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Why Gluten-free For Me?

Eating gluten free has different reasons for different people. Some do it to lose weight while others do it to gain quality of life. In my case I have learned that eating wheat gluten free is detrimental to my health. Throughout all of my adult life I have known that there was something I was eating that gave me digestive problems. I tried refraining from dairy, fried foods, spicy food, eggs, and even coffee, but none of this had any lasting effect. Mad dashes to the restroom 10,12,15 times a day has been the norm for a very long time. This was the extent of my knowledge about this problem until this past year or so. There were others things going on too, but I never connected them to my digestive problems..

We have some elderly friends, “Dick and Jane“, from our church and Dick had a life long battle with something called Celiac Disease [CD]. I say “had” because he has since then passed away. He was 78, I think. I believe God brings certain people into our lives for a reason. Spending some time with these dear folks during his hospital stays, I found them both be to extremely knowledgeable about this issue and quite willing to share their knowledge. They told me that CD is very common. Hum? ”You know, I have that problem, “ I said to them one day referring to the restroom details..[Not something we like to talk about] Their reply was that I should get tested. I thought that I was just being a hypochondriac and waved it off again and again. Jane has continued to be very supportive and I appreciate that very much.

Not thinking too much of it and not understanding it completely, at my worst times I started cutting out wheat products, mainly bread. It made a noticeable difference immediately. Once I felt better I went back to “normal” eating until I had another really bad spell. Bad spells meant not being able to leave the house because I literally had no control of my bowels and simply feeling sick along with terrible heartburn, stomach pains, and cramping.. As time progressed, I was asked, ”Should you be eating that?” My response was, “Oh I don’t have to go anywhere for the next couple of days, so it’s ok.”

But it wasn’t ok. What I began to learn about CD is that it’s not just a food allergy. With an allergy a person is effected for a couple of days and once the offending food is out of their system, that’s the end of it. CD is an autoimmune disease generating from the small intestine’s reaction to wheat gluten. The body attacks not only the offending food, but it also attacks healthy cells and destroys the absorption function of the small intestines. When this happens nutrients are not absorbed and it is like trying to grow a plant while never watering it or giving it sunlight..

While the initial response of CD in comparison to an allergy is the same, this is where the similarities end. An autoimmune disease attacks healthy cells in the intestines of CD, but it doesn’t discriminate or stop there. The rise is white blood cells effects other areas of the body and the lack of nutrients is a double whammy. In time, left uncontrolled, the body starts breaking down and is can cause or mimic other ailments. Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s [my sister has Crohn’s] Lactose Intolerance, thyroid problems resulting is lost weight and weight gain, infertility, Autism, A.D.D. in some cases can be linked to CD.

It causes Osteoporosis [that explains my lost 3 inches] and Osteoarthritis, other body pain and tenderness that has no explanation, distention, extreme fatigue, anemia [unexplained], weakness, depression, numbness in hands and/or feet, migraines, and mental fog among many other things.

The above mentioned is what I personally cope with and the dots are finally connecting. As I do mental inventory I can trace it back to my childhood. CD can cause early menstruation and I started at age nine. At the other end of that spectrum it can cause premature menopause and I was standing at the doorstep of menopause in my late thirties. I remember my mother having to scramble out of the bathtub, get a rob on, and let me in the bathroom when I was a young teen. As soon as I ate, I had to go and I was passing whole food! She took her bath shortly after we ate supper and without fail, I interrupted her. That’s how quick it is. In High School I didn’t eat in the morning or while I was in school to prevent having a mad dash. High School was rough. I spent much of that time in a lethargic fog.

I have questioned myself so much through the years. “ Is this normal for people to feel this way? Am I just being a wimp or lazy?” I often feel guilty mentioning that I’m having a rough day or days. Since it is normal for me to feel this way, I plow through regardless and this makes it impossible for family and friends and to see the battle I face every day. When my husband says he is tired and sore at the end of a long work day I seriously wonder what that means. Again, I’m questioning myself not him.

