Recently I posted a recipe of “Maria’s Get up and Go Coffee Shake." In that post I mentioned I have eliminated foods from my diet that don’t work for me, such as gluten. This was not just an arbitrary decision, but rather a long and somewhat gut wrenching (literally) journey.
Over the past decade gluten-free has become a bit of a trend with new research and testing that has shown 1 % of people suffer from Celiac disease and 6 times more people have what is called “Gluten Sensitivity.”
I know there are many skeptics out there, so I would like to share my personal journey full of some embarrassing moments in my life.
I am tall and thin, but I wasn’t always this way. Most people when they get older develop a belly from sedentary life styles and bad eating habits, but I already looked that way as a kid. I was a little thing with a huge belly. I had long skinny arms and legs and a round protruding mid section. My mom used to say I was growing skin and that I was going to sprout up which I did eventually, but I didn’t lose the belly.
My first memory of horribly wrenching gut pain that would be most of my life was in high school. Always sometime after lunch, my stomach would tie into knots and my gut would distend. When I say distend I mean unbutton the jeans and wear a baggy shirt distend. With the bloating would come a twisting and knotting sensation in my belly. The only thing that seemed to alleviate this was lying in the fetal position, which didn’t go over well in 4th period English.
This didn’t happen every day, but like I said I have a clear memory of it happening often enough in my teens. This was the 80s, some time right before the fat free craze. At this time most of my diet consisted of flour products. Breakfast was toast or cereal; lunch was a sandwich; snacks were crackers, bagels, or quesadillas with flour tortillas; dinner always included bread.
The gut wrenching pain continued throughout college. I would have periods of time where there were no problems - actually months- but when it came on, it would take me down and it would last for weeks. You’d think I might have tried to see a doctor about this. I sometimes look back and wonder why I had waited so long.
By the 90s, I was convinced I was lactose intolerant with the other half of the population. So I stopped eating dairy and started choosing soy. BIG MISTAKE! Oh, and I also became a vegetarian….also BIG MISTAKE. As a vegetarian, my diet of gluten increased. More bread, pasta and the like. I had a constant puff on my body, plus the intermittent gut pain. The beer drinking probably didn't help either. What can I say, I was living in Seattle during the Grunge era….we all drank a lot of beer.
The tummy problems only got worse during this time. And now I was having what new mom’s refer to as “Blow outs.” I needed to make sure that a bathroom was close at all times and God forbid if someone was in it.
My best friend at the time thought I might have an eating disorder with the way I was always going to the bathroom. At this time I actually was seeking help. I started seeing a naturopath who said that I had an overgrowth of candida and not enough good bacteria in my gut. I went on probiotics, among some other fancy herbs she prescribed for me. This did absolutely nothing.
Fast forward to Los Angeles in the late 90’s and by now the blow outs were intermittent with constipation and a few trips to the emergency room because the pain was so excruciating. I am now seeing a gastroenterologist after yet another failed attempt with a naturopath and a Chinese herbalist who had me stick out my tongue and read my future…I did think he was fascinating though. The Gastroenterologist was actually the most helpful…yes, western medicine people! He ran all the tests including a Sigmoidoscopy and a Barium swallow because by then I hadhorrible heart burn as well. He concluded that this was diet, but what was triggering it? I have to mention here that people weren’t talking about Celiac disease yet and effects of gluten on our gut health. There was no testing at this time.
So when you have these issues, you don’t make them particularly public. It’s not a topic of dinner conversation asking across the table about someone else’s bowel habits. So who could I really talk to about this but health professionals and yes some close friends, who probably know entirely too much about my gut health.
Solace came when I started my Pilates training and I met a gal who had the same symptoms and was suffering as I was. She asked me “How much soy do you eat?” I thought I was being healthy, I was still drinking soy lattes and buying health bars stuffed with soy protein. She said that many of her symptoms went away when she eliminated soy from her diet. At this point I was trying everything. If someone said I needed to stand on my head for 10 minutes a day, I would do that too.
So I took out the soy and guess what. RELIEF! The Gut wrenching pain went from a 10 to about a 5. The heartburn went away and the -“ahhem”- blow outs decreased enough for me to not always be looking for a bathroom close by.
And now some important information on soy…..
So I thought I cured myself. I really was feeling a whole lot better.
By the early 2000s I was doing pretty good for the most part. I was no longer a vegetarian, I still had occasional constipation and gut issues but compared to before they were really manageable. I had concludedthat the rest of my symptoms I just had to live with. What woman doesn’t complain of bloating or constipation now and again, right?
Life went on and 4 years ago, 2013, I started seeing a skin doctor. She was giving me a facial peel and we were just chatting. I told her that I have IBS, because that is what they labeled my condition some 20 years ago. She asked me if I considered eliminating gluten from my diet as she is one of those 1% with Celiac. I thought, “I don’t eat that much gluten,” so that is not the problem, because I was eating more vegetables, meats, fruits etc. I altered my diet during this whole process trying to find the right foods for me. I went on occasional cleanses and exercised regularly. I though I was as good as I was going to get, right?
I WAS WRONG!
On her advice, I took gluten out of my diet for about 6 weeks, maybe to prove her wrong or just for my own curiosity.
This is the part of my blog where the skies part and there is this high note of hallelujah.
This is what happened:
- I was no longer constipated
- The bloat I experienced everyday that I thought was normal - gone
- My belly started shrinking for the first time ever
- Pounds melted
- I felt light and awake. It was like a fog lifted from my brain.
- My mood changed
- My life changed.
I have been gluten free since then. I have never gone back. I have tweaked my diet still looking for the balance. I have determined that I am not Celiac and I can have a little gluten here and there. It’s the amount and how often that really affects me. Another doctor said I could just have a wheat allergy and not all gluten. Possibly, but honestly, I don’t miss it. I am probably in the 6% of Americans with the non celiac gluten sensitivity. All of that belly was gut inflammation which my poor body was trying to tell me for years.
What astonishes me is that I spent most of my adult life with this problem. I tried everything. I listened to countless medical professionals, read hundreds of different articles and books. I kept searching and now in my late 40s I am lean, light, full of energy and just plain happy. It took a while to get here but I am so happy I did, and I learned so much about myself along the way. I was my own lab rat.
If you think you might have gluten sensitivity or celiac, here is a great resource for all things gluten, including information on different gluten disorders, recipes, support, etc.
This is just my story and every single person out there is unique. One size does not fit all. I have many friends that don’t have issues with gluten or being vegetarian. Some can’t tolerate coffee, others can’t eat nuts. Seriously, why do we think we are all the same? I say, just keep finding that thing that works for you. Whether it’s the type of exercise you do, the things you eat or who you spend your time with. It’s your life and your body, be kind to it!