Thursday, October 6, 2011

confessions of a former gluten cheater

We've had a lot of new members join our gluten free support group in the past year and one thing that has truly resonated with me is their struggle to go completely gluten free. To quit gluten completely.

If you've been gluten free for a while this may seem strange. Why would anybody be willing to eat foods that harm them? 

But for people who are brand new to this. People who suddenly have to change EVERY aspect about how, why, what, and where they have been eating... it can be a truly painful change. Trust me. I remember. I know. I get it. And with other foods, I still struggle. (I'm currently trying to cut sugar and all grains from my diet and it is a continuing challenge.) 

So this post... it's for all of you who have had trouble in the past, or are currently having trouble giving up gluten. 

I was in your shoes once. I've been there. You grew up learning about the food pyramid (or if you're as old as me, the four food groups) -- milk, vegetables/fruits, eggs, WHOLE GRAINS -- which usually ONLY meant WHOLE WHEAT if you lived in a small town like I did (who ever heard of quinoa?), these were all toted as super health foods. 

You ate every meal without giving a second thought to a food label, how the food was prepared, or who made the food (and what knowledge they may or may not have about gluten). You didn't think about crumbs on your counter, the toaster you used, the wooden utensils used to prepare your meal. 

Life was easy. Eating out was easy. Holidays were easy -- well, at least when it came to food -- the relatives might be a whole different story. 

But you were sick. Yet because it had gone on for so long...the stomach pains, the migraines, the severe diarrhea 20 minutes after eating, the skin rashes, the constipation, the fuzzy brain, the emotional ups and downs, the bad moods, the constant worrying about where the bathroom was located no matter where you were... you lived like that for so long... it seemed normal. Why change it now? 

It seemed like the loss of pizza, ice-cream (hello cookies and cream), BREAD, lasagna, muffins, cake, pasta, cheeseburgers... an ENTIRE food group... was literally impossible. You would have to give it all up. Don't tell me about the gluten free alternatives right now... for somebody -- if you were anything like me -- somebody who depended on food much more than I ever realized, it was an absolutely devastating loss. Yet, I chose to do it. Maybe you didn't choose. You were TOLD to do it. By the 35th doctor you had seen over the past 5 years. And for many people, that would be a relief. But maybe for you... even if you did "choose" to do it because you realized gluten made you feel really crappy -- to give it all up? It's still a huge loss. 

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.. that you sat down to eat life would be different. Birthdays, holidays, family gatherings, just heading through the drive through for a cheeseburger or fries... you wouldn't be able to do it anymore. Or at least not without a LOT of thought involved. 

And who wants to really think when you just want some daggone french fries?  

I've been there. 

The first two years of being gluten free... I ate it anyway. I lied to myself, to others. I didn't eat it often, but there were times I just had to have it. It was like a drug. My husband would order a pizza from our favorite place and I'd HAVE to eat just ONE piece. One piece won't hurt. 20 minutes later I'd be running to the bathroom. I'd blame it on something else. It was the pork sausage or the cheese (and ironically, later, I realized both of those foods hurt me too... lol)... but surely it WASN'T that ONE stinking piece of pizza. It was NOT that crust. I refused to believe that. I didn't want to believe it. Then the next day the headache would follow. 

For many of you it's the stomach pains that clue you in... for me... it was the migraines. The migraines literally knocked me out for two days. Two days was a blessing...sometimes they would last a WEEK.  The diarrhea? That was a breeze compared to the migraines.. so much so, I didn't even think of it as a symptom. 

And even though deep down I KNEW that the food was hurting me... there were days I honestly thought it was worth the migraine. Because I was so addicted to gluten, I could not give it up. I was willing to eat foods that literally were destroying my intestines because I just couldn't give them up. 

Some days I'd almost get by with it. I'd sneak a piece of pizza or garlic roll or french fries from the McDonald's drive thru... and sometimes I wouldn't even hurt -- maybe I got lucky, maybe it was a fluke... but then the next time I cheated the reactions would be 10 times as bad as they were before. And those days that I didn't eat the actual piece of pizza, I thought I could get away with just scraping off the toppings... (trust me... that doesn't work either!)

Eventually about 2 1/2 years into the gluten free (or the "NO, I don't really want to be gluten free") journey... we had a vacation. Our vacation for our 5 year wedding anniversary. 

I packed well. I brought Bob's Red Mill bread mixes. I brought gluten free cereal. I had gluten free snacks. I had every intention of cooking at least MOST of our meals in our Gatlinburg cabin. I even found an awesome gluten free bakery that made us a gluten free anniversary cake. 

But it was our anniversary! AND I wanted to go out to eat. Unfortunately, that part of Tennessee didn't exactly have the greatest gluten free options available. I WANTED pizza. I WANTED HOT rolls. I WANTED pancakes from one of the 10,000 pancake restaurants in the area. And I CHEATED. I cheated BIG TIME. I ate gluten the WHOLE week. 5 days of gluten. I actually didn't feel that bad the whole week. 

And then it happened. The day after we left Tennessee... we were finally home from our trip, it was time to get back to real life and back to work. I felt the migraine coming on. It was slow, but severe. The type of migraine you could easily black out from the pain. The type that came on slowly, but gradually caused such great pain that I thought I literally was going to die. For TWO solid weeks I dealt with that migraine. Two weeks of probably taking way too many over the counter medicines to try to control the pain. Taking prescription medications on top of that.... to only get maybe 1-2 hours of relief. And then it would start all over again. I had to manage going to work, but all I could do once I got home was literally fall into bed crying. Shutting the windows so the room was black... crying on my husband's shoulder... then dealing with more migraine pain from the sinus pressure of crying... it was a never ending cycle for two solid weeks. 

And that's when I decided enough was enough. No more gluten. None. Never. NO more. Never again intentionally. In the two and half years since that horrid migraine I haven't even touched gluten intentionally. I honestly lost all desire for gluten after that experience. 

So for me... even though I had been "gluten free" for nearly two years by my 5th anniversary... that was when the "real" gluten free journey truly began for me. 

And once I took this new lifestyle seriously, I began to realize the other foods that caused problems for me as well (namely dairy/casein, and soy). I started reading food labels fiercely. I started calling companies about food products and how they were manufactured. I started being a "gluten detective" as one helpful children's book described it. 

I started to realize my health was a gift, and I needed to protect it. I realized that life could have been so much worse. I may have had to go on pills for the rest of my life, it could have been cancer, it could have been something that I had absolutely no control over. 

But I can control this. By simply focusing on the foods I CAN eat... the joys that are abundant in my life... my friends... my incredibly supportive husband... my ability to cook and bake gluten free... I could do this. 

And I was worth it.  I was absolutely worth it. I still am. 

You are too.

Our journeys are different. Our reasons are different. You may be a diagnosed celiac patient. You may have discovered your gluten intolerance on your own like I did. You may be supporting a loved one by eating gluten free at home. Whatever your reasons.... they are valid. And especially if you are following this lifestyle/diet for your health, I think even if it's something you have struggled with in the past, you will eventually discover that your health is worth it. That to live well is worth it. 

And once you get there... Once you get to that place of being okay with who you are and what your body needs... you'll start to find joy again.

Are you a gluten cheater? Have you struggled with being diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance? Need help finding the joy in being gluten free? Let's chat! Check out the chat box to the left of this post, or leave a comment here on the blog. We'll talk. You can cry. I'll give you a virtual hug.

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