About 10 years ago, being gluten free was not a trend. There were no gluten free products lining the shelves and it wasn’t touted as a “healthy” lifestyle. But that was around the time that I switched to a gluten-free diet.
I went to doctor after doctor trying to figure out why I was sick all the time. Every single time I ate I had to lie down for the next hour, curled up in a ball in so much pain. I stopped going out to eat and would avoid eating at parties out of fear I would have to go straight home. I knew I couldn’t keep living this way so I was desperately searching for a solution.
The first diagnoses I received was lactose-intolerance. This was a clear-cut test where I literally drank a cup of lactose and then blew into a tube to measure how much hydrogen was in my breath. They explained that the more hydrogen I exhaled, the more likely it was that my body was unable to process lactose. I left the office that day with a massive stomach ache and a clear diagnosis of lactose-intolerance, and I thought I was totally in the clear!
So, for the next couple months I cut all lactose out of my diet. I went as far as asking restaurants not to cook my food in any butter and I did everything humanly possible to avoid ingesting any lactose. And after 2 months of doing this, I didn’t feel any better…
So back to the doctor I went, and finally they decided to test me for Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage to the small intestine. Since I have a personal history and family history of autoimmune disease, this seemed like a likely diagnoses as well. Two blood tests and an endoscopy all came back “inconclusive” so my doctor recommended I cut out gluten anyway and just see how I felt.
Well, after about two weeks of cutting all gluten out of my diet, I felt like a real human again! I had forgotten what it felt like to not be sick after eating! I could actually enjoy myself at parties and with some modifications to menus I could go out to eat again! Life was GOOD!
I maintained a lactose-free, gluten-free diet for about 9 years. Sometime during those 9 years, gluten-free diets became a fitness trend. My experiences at restaurants went from receiving pity from waiters and waitresses to receiving eye-rolls that I was “one of those.” It was a weird shift, but I didn’t care because I hadn’t been sick from food in so long!
About 6 months ago, I thought I would experiment with being a little less strict.* It had been so long since I had had a warm piece of homemade bread from a restaurant and I figured the worst thing that could happen is I would go home feeling sick and just get back to my normal gluten-free routine.
Well, a few bites of bread, meatballs with bread crumbs, and even a bite of pizza later, and I was still feeling awesome! Granted these things were spread out over the course of weeks, but I was starting to realize that in small doses, I might not have to be as strict as I had been for the past decade! I felt a sense of freedom to try a bite of Jason’s gluten-full food or *gasp* have a real cookie!
My realization didn’t lead me to change my diet much overall, because I know that I generally feel great with the way I eat. The only change happens now on special occasions when maybe I want a matzo ball in my matzo ball soup, or I want a bite of dessert for a special occasion. I didn’t suddenly start cooking macaroni and cheese for dinner just because I discovered that my gluten sensitivity had decreased.
But the most bizarre thing that has come of all of this, is that people are REALLY upset when they see me eating something with gluten in it. Family members have looked at me like I’m betraying them; friends are asking if I had been lying for all those years. Frankly it’s shocking how much people care what I choose to put in my mouth! I feel more judged now by my peers for having a bite of bread than I ever did for ordering gluten-free.
In a way I can see where people are coming from. Since going gluten-free, I’ve had friends and family members also try it as a means to help with their digestive woes, and it has helped them just as it helped me. So of course now when they hear me say that I’m no longer (strictly) gluten-free, they feel somehow like I’ve betrayed them. They’ve started asking me if I think they should try being less strict too or if it was all a scam this whole time.
I wanted to tell this story because I think it’s a good lesson in the individualization of life. Every single person is going to have a way of eating (and doing anything, really) that works best for them. It’s really important that we focus on what actually makes us feel our best, not what others tell us should make us feel our best. By not fitting into a clear-cut box anymore, I no longer have a defined way that I eat. I eat healthy. I eat lots of high-quality protein and vegetables. I eat whole grains and fruit, and sometimes I have a little ice cream! The way I eat can’t be categorized into “paleo” or “gluten-free” or any other fad diet. The way I eat can only be categorized as “what makes me feel good.” My energy levels are high, I’m able to maintain a healthy level of body fat, and I never feel sick to my stomach after a meal.
I want to encourage all of you to find your own unique “makes me feel good” diet. Instead of worrying about what others are doing or what others might think, find a routine that makes you feel healthy, strong, and awesome! You’ll be amazed at how relieving it is to break free of societal norms and carve your own path!
*If you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease this is NOT recommended! Since I had never been officially diagnosed I felt comfortable trying this, but for anyone with true Celiac disease, ingesting any gluten can lead to long-term damage!
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