If you haven’t guessed by all the gluten-this, gluten-that terms I’ve been throwing around, I have celiac disease.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats. (author’s note: add malt to the list, too)
I use the terms gluten-intolerant and celiac disease interchangeably because people know either one or the other BUT they are very different from each other. It may sound crazy to say this, but I would pay good money to be gluten-intolerant. Because I am celiac, I can’t even eat anything that’s touched something with gluten in it (aka cross-contamination). I recently got “glutened” (gluten poisoning…more on this in a bit) from sharing a mayo jar with a “normal” person. Yeah…fun times. I have to maintain a strict gluten-free diet – unless they are specifically gluten-free, I cannot eat breads, pastas, cereals, cakes, pies, soy sauce… No pizza, hamburgers, beer (any malt liquors, too), donuts, bagels, french fries (unless they are cooked in a dedicated fryer), and I stay away from most sauces and dressings unless I know exactly which ingredients were used. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Discovering I Have Celiac Disease
My story with celiac began about 7 years ago. I was having a lot of stomach problems and eating would just make it worse. I was constantly low on energy, easily tired, had difficulties concentrating, and my feet would ache and get tingly for no reason. I went to see my doctor and to several hospitals and specialists and after many tests, xrays, and blood work they all sent me home with a clean bill of health. They tested me for thyroid disease, stomach cancer, colon cancer, tumors in my ovaries…you name it, I’ve had it checked out. It was frustrating when I knew something was wrong but the doctors all looked at me like I was crazy. I never felt good and not a day went by where I felt sick and unhealthy. Turned out the one test they didn’t perform would have given us the answers – a food allergy test.
Fast forward to 6 months ago. I was having dinner with one of my good girlfriends and her fiance. Her and I both ordered the vegetable soup and when her fiance tried to go in for a taste, she told him there was barley in it and he shouldn’t eat it. This immediately puzzled me and he told me he was gluten-intolerant. This was the first time I had ever heard this term. I didn’t even know what gluten was. He explained to me what it was and listed the symptoms and lo and behold it was exactly what I had been dealing with. He suggested I try a gluten-free diet for 2 weeks to see if it makes a difference in my health. After doing as much research as Google would allow, I went gluten-free. By the third day, I felt like a brand new person. I felt awake, energized…I felt healthy and the pains I’ve learned to ignore were suddenly non-existent. Not to sound all dramatic, but it was really life changing. Soon after, I went to the doctor and requested food allergy tests and told him I believed I was gluten-intolerant. My final prognosis: lactose intolerance, soy intolerance and…celiac disease.
It hasn’t been an easy journey at all. For one thing, gluten-free foods are hella expensive. I read somewhere that they are 250% more expensive than their regular counterparts. My grocery bill has almost tripled. It takes me longer to grocery shop because I read all the ingredients (btw, I just learned that modified food starch and dextrin are also big no-no ingredients for us). My first time grocery shopping as a celiac, I had a mini-breakdown in the store. I had no idea where to start, I was Googling every other ingredient (ie: is xantham gum gluten free? <– it is), and after over 2 hours in the store I couldn’t do it anymore. Now I know which products are safe, which ingredients are red flags, and which are actually edible and delicious (I’ve had some disgusting gluten-free foods…).
It gets easier and easier but I do have my pity party moments. Like when I’m dining out and all I could really eat is a plain salad and maybe some dressing if it’s just oil and vinegar. Or when I have to be “that person”. You know, the one that asks the server a million questions. Yeah, I used to hate that person. Karma’s apparently a celiac b*itch.
I miss being able to eat anything and everything. I miss being able to order anything off any menu. I miss the bread basket, breaded and fried foods, beer (specifically Guinness), going to Korean restaurants and eating the banchan and ordering anything other than bibimbap minus the sauce (I can’t eat soy sauce, gochujang, dwenjang…). But I don’t miss the severe intestinal pains, the brain fog, the exhaustion and frustration, and having my life and schedule revolve around the nearest restroom.
Am I tempted to “cheat”? Hell no. When I accidentally ingest gluten, I suffer from gluten poisoning (getting “glutened”). I have flu-like symptoms on top of being very dizzy and nauseous, and I am so tired that I can’t even stand up. I get intense brain fog and I’m basically out of commission anywhere from a day to a week depending on how severe the poisoning is. There is no medicine for it and the only thing I can do is drink plenty of fluids and do my best to detox it out of my body as quickly as possible.
Being gluten-intolerant or celiac isn’t the end of the world. It’s actually the beginning of a much healthier world. I admit my first thoughts were along the lines of “why meeeeee?!” and “wth do I eat now?!?” but it’s gotten a lot easier and it’s helped me maintain a much healthier diet and develop smarter eating habits. Of course I wish I wasn’t celiac but at least now I don’t feel helpless and I’m back in control of my mind and body…well, to some degree. ;)
The following are some of the sites that have helped me a lot and are my favorites for recipes and information:
- Celiac.com and the site’s forum <– This is my go-to place figure out if certain foods are gf
- Triumph Dining
- Gluten Free Girl
- Gluten Free Blondie and her hilarious Tumblr
- GF In The City
- Canelle et Vanille
- Simply Gluten Free
If you know of some other good sites, please share! :)