I didn’t even cheat. Well, at least not intentionally. Look, I had no idea that GlutenFlam was not an outright get-out-of-jail-free card. I thought I was perfectly covered. Once I found out that I wasn’t, I never indulged again.
I’m here to say that despite the fact that gluten-free is catching on in some of the “fad” circles and some people are dabbling in the diet as such, it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t even a (realistic) choice.
Sure, I could have said, “screw it, it’s too hard” and just continued eating gluten, come what may.
But I know better than that. I know too much about what happens. I’ve seen the MRI scans of the plaquing in the brain. I’ve heard the stories of people with progressively-worsening ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease-like symptoms that cleared up dang near 100% inside of 6 months of a faithful gluten-free diet. I know that as many as 80+% of everyone with Northern or Western European blood has the gene that wreaks gluten havoc in an (often-undiagnosed) family way. I know that there is more to gluten intolerance than full-blown Celiac Disease, and I know that it’s not primarily an abdominal condition, as once thought, but rather a neurodegenerative condition (the end-stage of which is dementia). I also knew that armed with this info and my own experiences (the pre-gluten-free bad and the post-gluten-free good), I owed it to myself, my family, and my future patients to walk the walk, no matter how hard it is. Life did not grant me some entitlement to an absence of difficulty; some things are just going to be harder.
So what else have I learned in 6 months?
When you go gluten-free, much of the gratification is instant. Within the same day or perhaps the next, I stopped falling asleep after meals. People started commenting on how much clearer and brighter my eyes looked. Within 3-4 days of being gluten-free, my night vision cleared up and suddenly I could see well enough at night to drive without nearly as much fear. A few days after that, I also noticed my day vision was clearer, and I hadn’t noticed any daytime vision issues at all–only night vision problems. Some of the gratification is more delayed. My mood stabilized – this one takes longer, but it’s perhaps the most rewarding benefit. The downward spiral that my overall state of health was locked into came to a slow but steady halt, a difference that although subtle, I could feel over time.
Some people lose weight as their inflamed/inefficient cells dump their excess water. I wasn’t one of those lucky ones. That’s OK; I’ll work on that one separately, especially since the cause of my own weight probably has a lot more to do with stress hormone levels than excess water anyway.
I have recently realized I might be reacting to corn. I’ve been wheat gluten-free, but sometimes I’ll still get that antecubital rash or an itchy spot where the rim of my glasses touches my cheek skin. Sometimes I’ll get abdominal discomfort or gas. I’m thinking there was either a cross-contamination issue (good luck sourcing that) or a corn problem (easier to find out).
Eating out can be a downright chore. Weekends spent out of town are a bear, because sure, there are 16 restaurants in a half-mile walking radius, but good luck finding anything at any of them that I can eat. Gluten-free iPhone apps are better than nothing, but they’re rather incomplete. Simply put, eating outside the home strips you of your control and it makes each meal a minefield. It’s fun and social and it makes you feel like a normal person, but it’s Russian Roulette.
Eating at home is not even an issue. It’s only tough in the beginning, as you’re scrutinizing every label, trying to identify exactly what you can eat and what you can’t, but once you’ve done that, meal planning is a piece of cake. After all, even if you go entirely grain-free (which I now recommend for all suspected gluten-intolerant people), you still have open season on all meat, veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds. So, there are plenty of foods I can still eat, and I don’t feel deprived at all (except maybe when the spouse heats up an apple-cinnamon Pop Tart. Brat).
There are things I miss. I miss the organic pop-tart equivalents from Whole Foods. I miss grasshopper pie, not that I had much of it before. I miss Mom’s chocolate chip cookies. I miss flour tortillas. I miss buttermilk pancakes and quick, filling peanut butter and jelly/honey sandwiches with the soft bread that doesn’t need refrigeration.
I learned that I can have all the foods that I used to have; I can indeed have brownies or whatever; they just have to be gluten-free. And as gluten-free food manufacturers refine their recipes and perfect their craft, these foods increasingly taste more “normal” and less like “special” foods.
There is no cheating, and I do sometimes get annoyed with people who ask, “oh but can’t you have just a little bit, just this once?” That’s like saying a recovering alcoholic, “aw come on – you can have one beer, right?” No, there is no leeway. Not unless I would like my brain to swell again and bring back all of the symptoms I used to pray and plead for an answer to. No, thanks. I’ll skip the wheat-floured brownie. By doing so, I’ll be able to see well enough to drive home afterward. It’s tough enough to 1) feel deprived of something I like and used to be able to eat, 2) risk disappointing people who made food for me, and 3) have to go through the explanation (once again) of my issue. So thanks, but please stop asking! It’s not like my body will just change.
It’s easy to forget and eat gluten without realizing it! You’d be shocked at what wheat flour passes for these days. Bread is easy to avoid. But what about Ho-Ho’s? Twinkies? Soy sauce? Soup?? There are even varieties of Blue Bell Ice Cream (as good as it is, avoid the Milk Chocolate concoction) that contain wheat flour! Be vigilant–very, very vigilant. It’s a wheat jungle out there. It’s worth navigating, though. In fact, it’s almost a gift. Because now, I can help others from a special vantage point because I’ve been there and done that. Luckily the T-shirt I got is made of cotton, not wheat.