On May 22, I went gluten free. It was not the first time I did so, but it was the first time I declared that I was going off gluten to see if the variety of symptoms I had were related to some sort of gluten issue. The human body being the multi-dimensional waste disposal system that it is, it took time, but little by little, symptom by symptom, I started to feel better. That meant no phantom sunburn, no migraines, no joint swelling and pain, no edema, no brain fog, and after about ten days no bloating or water gain, either. At almost three months out, a second dietary trigger – chocolate – has been identified, and the gastro-intestinal issues are pretty much gone unless something goes haywire or I have one too many martinis. My skin is still recovering, but the little bump rash is no where as pronounced as it was for decades.
I’m feeling the best I have since I went pretty strictly paleo about five years ago in a bid to rid my diet of soy (another intolerance)…and I’m totally miserable.
The reasons why should sound familiar to those out there with Celiac Disease, non-Celiac gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance.
The “Picky Eater” Label
In my family, and even among some friends, the overwhelming sentiment is everybody should be enthusiastic for adventures in food. Not being able to eat absolutely everything results in snide comments about picky eating and being a pain in the backside. The complaints about not having anywhere to eat out where everyone agrees due to one person’s dietary needs are very hurtful. (Diabetics aren’t treated this way, and they sit at the dinner table and give themselves insulin shots.) In fact, being able to eat out at all for a gluten sensitive person is even an issue.
Seeming To Be Ungracious
In order to keep from making waves or seeming like being a picky eater, I’ve been known to take food to events where I know a meal will be served. That includes work lunches, family parties, and events where the food provided is usually sandwiches, cake and other items made with wheat, barley and rye. Quite often, this action is taken very badly by the hosting parties. In an effort to avoid conflict, a scene is caused more often than not. It is not intentional, but everyone notices and wants to know why you aren’t eating the cake Aunt Jackie made. (Fortunately, in all branches of the family, there is at least one other person who has to eat gluten free in addition to me. As one cousin put it, we have to have two menus.)
Convenient Food Choices Do Not Exactly Exist
Let’s face it. The American convenience food of choice…well, even restaurant food of choice…is the sandwich. Put anything at all between two pieces of bread, and Americans have found nirvana. Imagine being the one person in a group who cannot eat at Panera. Or walking into a gas station convenience store on a road trip for a bite. In order to really remain gluten free, one has to carefully choose not just starches, but lunch meat, cheese, condiments and avoid the croutons. Skipping the toast at breakfast is a no brainer. I’ve taken to traveling with a cooler for fruits, veggies, Greek yogurt, and gluten free meats. Gluten free is not exactly a lifestyle for people on the go or who travel a lot. (One gluten free friend takes hard boiled eggs on road trips. Her issue was actually pre-diabetes.)
Substitutions Do Not Taste Like The Real Thing
Now that I’ve gotten good at making zucchini noodles, eating them with a red sauce isn’t so weird, but still, it’s not real spaghetti. Corn starch works as a thickener, but it just doesn’t taste right. I’m mustering up the courage to get into coconut and arrowroot flour. (Plus, gluten free options are considerably more expensive.) Some days, you just want to throw in the towel and head to the local bakery.
No Pasta, Pizza, Bread, Coffee Cake, Donuts, Apple Pie, Pastry, Birthday Cake, Pop-Tarts, Waffles, Pancakes, Toast, PB&J, Granola Bars, Cookies, Stuffing or My Sister’s Turkey Gravy Which Should Be A Food Group
No further explanation necessary.
So, there you have it for the number of people out there who call BULL$#@! when someone says they are eating gluten free. There are those who are doing it in a mistaken belief that they will lose weight. (Maybe in the beginning, but really you have to reduce calories in order for the weight to come off.) Some people are trying it to figure out if they feel better eating without grains. And then there are those of us who really do have symptoms that improve with gluten removed from our diets. For us, it is not a fad, not a trend, but a way to live without having to constantly be in search of a rest room. There is no pill to take, no vaccine, no supplement that can change that.
Please understand that for a lot of us who are gluten free it has nothing to do with drawing attention to ourselves. It is about survival. And in the American food world, it is more a matter of missing out than not.