January 2nd, 2010

The relationship I have with food has always been complicated. I’ve been an emotional eater since early childhood. I’ve been as much as 150 pounds overweight and am currently 40 pounds heavier than I’d like to be.

My mother’s type I diabetes meant that in my household: food = life. When her blood sugar would take a dive, we fed her a cookie or orange juice. What I learned was that when scary things happen ingest sugar!

At various times in my life I’ve eschewed:
Processed food
Red meat
All meat
Fat
Dairy

None of these ever created permanent weight loss unfortunately and over time I gradually drifted back into eating all of these food types.

I named this post for a quote out of a Police song: “When the World is Running Down.” ‘Same food for years and years, I hate the food I eat.’

As of late, the food I’ve been eating now hates me back.

In October I “suddenly” developed gluten intolerance. I say “suddenly” because for 18+ months I’d been having symptoms that I thought were other things. But when I developed pain so acute I thought I might die and my sister (the poster child for all things “non-mainstream food plans”) suggested that I try cutting gluten from my diet I didn’t even know what gluten was.

How many of you know what gluten is? Basically it is all wheat and barley products. Gluten is in the usual places you’d expect to find wheat: pasta, bread, cereal and virtually all baked goods.

Even more insidious are the places you wouldn’t necessarily suspect to find gluten: almost every frozen prepared meal, soy sauce, some ice cream, some chicken broth, some prepared frosting, beer, meat replacements such as veggie burgers and even in my favorite green enchilada sauce.

Off of my dining list:
Neighborhood bakery
Takeout pizza
Pad Thai at my favorite Asian restaurant
Eggplant Parmesan (bread crumbs)
Gourmet hamburgers or grilled brats (pesky little bun)

If you consider what the typical American eats and having to cut out all wheat products, basically my dietary choices are honed to the following:
Animal meat
Legumes/beans
Oil
Rice
Nuts
Produce
Wine (so all is not lost)

What about diary? You might be thinking. Is there gluten in milk??

No actually, there isn’t. But I couldn’t just develop gluten intolerance, could I? Suddenly I developed a dairy intolerance as well.

You’d have thought I’d have dropped 10 pounds since I could no longer eat bread, milk, cheese or anything processed. But instead I gained 15 pounds. Perhaps eating almond butter by the spoonful wasn’t the best idea….

Did you know that there is such a thing as Gluten Withdrawal?

There is.

Imagine the worst gut wrenching (literally, like someone was twisting my insides) pain, almost explosive flatulence (sorry, real life isn’t always pretty), heartburn, acid reflux, a headache that felt like a I had a steel band around the front half of my head and dizziness and vertigo every time I stood up.

Of course the timing couldn’t have been better. The initial pain that caused me to cut out the gluten occurred two weeks after I started my new job. The subsequent withdrawal took another two weeks to live through and dovetailed with my stepson’s H1N1 diagnosis and his entry into the ICU.

Luckily, my darling husband was terrific about my sudden departure from what most people would consider to be “normal” food. He suffers from his own food allergies and so understands what it means when your body starts treating certain foods like it is poison.

In fact I’ll say that without his support my transition to a gluten-free diet would have been markedly harder.

Learning to eat out, grocery shop, and to eat while traveling has been an experience. However, it was completely worth it.

Once I survived the withdrawal I felt amazing. Things were suddenly clearer, the colors of the world were crisper; it was like a veil had been lifted. The tummy troubles and the headaches all went away as well; I felt buoyed and happier than I had in years.

If anyone has their own gluten intolerance stories to share or want to ask me further questions, please feel free to share and/or ask. I’d also welcome any good gluten-free tips: recipes, places to shop, places to eat etc. that you can pass on.

BTW: I have done research on Celiac disease. I know that the medical tests are all but useless unless you are actively eating gluten when you have them. But I was in such acute distress that there was no way I was going to keep eating wheat just to be tested.

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