A Gluten-Free Anniversary

Gluten-free vegan cupcake.

Years ago I was desperate for answers. My body-mind-spirit was skidding down hill fast. The symptoms, Sugarpie, you don't want to know about. Suffice it to say that Pepto Bismol was my true companion.

What I knew?

That a diagnosis of IBS with lactose intolerance was getting me nowhere. I wasn't feeling better eating more wheat germ and whole grains for fiber, like the doc instructed. In fact, I was feeling worse. Lactose enzymes did absolutely nothing. And the bread and pasta I was told to consume seemed to trigger more pain.

My intuition told me gluten might be a culprit after my first cousin was diagnosed with celiac disease. When I searched my symptoms on the Internet I discovered I was not alone. Gluten is an issue for roughly three million Americans. And having a family member diagnosed with celiac disease upped my odds considerably.

I called my nurse practitioner and asked if gluten might be the illusive enemy we were searching for. "Maybe..." was her one word answer. I thought I heard her yawning. I asked if we could try a gluten-free trial to see if my symptoms abated. "See you in two weeks," she answered.

That was four years ago today. The day I went gluten-free.

I knew within 48 hours I was on to something.

By the third day I was  symptom free and already envisioning a life without gluten and pain. The difference in my body was dramatic and immediate- and I wanted more of it. I consider myself lucky that I have obvious and attention-getting symptoms (to even the tiniest amount of gluten protein). The symptoms made my decision to go gluten-free an easy one. (Read about the ease and importance of testing here at Celiac Central.)

There were inadvertent bumps along the way to living totally gluten-free. I neglected to check on an herbal tea once and was "glutened" by  roasted barley. Lip balm did not register on my gluten radar at first; it was four weeks before I checked my lip balm label (lurking in the fine print: wheat germ oil and wheat bran).

Not thinking, I still used my old cutting board (saturated with wheat flour proteins). I was contaminated at a friend's house while eating my own gluten-free pumpkin soup. Why? I brought the soup and a stainless steel ladle; she stirred it with her ancient wooden spoon.

There's a definite learning curve when it comes to living gluten free.

The good news is: it gets easier. Much easier. And as energy levels return, and life expands beyond planning rest room strategies and swigging Pepto Bismol for breakfast, you begin to comprehend just how awful you felt for so long. And how many odd and mysterious symptoms you took for granted as "normal". And how many insidious ways gluten affects and triggers the body's autoimmune system (digestive, cognitive, visual, neural, hormonal).

Gluten- the elastic protein in wheat, rye, spelt and barley- can cause impaired agility, balance and gait, lessen vitamin, mineral and protein absorption, diminish lactose, fructose and fat digestion, and whittle away bone integrity. Not to mention, energy and stamina. It can even trigger depression, migraines, skin rashes, brain lesions and seizures in certain individuals.

Scary stuff.

The last four years have been a time for realignment and adjustment- living gluten-free is traveling in unknown territory without much of a road map and very little support; though that particular aspect is rapidly changing thanks to the Internet, the fabulous work of the NFCA, and the recent flourishing of dedicated research centers devoted to understanding and curing celiac disease.

As awareness grows, gluten-free products are becoming more widely available (my favorite baking and pancake mix is Pamela's) and better tasting (see my gluten free brownie mix review).

GF life is good and getting better.

These four years gluten-free have been a slow but steady climb toward healing and regaining strength, clarity, and stamina. I've come a long way. And I've developed quite a passion for gluten-free cooking.

So today, in honor of my Gluten-Free Anniversary #4, I just may have a cupcake for breakfast.


laura in iowa said...

Congratulations on four years of good health! That is great to read :) I'm so glad you found a healthy path and I hope your blogging and participation at Braintalk will help others find their good health on their own paths.
Warmly -

karina said...

Thank you, Laura! I send you all the best, too; for your beautiful family - health, renewal and happiness. warm regards, Karina

Anonymous said...

Karina, I just discovered you today. Congratulations on 4 years of good health. Two daughters, two granddaughters and I have been diagnosed with CD since March. I'm thrilled to discover your recipes! Can't wait to try them. I'm not a blogger... this concept is new to me, but I'll be checking in with yours. Thank you. -Heidi

karina said...

Heidi~ Welcome to gluten-free living! I'm glad you found my recipes, too. I'll be posting more every week. Be well! ~ k

VP said...

Congratulations on four healthy years, Karina. I have visited your blog since you posted it to the CD listserv.

It's funny that your diagnosis anniversary should coincide with my son's developing an egg allergy this week. We are doing well with a GF diet, but now have to figure out how to cut out eggs and other ingredients depending on what the allergist finds. Anyway, your attitude toward this diagnosis and delicious recipes have restored committment to providing homemade, healthy, safe meals for my family.
Thanks, VP

karina said...

Thanks, VP! I'm sorry to hear about your son's egg allergy. I've not had much experience with egg substitutes, but hear it's "doable". If a GF egg-free reader drops by, perhaps they'll post a tip here on baking GF without eggs.

You also may find it helpful to visit a link I have posted to the right - Fat Free Vegan - Recipes. Susan Voisin has a wonderful vegan site, and added a gluten-free section to her recipe links.

Thanks again - and be well! ~k

Kate said...

Thanks so much for ceating this website. My family was just diagnosed with having CD 3 weeks ago. We are still on the leaning curve as you might say. I have been looking for reciepes to our favorite dishes. Thanks so much for the help
Thanks again and hope you have another 4 yrs of GF living

karina said...

Thank you, Kate - and welcome to the GF world. There is definitely a learning curve; but with time and experience the GF diet gets easier. I hope you find some useful information, recipes, and links here to help you get started.

Best wishes for good health to you and your family! ~ k

Anonymous said...

I am so excited to find you and have written down some of your recipes to try...they sound delicious. I am about to "celebrate", as you say, my 4 years of gluten-free living. It has been a challenge reading labels and trying new products. My problem....I am also sensitive to rice, which as you know, is a main ingredient in many GF recipes and GF products. Any recipes that you have to share with potato flour, which I seem to tolerate, would be much appreciated.

Thanks for your blogs and I will add you to my favorites so I can check in often. Take care!!


Anonymous said...

Watch out for shampoos and conditioners! I borrowed a friend's products for my curly hair and for days my scalp/head was hurting and almost burning. The feeling was similar to the feeling you can get if a ponytail is too tight but nothing, including scalp massages, provided relief. After a few days, it occurred to me to check the label - it contains hydrolyzed wheat protein. I'm shocked that it is possible to be so sensitive to wheat/gluten that I'm not ingesting!

Karina said...

Hi Karen - Wow - sensitive to rice, too!? I might try sorghum flour as a replacement. I don't cook much with potato flour - it's rather heavy. You might try making a mix of sorghum, tapioca and cornstarch or potato starch. Buckwheat and quinoa are also good in small amounts for more protein, as is almond meal. If you can handle bean flours, that is another choice [though limited as they are strong tasting and hard to digest].

Good luck!

Karina said...

Hi Anon!

Good point. I, too, am sensitive to wheat proteins in cosmetcis [along with lemongrass]. Not all celiacs are also allergic to wheat, but I seem to be, too.

I use non-wheat/gluten-free Alba shampoo/conditioner, cleanser, toner, lotion and body cream in their Hawaiian line. They are FAB. But check labels - not every Alba product is GF, but most are...

Be well!

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