Wheat-free, Low-carb, Paleo, Primal, Gluten-free…. These are the buzz words of the health and diet industry at the moment, which is why I was a bit uncomfortable including ‘gluten-free’ in the description of my blog. I don’t want to be writing about a trend that might soon be gone, such as the likes of Atkins, South Beach, or the Maker’s Diet. Except that my reason for announcing that I am gluten-free isn’t because I am following popular opinion;
I am including it because it has everything to do with my relationship with food, from the time I was a kid.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was already under the ill affects that gluten had on me from the time I was a young child. I remember regularly visiting my grandma’s house after school. The smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the door as she greeted us. I always ended up slumped over in my chair, a tummy full of whole wheat bread, with the feeling of a weight on my chest, unable to take a deep breath.
Unable to describe it and not realizing that what I was feeling was not normal, I went for years with these symptoms. I know now that what I was experiencing was a bad case of indigestion. Lunchtime at school offered me discomfort as well. After my lunch of a sandwich on homemade, whole-wheat bread, I found myself coughing, and constantly clearing my throat, much to my embarrassment, and an annoyance to the kids that sat around me.
As a teen, I felt I ate a fairly healthy diet, avoiding sugar and red meat, and keeping my calories low. But it was not until the year after I graduated from High School that my food-related health issues caught up with me. I was tired all the time. Although I had a part-time job, it was all I could do to drag my eighteen year old body out of bed, and I would collapse upon returning home, sometimes sleeping straight through the afternoon until the next morning. I developed extreme symptoms of IBS, and underwent much probing and ultrasounds to determine what was causing this, but the doctors had no idea what was wrong.
Almost a year later, frustrated and extremely fatigued, I went to see a Naturopath doctor, who after many tests, told me that I was hypoglycemic, had an overgrowth of intestinal candida, and had a strong sensitivity to wheat. What I was eating was destroying my health. I was both discouraged and empowered as I walked out of the ND’s office. I was relieved that my ailments were finally defined, and I was no longer defined by them; however, I was discouraged at how drastically my diet would have to change to accommodate all of his recommendations.
For two years I hardly touched a food with wheat, and the few times I did, I paid dearly. But university, marriage, a job, and a family slowly wore away my resolve. As life got busier, and our family expanded, I tried to avoid excessive wheat, but rarely turned down at least a small portion, ignoring the symptoms of bloating, gas, cramping and constantly running to the bathroom. It seemed like the right thing to do so that our family could eat meals together, enjoy an occasional dinner out, or be gracious guests in the homes of family and friends, never refusing to at least taste what we were offered.
But the body has a way of telling us when it has had enough, and mine told me in the fall of 2011, the year I was pregnant with our fourth, that it could no longer handle the diet I was consuming. Waves of nausea would sweep over me with just a bite of a food containing wheat. Foods prepared with conventional cornstarch and soy sauce gave me instant and agonizing heartburn, which I didn’t realize until later most likely also contained wheat. I could no longer ignore the signs my body was giving me. I had to at least try going gluten-free and see what happened.
I knew I needed extra support if I was going to be able to transition into this way of cooking and eating. Armed with a few good resources I took the plunge into a gluten-free diet, and was not disappointed. The bloating and cramping was gone within two days, and my system seemed more balanced after just one week. Within the first month, I lost seven pounds.
The most surprising outcome was that the pain I was experiencing in my wrists disappeared two weeks after I began this diet. I had experienced ever worsening pain which I thought may be the beginning of the arthritis that seems to run in the family. My healthcare providers told me that it was probably caused from pregnancy and post-partum. But not being able to stir a pot of oatmeal, or chop enough veggies for a soup was equally as discouraging as it was debilitating… and it was gone!
It hasn’t been the easiest journey. My family is still not completely gluten-free, and we are trying to sort out how to be balanced and flexible and still healthy. As I continue to research and learn what is optimal for our health, I want to encourage others to do the same. There are few things more valuable than your health, but it is so easy to neglect because we are busy, or don’t want to be bothered, or don’t want to bother others. But it is something you may not be able to get back once its gone.
I decided that I wanted to take the pro-active route, and make a change for mine and my family’s health. With real, organic food at the forefront, trying to minimize grains and refined sugar, and eliminate anything artificial, I feel like we are slowly getting to where we would like to be. I am so thankful to be on this journey.