Friday, April 1, 2011


If you've had your ear to the gluten-free ground lately, you've probably heard the bad rap gluten-free eating has been getting. If you haven't, you can get a pretty good idea from this blog post from Gluten Free Goddess Karina Allrich.

I understand how this diet can be seen as a fad.

I also understand the outrage from the gluten free community, especially at the idea of intentionally being fed gluten by a contemptuous chef.

It seems to me that the skeptics haven't heard any stories. And the stories are what forced each one of us to find a better way to live. Perhaps we have been too polite.

My mother never wanted me to describe myself as a sickly person, but at a certain point I realized that the evidence kept pointing toward that conclusion. When I was two years old, my parents noticed splotches on my skin and took me to the doctor, who informed them that I have vitiligo. It's an auto-immune disease that kills the melanin in my skin cells and will eventually make me albino. The spots have progressed my entire life, and now my eyelashes and hair are turning white. No one knows what causes this disease or even how to effectively cure it, but I have grown to accept it.

I went to school sick very often in my early years. After a certain point it seemed normal to have only jell-o and saltine crackers in my lunch bag, because they were all I could keep down. I would typically have a bad run of mostly vomiting followed by a few weeks of a fairly normal stomach, just to be followed by more vomiting.

I clearly remember a particular morning when I was nine years old. I was recovering from a bad two weeks of constant vomiting, but my stomach was clearly recovering. You have no idea how excited I was to eat something other than jell-o or saltine crackers. So what did I do? I had a big bowl of Wheaties. A few hours later I was running out of my classroom into the bathroom, spewing out my entire breakfast. A teacher in the next room heard me, shouted that she would call my dad to come get me, but didn't come rushing in. This was ordinary.

I remember my parents taking me to one of our favorite restaurants when I was nine, where I ate a cookie for dessert. Afterward I dropped my head straight onto my mom's lap, feeling my stomach begin to churn. I still clearly remember thinking, "What's wrong with me? I'm so tired of being sick." As you can guess, a grueling and painful few weeks were ahead of me.

When I went away to college, I realized I had spent so much of my younger years vomiting that I actually knew exactly when I was going to puke. If I'd had too much to drink, I would literally wait in line for the bathroom until it was my turn, pull my hair back with one hand, and vomit on queue.

In high school my weak immune system became most apparent. That was when the sympathy of my friends began to dry up and turn into questions like "you're sick again? What's wrong with you?" As much fun as it was for me to be reminded of the fact that I averaged more colds and skin problems per year than anyone else I knew, I was exhausted of being sick. I was more aware of keeping my throat covered, ordering drinks with no ice, not being outside with my hair wet, not going out in the cold with bare feet, chewing on Pepto Bismol caplets to keep my stomach at bay, and the detrimental effect cold temperatures have on my immune system than any other teenager I knew.

As I got older, I learned to ignore it or just not say anything. I never told anyone about the sharp stabbing pain that would hit me in the stomach a couple times a month. I remember this most from my high school years, but it still happens to me to this day if I eat gluten. It feels as though I have been punched in the intestines by a huge ball of barbed wire, and I can't move, breathe, or stop wincing until the pain subsides. This type of pain usually hits me about 10-12 hours after I've eaten gluten.

After years of brushing my constant illnesses under the rug and ignoring the pain my body went through on a regular basis, something changed. The pain became much more intense. I couldn't tell what triggered it, and I didn't know how to handle it. I began to lose weight because I ate so little, and I resorted to the usual crackers and yogurt that had become my trustworthy standbys. No luck. Regular food seemed to hurt me, so I ate only bread, pancakes, or fiber rich crackers.

Then I began to hit a breaking point most gluten free people glaze over with polite words. But I'll spell it out for you. I had diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and constipation all in one week, often in the same day. It seems unbelievable, but I now know that you can be constipated, have diarrhea, gas, and an added bonus of extreme pain in your stomach--all at the same time. I wouldn't wish that pain and agony on anyone, even the skeptics. It can be brutal.

I had so much gas that being in public began to be embarrassing. I could feel it in my stomach, on my sides, even pressing on my heart. At one point I was so worried I asked my doctor for an EKG, and she told me it was just gas. The surface of my belly became incredibly sensitive, and if my boyfriend accidentally touched my stomach, I would cry out from the pain.

There aren't enough words to describe the amount of pain my digestive system has given me. I know the exact location of my intestines, how the walls of my stomach begin to prickle at the slightest hint of gluten, exactly how much gas my body can produce from even the smallest amounts of dairy.

If you have read my blog post The Battle of the Bellyache, you know that my woes did not end immediately after going gluten and casein free. But they sure have improved a hell of a lot. I can now breathe the same air as someone with a cold and not get sick. I don't have to worry about being at work while handling nausea, constipation, and diarrhea. I have found a way to be well again, and for the first time in my life, I don't see myself as a sickly person.

I'm not the only one with a story such as this one. Many are much worse. But we each found a way to be healthy and enjoy our lives fully, even if it meant sacrificing the foods we loved. Because now we're not in and out of the doctor's office, waiting yet again in urgent care, rushing to the emergency room, calling out from work, or going home sick.

Give us some credit for figuring out how to be healthy.

You have no idea how difficult it has already been.

No comments: