Monday, July 2, 2012

My Gluten-Free Story

I say “living” gluten-free versus “eating” gluten-free because it really is a lifestyle. Some things it is easy to substitute and others it’s easier just to cut them out all together rather than risk inducing cravings for fluffy, chewy, elastic, gluten-y goodness.

I found out that I was allergic to wheat, yeast, and gluten when I was 16 years old.  It was quite a blow and practically devastating for someone who lived off of sandwiches, rolls, and breads as a main food. When I was first diagnosed, I eliminated all wheat, yeast, gluten and dairy for six months. It was the hardest and best six months of my entire life.  Hard because I could rarely eat out, always had to bring my own food everywhere (being raised in a place where potlucks were next to godliness made this especially difficult). The "best six months" because during that time, I saw headaches lessen, and weight drop away --60 pounds in six months is nothing to sneeze at for a lethargic teenager.

After those six months, I decided to risk adding gluten back into my diet. It was done gradually. So gradually that by the time I moved out of the house for college, I was back to eating a ‘regular’ diet consisting of lots and lots of the things I should have not been eating.

None of this really mattered until about a year or two later when I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS was and is a nightmare. It’s difficult to manage and most doctors refuse to discuss treatment outside of birth control pills (BCP) unless you’re actively trying to have children. Needless to say, at the age of 20 I had no such desire, so I was put on a regimen of birth control pills and pretty much left alone.

The irony of the situation is that, while PCOS’ most well-known symptom is infertility, it is a debilitating syndrome that can also lead to heart disease, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and obesity, just to name a few.  I started doing some research on my own and found that PCOS had been linked to wheat and yeast intolerances or allergies. This was all very intriguing, but living on the money from three part-time jobs while going to school full-time did not give me the freedom and money I thought I needed to “go” gluten-free.

While I sometimes toyed with the idea of “going gluten-free” completely, I could never kick it completely. Even when going out to eat at a restaurant known for being gluten-free-friendly, I would get a gluten-free entree and get a side packed with gluten.

Eventually, I realized that all had to change. I’m not even sure of the exact day, but I do know that it was a sudden shift. I had started looking into PCOS again after basically ignoring it and going off of BCP for about eight years. When I was researching , I was always drawn to the natural options and the homeopathic recipes. I was not keen to go to another doctor and especially hesitant to go back on birth control as it regularly made me sick.  Once again, I started seeing more and more information about wheat and gluten being linked to PCOS. 

And then one day, I just stopped eating it. No wheat, no gluten. In my big ethnic family, this was especially hard as our gatherings are centered around food, and not just food, but huge, steaming platters of pastas, breaded entrees, rolls, and cakes. Every single thing that my grandmother prided on making for her family from scratch every week or so was laden with gluten. My poor grandmother who seemed to think that she needed to express her love for everyone through food was at her wit’s end.

So was I. Withdrawal from foods you are allergic to is not unlike withdrawal for someone with a drug or an alcohol addiction. It lasts weeks and features headaches, nausea, cramping, fatigue, lethargy, general crankiness, seeming insatiable cravings, and inconsolable mood swings.  All I wanted during those first three weeks (and even now sometimes) was a warm slice of bread slathered with butter or a plate of pasta with meatballs.

The important thing to note is that there is no “starting small” with going gluten-free. It has to be immediate and it has to be all-inclusive. Personally, it was easier for me to give up all breads rather than try to find gluten-free alternatives. Having PCOS, I was already pre-disposed for Diabetes, so trying to keep a low GI diet was next in line after eliminating gluten and many of the gluten-free options were just as bad as their regular counterparts in that respect.

So, here I am. I’m still overweight and I still crave gluten. But I know that I’m doing the right thing and that, even when it’s hard, that it will be worth it in the long run.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so proud of you, Lin! I know how hard going g-free is, and I've only done it for a couple months at a time. I'm checking your blog regularly and am excited to see all of the different foods you try! It seems like when you have to avoid a certain food is when you end up branching out on your food choices, you know?

    You're awesome! Stay strong!