The Gluten Free Experiment
“I could never do that!” I don’t know how many times I’ve uttered that phrase any time I heard of someone living with a gluten allergy. How could someone possibly live without bread, pasta, cake, cookies, muffins, donuts, bagels, and pretzels? Those are all of my favorite foods! Those were the foods that my entire diet was based upon. How could anyone live their life gluten-free?
“I could never do that!” is now the phrase that I hear being said back to me. Last month I took a harsh look at my lifestyle, diet, and overall health and I did not like what I saw. My diet of breads, pastas and pastries was taking its toll on my physical well-being.
After doing some research I realized that it was quite possible that I might have a gluten allergy myself. Suddenly the declaration, “I could never do that,” was thrown out the window. If I wanted to feel better, I needed to give the gluten-free diet a try.
Celiac disease and gluten allergies can and should be diagnosed by a doctor. They can both be very serious and can cause a variety of reactions, some very serious, to the gluten proteins that are found in wheat, rye, and barley. I found that celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder. While I’m not sure at this point if I have celiac disease or a gluten allergy, I have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Both RA and lupus are also auto-immune disorders. Auto-immune disorders seem to attract others.
Please note that the gluten-free diet is not for everyone. In fact, every health report I read cautioned that readers should consult their doctor before making a change to their diet. However, because of the severity of the symptoms I was experiencing I decided that trying a gluten-free diet for one week would be safe and it might give me the answers I was looking for.
I could do anything for one week, right?
There is a wealth of information on the web regarding gluten allergies and celiac disease. Here are a few that I found to be extremely helpful:
Finding a local restaurant that really understands food allergies can be very helpful. I was so fortunate to find Sardella's Pizza and Wings the first week. They were great! I wanted to share a little from my experience at their restaurant.
When we arrived, the cashier was very helpful in pointing out all of the gluten-free options on the menu. To my surprise there were several, including breads and pastas. We stuck to the basics, though and chose a gluten-free 12” pizza with ham and pineapple. It was really good!
After our meal, the manager came out and asked how we liked our pizza. I told him about my experiment and he was very encouraging and shared with me that he has been gluten-free for three years. That explained the variety of options and gave us a great place to go on Friday nights! I can’t wait to go back and try some of their other foods.
If you live in the Phoenix metro area, stop by Sardella's Pizza and Wings!
My first problem, however, was the fact that I was completely unprepared. It was a Monday morning and I had already done my weekly grocery shopping. What on earth was I going to eat? My pantry is full of cereal, but that was out of the question. Granola bars and oatmeal was out too, and I didn’t have time to make eggs. So believe it or not, my first stop on my new, gluten-free diet was the drive-thru at McDonalds.
The yogurt parfait at McDonalds is listed as gluten free. It has yogurt and fruit. As long as I didn’t put the granola on, I would be fine. And the best part is, it only costs $1. The yogurt parfait became my breakfast stop every day that week.
Lunch was my next problem. I had errands to run that day, so I needed a quick lunch on the run. I didn’t have anything from home to bring. The leftover fried chicken and macaroni and cheese from Sunday were full of gluten. I ran into a Fry’s grocery store thinking they might have some type of grilled chicken option at the deli, but I was wrong. Everything was fried. All of their sandwiches were covered in bread. So my next solution was to go through the Taco Bell drive thru!
Later, I learned that there are plenty of gluten free selections at Taco Bell, but for the moment, I really didn’t know what to order. I took a chance and ordered a chicken taco on a hard shell, but I only ate the inside.
For dinner that night, we had pork chops and buttered corn. That was easy enough, but looking back at the day, I can see that I really didn’t have much to eat at all. Yet, that’s how I’d been feeling. I hadn’t felt hungry because the food I’d been eating had been making me sick.
On Tuesday, I woke up feeling better than I had in months. I was also able to do some more research. I found an app for my android phone that helps me find local restaurants that have gluten free options as well as suggestions on what to order at many of the restaurant chains. I was relieved to know that I had several to choose from. This may sound odd, but that afternoon my stomach growled. I realized that it hadn’t growled in a long time. Even though I’d barely been eating, I hadn’t felt hungry. That growl told me that I was on the right track.
