact that I was an overweight, over 40 woman, and started listening. Yes, I really can ride a bike 40 miles, overweight and over 40. At least I used to be able to, before my ticker went all wacko with electrical gremlins.
Once I made it past the heart issues, I was so relieved that I tried to get back to everyday life and for me that meant back to my exercise program. I was an avid cyclist, and I registered for the Houston area Tour de Cure benefitting the American Diabetes Association. I was so ready. No Bradycardia, no Arial Fibrillation, no electrical gremlins – just a strong heart in perfect rhythm with my trusty Pacemaker George in my shoulder. 40 miles here I come. I ate not one but two carb and fiber rich whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, perfect fuel for a perfect day. And off I went, bike on rack, rack on car, Budger in the zone. And then it happened. As I went screaming into a Love’s travel stop with tires screeching, practically pushing old ladies out of the way while setting a new 100 yard dash record in the old fat chick in bike shorts division, I realized there would be no ride. My day had gone down in flames. (Not really flames, but let’s just leave it at that anyway) Instead I drove home in tears, defeated and betrayed by my body again.
Finally after seeing three different GI doctors, numerous tests and scopes, I decided that not having an answer wasn’t good enough. My hair was falling out. I was constantly hungry, yet every time I ate, I felt like I was playing Russian Roulette. I was tired; my joints ached, and I wasn’t going to just live with it anymore. I had already been through harder things than this. So round 4 of GI central, I took the same approach. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not acceptable. There must be an explanation. No, it’s not weight related; it’s been this way through my entire spectrum of weight – fat and skinny. Listen to ME. And finally I heard the magic words. “You tested positive for Celiac Disease.” I was so relieved there was a diagnosis that I didn’t care that there was no cure. And when the doctor told me I would need to follow a gluten-free diet, I just looked at him like he told me I had won the lottery. At that point, I figured it couldn’t be any worse. My doctor’s parting words – “let’s get you back on that park and ride bus.”
So here I am a year later. It hasn’t been easy, but compared to the alternative, it’s definitely not hard. I haven’t made it back on the bus yet. Part of that is a boatload of emotional baggage that isn’t quite ready to give up the security blanket of my car. I still have some other issues to work out. I have to be careful about how much fat I eat. I am not very good with monitoring the menu when I eat out, so I mostly avoid eating out when I can. Business lunches are a huge challenge. Despite the great coaching and advice I have received from my gluten-free friends, I still struggle with bringing attention to what I am eating/ordering in front of business colleagues. Most of my close co-workers know, and try to help where they can, but I do a lot of sales lunches with people I don’t know at all, and it’s always a challenge.
The benefits however make up for the down side of the diet. My hair is no longer falling out. I have more energy. My body is redistributing itself. After 40 years of gaining weight in my rear and thighs, I am now gaining weight in my belly. This, of course, raises its own set of issues. The most important thing, however, is that I now feel in control. I’ve already lost most of the weight I put on right after switching to the diet. And I look forward to getting back on my bike this spring. And the biggest change is that I now eat healthier than I ever have. I cook more, and I eat good natural foods, and I don’t feel deprived. I ENJOY cooking. Who would have thought? That cooking gene was only lying dormant looking for an opportunity to come out and show herself. The only thing I miss? I miss the ability to spontaneously cave into the occasional craving. No more cruising through the Popeye’s drive through when the fried chicken craving hit. No more trying the stuffed and fried jalapeno’s at the local Texas BBQ joint. That’s a good thing, and a bad thing. I haven’t tried anything fried gluten-free…yet. I am sure my cardiologist thanks my stomach for that.
So I consider my 1st year of being gluten-free a success. And I anxiously await year two, as my body continues to heal, and I continue to explore what this journey has in store for me. Does anyone have a good recipe for some gluten-free fried chicken?