A friend of mine, who has Fibromyalgia, and I were discussing “the crashes“. In the past, during the extremely busy era of my family with children going in all directions, my crashes happened every few weeks. I’d get to the point where I trembled, my hearted pounded loud and fast, I was nauseas, and all I could do was lay down and sleep. I had no choice no matter what was going on or had to be done. I slept 12, 15, and even 24 hours straight through. I called them power sleeps. Then I was up and at it for another few weeks until the next crash.

Since I have left this CD uncontrolled for such a long time [decades] , my crashes are daily most of the time. For several years now I’ve planned my day around the energy certain tasks will take just as anyone would plan how they will spend their money.

When we plan our spending we know that a portion of it is earmarked for bills and then we get to use what’s left. In my case, with the complications caused by CD, I get up in the morning knowing that a portion of my energy is already spent by joint and body pain.

This is the life of anyone with chronic illness and pain. Though I used to push and push until late in the night, I now know that my “money” is spent by the supper hour and plenty of sleep is never enough. So I plan for supper to be that last task for the day and at times even preparing it before noon. If I can work on non physical tasks in the evening, I do so. When there is a family function, a simple cookout, I’m wiped out for days after. People who know me know I’m constantly busy and probably see me as fairly energetic. There are many irons in the fire. My husband and I have rental properties that always need attention, and I head up an avian rescue program which also needs constant attention. These are only two of the energy robbers in my life. But it is calculated activity and just about every step is a step with exhaustion and discomfort..

On a practical level, I like our home to be neat and tidy and I can‘t relax unless it is. So I have systematically removed any “clutter” from the main living space [the first floor] which is what people see when they come into our house. There is a continued reduction of books on the shelves, small appliances on the counters, knick-knacks and other dust collectors are packed away or given away. Much has been thrown out and the majority of our carpeting is gone. I’m not saying my home is not decorated and comfortable. But I choose specific pieces to display that are easy to maintain. It’s a very low maintenance space. And if I find a day with some extra energy to spend, I will spend time doing projects in other areas of the house. But that will be all I do that day. I continue to question myself again and again. “Am I just lazy?“

Sometimes I’m so fatigued that when someone is talking to me, as soon as they finish saying it, I’ve forgotten what they said.. It’s the CD mental fog. This is especially true later in the day. I am deaf and often don’t hear all of a conversation. But at times when I ask someone to repeat what they said, it’s not because I didn’t hear them and no one really realizes this. Maybe they should.

Although I’m disappointed that my energy does not have the major or lingering boost that I was hoping for after going gluten free, there are some positive results that I can not deny. For the first time in my life I have “semi [to completely] - normal” bathroom activity. I have NO heartburn, stomach pain, or cramping 95% of the time.. The mental fog does lifts just about every day even though it returns later in the day.

I had become so bad in the few months before I went 100% gluten free that I was in a continuous state of crashing. Trembling, nausea, chest pains, and extreme weakness. I’m certain that if I continued like that I would have had a massive heart attack. In fact I had become so concerned about this that I started taking baby aspirin every day, and no, I didn‘t mention these things to anyone because I didn‘t want to be a hypochondriac..

At the end of January 2011 I knew something had to change. So my next step was to simply tell my husband, adult children, and a couple of very close friends that I was going to go completely gluten free for 6-8 weeks to see what happens without elaborating on why.

Here I am, 7 weeks later, knowing without a doubt that I have to stay gluten free. Though I don’t feel a miracle healing, there are many unmistakable changes and I’m hopeful that in time there will be continued, subtle healing that will add up to bigger things. But I know I have to be realistic.

For the information of the reader there is a blood test for CD and a biopsy of the small intestines to confirm damage there. Sometimes the tests are inconclusive and even though you might test negative for CD, it does not necessarily mean you don’t have it. The fail proof test is to go gluten free and see what happens. If you have gone most of your life with uncontrolled CD like I have, you’re going to be coping with the effects of that, but you will see changes on a gluten free diet. The good news is you do not have to be shackled to medication or dread any surgery. The remedy for CD is diet. But you should take a multivitamin and herbs that promote healing.

I’m in the learning process and am finding the wheat gluten shows up in just about every prepackaged, processed food there is such as a simple bullion cube. This is something I used to use a lot in cooking. I’ve learned to bake gluten free bread and keep my personal menu as close to the natural form as possible. As time goes on I’ll learn more interesting recipes, but for now the focus is on healing.