September 13th is National Celiac Awareness Day in the United States. It is a day to recognize the progress that has been made thus far, and the hurdles still ahead. It is a day to reflect on both the people that live day to day with the disease, and those who have worked so hard to understand it. Dr. Samuel Gee, who is credited with first making the link between Celiac disease and diet, is quoted as saying, “If the patient can be cured at all, it must be by means of diet”.
Now that we know diet is critical to finding relief from symptoms and healing from the damage that gluten has caused, we can move forward. Progress is being made, and recently, a ruling has come about that will require new, standardized gluten-free labeling in the US. Hopefully Canada will follow suit. But ultimately, each one of us affected must change the way we look at food, and choose to eat foods that will enable us to become healthy once again.
Living gluten-free has not been the easiest decision I have made but I am so glad I made it. While I tested negative for Celiac disease, I had suffered for a long time with many symptoms caused by gluten-intolerance. These included joint pain, stomach pain and bloating, lethargy, hives on my face, indigestion, heightened sensitivity to dairy products, and headaches. Within two weeks of changing to a gluten-free diet, these symptoms disappeared.
Had I known the relief I would have felt, I may have tried this earlier, but part of my initial resistance to following a gluten-free diet was that it seemed so overwhelming to think about food so differently. I was worried that there would be no foods left to eat, and that my family would be frustrated with my restrictions; I was concerned that the flours were hard to find, and that there were hardly any healthy pre-packaged gluten free options. As with any new venture, I was simply unnerved by the unknown.
It was overwhelming at first, but creating a plan helped. Purging the pantry, and creating a gluten-free kitchen was one of the first steps. Asking family and friends for support me in this transition was equally important. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to rely on prepackaged food options alone, but during the transition, I found that this was really helpful. It took a couple of months for me to think differently, shop differently, and cook differently. And in the meantime, it was really nice to have a package of rice pasta as my back-up plan, and a bag of cookies in the fridge to satisfy a craving for something sweet and familiar.
Eight months of clean, gluten-free eating has helped me to feel healthier than I have in years. I actually don’t remember a time that I felt this good! Now that I have a plumb line to measure wellness, I can tell when other foods bother me. I am learning what foods my body needs to eat less or more of, and my cravings for processed foods have diminished. While I am still on my own food journey, it seems to have gotten easier to navigate. Once I embraced my new gluten-free lifestyle, I found I looked forward to cooking again, and wanted to experiment with new ingredients and recipes.
I hope that the same is true of your own food journey, and that we can encourage one another along the way.