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the state of the gut

Since I am currently struggling with a stomach bug, and quickly approaching my first gluten-free anniversary, a “state of the gut” address seemed appropriate. On 23 March 2008, I began a gluten-free diet to alleviate gluten intolerance, possibly Celiac Disease. (I say “possibly” because I have not yet been able to go back on gluten so I can be formally tested.  Ingesting gluten for a month would certainly mean more sick days than I can take right now.)

Due to my diet, I have rediscovered my love of cooking, though grocery shopping – while less confusing and overwhelming – is still frustrating. I have lost the taste for cookies and cakes, but still yearn for dishes like biscuits and gravy from Boogaloo’s and focaccia from Arizmendi. Despite how much I disliked Whole Foods before this whole thing started, it has been a place of gluten-free miracles.  Trader Joe’s has been excellent as well; tonight, FunkyPlaid stopped by one on his way home and brought me all sorts of gluten-free goodies.

While in Scotland last autumn, I feasted on Sainsbury’s “Freefrom” line of breads, and am baffled that no American grocery stores carry a line of gluten-free baguettes, naan, and English muffins. Bob’s Red Mill has a tasty line of bread mixes, however, many of which I have baked and enjoyed. Amy’s Kitchen has some tasty gluten-free frozen pizzas, and Mariposa Baking makes the best biscotti I have ever eaten.  Nothing comes close to Freefrom, though.

Dining out is still enjoyable, but not the experience it once was. Everything on each menu must be scrutinized, and at first I was fairly embarrassed about being That Kind of diner, asking all sorts of questions about what I used to regard as magicians’ secrets.  No longer can I glimpse an ingredient or a sauce and order solely on whim.  Brunch is a particular wheat-laden obstacle I avoid whenever possible.

Now to the good news: with the exception of a compromised immune system, I am physically and emotionally healthier than I have been in years.  While I still have headaches from time to time, I no longer have migraines.  My moods swing normally … or as normal as I get, anyway.  Insomnia is the exception instead of the rule.  The gluten-free diet is not the only source of my newfound health: each day, I take a multivitamin, a calcium supplement, and an iron tonic called Floravital recommended to me by my friend Kirsten that has done wonders.  Just today I started taking PhytoPharmica’s Probiotic Pearls in order to boost the useful bacteria in my gut. I feel great when I exercise, but struggle to keep a routine when I fall ill.

I have a ways to go with this new life, but as I write this I realize how far I have come.  Luckily, I have an incredibly supportive partner, family, friends, and coworkers, so I know I am not doing this all alone. The Internet has been a great resource for me over the past year, not only to educate myself on medical issues but also to learn from people living with Celiac Disease. I owe a great deal to Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and Kelly of The Spunky Coconut, whose positivity and innovation inspire me to rise above the day-to-day setbacks.  I aspire to gain grace and peace about this part of my life.

symptomatic

The last thing I want to write about is the first thing on my mind these days. For the past couple of years, I have suffered from a ghost illness I self-diagnosed as “stress-related”, with symptoms that include gastrointestinal distress, severe headaches, extreme fatigue, and inexplicable mood-swings. Though my two major sources of stress (my last relationship, and my last job) are no more, my symptoms have recently intensified, sometimes to the point of incapacitation.

A researcher by heart, I started reading up on my symptoms, which were compounded a few months ago by a troublesome rash not unlike chicken pox. “Celiac Disease” kept coming up, so I read more and spoke with two friends who have it. With their information, and with my beloved’s encouragement and support, I decided to go on an elimination diet, attempting to avoid all wheat, barley, and rye.

I immediately felt better. Immediately. I’ve been living with these symptoms for so long that I forgot what it was like not to feel sick after eating, to be my usual cheerful self, to be able to stay awake after work, and to go 48 hours without an eyeball-searing headache. Not everything has been perfect – eating at restaurants is particularly tricky – but the past two weeks have been amazing. So the next step has been taken: I have an appointment with an allergist next week.

Today is a not-so-good day, because I ate something at a restaurant last night that I should have guessed was thickened with wheat flour. It is also a not-so-good day because I am new at this, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the reality of a lifetime change in diet. But since the cloud is lifting, and since I have loving and supportive people all around me, I know I can do this. For the first time in a long time, I have hope for my health.

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I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.