I’m sick and tired of going to restaurants and ordering gluten free and being asked is it an allergy or a preference? Seriously? A preference? When I eat gluten I feel so bloated I wanted to explode. When I eat gluten I have explosive bathroom issues. Yes, I choose to feel so nauseated that I wanted to vomit but can’t. Yes, I choose to feel as though I just want to go to sleep until the nightmare is over. Yes, absolutely, it’s a preference. Be real!
So, over a year ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease. No, not Quasimodo’s Disease, Hashimoto’s. It’s an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks your thyroid. The most common symptoms include: fatigue, weight gain, pale or puffy face, feeling cold, joint and muscle pain, constipation, dry and thinning hair, severely dry skin, heavy menstrual flow or irregular periods, depression, panic disorder, a slowed heart rate, not to mention a myriad of other annoyances. It’s about seven times more common in women than in men. It can occur in teens and young women, but more commonly shows up in middle age, particularly for men. In most cases Hashimoto’s develops into thyroid dysfunction or hypothyroidism. I’m lucky to not have the latter but it’s an annoying disease. I’m cold, even when it’s 70 degrees out if there is the slightest breeze. I’m tired --- so tired. My muscle and join pains are indescribable. My skin is so dry that shaving my legs is a MAJOR event followed by bleeding, rash and discomfort. Thank goodness for my Chiropractor and my massage therapist, they’ve changed my life. The sadness and the panic are often devastatingly overwhelming and cause others to think that I am out of my mind. I work very hard to keep all of these things under control so that I can continue to live a somewhat normal life but it isn’t easy. Every day, it’s something new or something different. I’m sure to many others I seem somewhat of a hypochondriac but I’m very dialed into my body and how I feel and often days it’s easy for me, myself, to think that I am crazy.
The funny thing about becoming really conscious about how you feel on a day-to-day basis is that you start to realize sometimes how terrible you have felt for so long and never realized it. Terrible starts to be the normal and pretty soon you adjust. No really, I’m serious. For example, when the Blackhawks are playing, my husband and I are very tuned in. We love to go out to a bar and catch a game, enjoy a few beers and occasionally some pizza. We’ve done this for years. As of the last year or two, I found myself becoming very sick during these celebrations. I never paid much attention to the why. I blamed it on the greasiness of the sausage on the pizza, drinking too much, the lack of carbs that I eat, not drinking enough water that day, etc. But when I really started to pay attention, I found that the sickness was sometimes debilitating. Once, I excused myself, left my husband and went home because I just wanted to go to sleep to make how I felt stop. For years, when I was doing low-carb diets, I thought I felt amazing while on them because carbs were just that awful. I didn’t realize that it was the absence of gluten in the diet that was making me feel so awful.
As I work hard to try to keep my pain and inflammation to a minimum, I often seek the advice of my own personal physician and rely heavily on articles about this crazy autoimmune disease in hopes that I’ll find the next greatest thing to help me. One of the first things that I was told by EVERYONE was “go gluten free.” My doctor said it, everyone I came across that suffers from it said it and every article that I read on the disease says to go gluten free. Why? Apparently, the majority of individuals that have feel remarkably better. If I could feel remarkably better, why wouldn’t I do it too? My husband and I have been following a low carb diet for some time so the thought of giving up bread and things was not as horrifying as it might once have been but the thought of never being able to eat it again was a little scary, I admit.
At about the time I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, my doctor had run a battery of tests. One was for Celiac disease. Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. People living gluten-free must avoid foods with wheat, rye and barley, such as bread and beer. For Celiacs, ingesting small amounts of gluten, like crumbs from a cutting board or toaster, can trigger small intestine damage. Fortunately, I tested negative; however, I still had a decision to make. Even despite the negative result, it was still highly recommended that because of my symptoms, I try going gluten free. By this time, I was really feeling awful most of the time so I did it, I took the leap.
I can’t remember the date but it hasn’t been quite a year since I’ve gone gluten free. I will tell you, I feel significantly better. When I’ve accidentally ingested something that contains gluten (because it is in so many things that are not obvious), I immediately know because of the bloat and the nausea that I feel. I no longer eat anything containing wheat, rye or barley. I no longer consume any beer and unlike following a low-carb diet, I am never tempted to cheat on my gluten-free choice because I know how devastatingly awful I will feel.
So you can imagine how annoyed I am when a waiter or waitress asks me in a restaurant “is it an allergy or a preference?” I don’t do gluten free to be faster, stronger, or more attractive. I’m not doing it as a means of losing weight. Gluten is a toxin, it causes inflammation, it contributes to autoimmune diseases, and it gives you headaches, joint pain and brain fog. It makes you sick. When you consume gluten, it enters your small intestine. The gluten molecules irritate and attack your epithelial cells (the ones on the inside of your small intestines). This irritation causes the space between your intestinal cells to widen. In some cases, gluten also directly attacks your cells. Gluten, bacteria, and undigested food particles sneak through these gaps between your cells and into your bloodstream (you’ve probably heard of leaky gut). Once gluten and the other things enter your bloodstream, your body mounts an inflammatory response. This inflammation spreads throughout your body, wreaking havoc on your health. Theoretically, if you always indulge in gluten-filled foods, your gut and body stay inflamed.
Yes, only about 0.7-1.2% of the population has celiac disease and truly needs to avoid gluten but the all of the others who have some of the symptoms I have described may be allergic to wheat. Only about 0.4-0.5% of the population is allergic to wheat. The only other possible explanation is gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance. It doesn’t make it any less real. There’s no firm definition of what gluten sensitivity really *is*. There are no objective lab tests. Yet, many people eat gluten-free to free themselves of symptoms associated with wheat allergy, simple gluten sensitivity, autism, schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and Type 1 diabetes.
People like myself who suffer from joint pain, migraines, and unexplained gut issues have found relief from following a gluten-free diet, sometimes upon the suggestion of their medical doctors. My point being is that I don’t prefer to eat this way. There may not be science that can back up the claims that gluten free is actually the key to feeling better for some people even if they are not Celiac or wheat allergic, but I, like many other people, live the proof every day.
I prefer to be able to eat a sandwich with normal bread, have pancakes when I want them, put some crackers in my chili, enjoy the same pizza everyone else is devouring and not have to pay extra to go without but doing any of those things cause me serious pain and misery. Please don’t cop an attitude with me when I order something gluten free or when I ask you to find out if a certain item contains gluten. I’m not trying to inconvenience you or draw attention to myself. It’s for the sake of my health. So therein lays the choice: eat it or be in pain and misery. What’s your preference?