Throughout the week I kept learning more and more. I learned what candy bars were okay to eat. I learned that many sodas were fine. I learned that I could pretty much Google any food or drink item on my phone and find out it if was gluten-free. I also found that each day I felt a little bit better. But when Friday rolled around… what were we going to do about pizza night?
Thanks to my “Find Me Gluten Free” app, I learned that one of our locally owned pizza places offered a gluten-free pizza. Sardella’s Pizza and Wings has several locations in the Phoenix valley. My husband kindly agreed to share the gluten-free pizza with me.
Before I knew it, I had survived a week of eating gluten-free. To both my amazement and my dismay, I felt great.
As much as I wanted to feel better, I wasn’t sure that I wanted this to be the answer. Gluten is in so many of the foods that I enjoy. I had been used to eating anything I wanted and suddenly, I had to think about everything that went into my mouth.
Throughout the first week I would suddenly think of a food like onion rings and sigh with longing. I wanted to feel better, but I wasn’t sure I was up for the sacrifice. When that would happen I would quickly replace that thought with an equivalent food item that I could eat, like lays potato chips or French fries. There were times when it was hard, but focusing on the positive was crucial.
If you are thinking about switching to a gluten-free diet, or are struggling with celiac disease below are some suggestions that might help you to focus on the positive:
- Support System: My husband has also been a great encouragement to me throughout this. Having his support has helped a great deal in making wise food choices and keeping a positive attitude. (He even said that he would go gluten-free as well… even though he didn’t last a day!) I also have a friend who has celiac disease and she has been very helpful in pointing me in the right direction and giving sound advice. Look among your family and friends. Who can you lean on? If you can’t find anyone, seek out a support group in your area or on-line. Don’t go through this alone.
- Health Food Stores: Our local Spouts store has been a lifesaver to me! They have several gluten-free options including baking mixes for breads and cakes as well as pastas, cookies, breakfast bars, and granola. These items do seem to run a little higher, but I will stock up on them a little at a time.
- Smart Phones: My android phone has become my new best friend. As I mentioned above I found an app that will help me with restaurants in the area. Just using the browser on my phone can help me make quick decisions regarding food choices. Find tools that will help you.
- Rewards: I am a strong believer in rewards. While I may be going without certain things, I have stocked up on a few other treats. Even though I know the evils of soda and sugar, I am well supplied and have rewarded myself daily. My desk drawer has a secret stash of chocolate and gluten-free cookies. I have often rewarded myself with a trip to the soda machine. Even though I am still eating sweets, I can tell that I have lost weight from not eating breads and pastas. It’s an interesting balance. (Once I’m over the hump, I do hope to slow down on the sugar.)
- Better Health: The best positive aspect, however, has been the physical evidence of better health. Now one month later my stomach is functioning normally, the rash I had under my collarbone has all but disappeared, and I am no longer feeling constantly fatigued. I actually feel so well that the thought of eating a blueberry muffin isn’t even appealing. (Well maybe a little.) But I don’t want to go back to feeling the way I did.
“I could never do that!” Dealing with Negativity
I haven’t been very vocal about my new diet, however, I have already heard that phrase uttered to me several times. It probably stings a little more because I know that I have been skeptical and have said this before to others. What goes around comes around!
I think the hardest for me has been the skepticism; those who feel this is all in my head or that I’m being dramatic or trying to get attention. I get this look from people that says, “come on, a little won’t hurt you.” Believe me; cookies and flour tortillas are not worth giving up for attention! And I don’t know yet that a little won’t hurt me. I’ve read a lot about cross contamination and how a food item just touching another can cause illness. A little may indeed hurt me quite a bit. I’m not ready to risk that.
The only way I know how to counter negativity is with positive thinking. The truth of the matter is, if I can do this, anyone can.
It’s been a month now since I began my one week gluten-free experiment. I feel great and I’ve lost a few pounds as well. My next step is to try to add a little gluten back into my diet – just a little, to see what happens. I will also talk to my doctor about my experiment and the results. I feel good about the choices I’ve been making and I hope to continue to improve those choices for an overall better, healthier well being.
What about you? Do you live with food allergies? Do you have any suspicions that you might? I’d love to know your thoughts or suggestions on living gluten-free. Please share them in the comment section below. If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to vote it up! Thanks for reading!