The last three years have been somewhat of a misadventure for me, with health woes piling on to medical complaints and mental melt-downs. I lost a lot of weight, gained a lot more and underwent treatment for anxiety. Just whenI was beginning to remember what "normal" felt like my immune system went to town on my thyroid gland and I was diagnosed with Graves Disease
. It seemed like I no longer knew my own body. Nothing worked the way it used to and very little made sense. I had a severe case of hyper-thyroidism, yet I was gaining weight. The thyroid medication reduced most of the syptoms, but the upset digestion, moodiness and misbehaving metabolism remained.
By August it became apparent that something else was going on with my digestive tract. For several years I'd develop bloating and indigestion if I ate too much wheat, but in the months prior I'd been on the road so much that wheat had become a dominant part of my diet. I'd stopped noticing the reaction to wheat until it had become so much more severe. I had no appetite, felt constantly tired and bloated, had the runs and was putting on even more weight. I was catching every bug that went around; again. This was not right. In a moment of mental clarity I realised that I was reacting to something I was eating. I considered the two food types I'd reacted to indulging in too much in the past: wheat and dairy. I was facing a process of elimination. Remembering the bloatyness, I decided to start with wheat.
24 hours later I started feeling better.
3 days later my digestion started to behave itself.
I thought I had the answer: I was wheat intolerant! I just needed to avoid wheat flour-based products and all would be well.
That conclusion, as it turns out, was far too simple. Initial improvements were countered by sudden returns of those now-familiar symptoms. I eliminated spelt, then rye, and more improvements followed, but still new sensitivities emerged.
By the end of 2007 I came to the realisation that I am completely gluten intolerant. I have diagnosed myself with Coeliac disease
. There is a medical check: a blood test to detect the anti-bodies produced in response to gluten, but in order to prove anything you have to eat enough gluten to produce enough anti-bodies to be detected by the test. How much gluten is enough? My doctor says to eat a normal diet but to include gluten. When even the gluten in one jelly bean is enough to make me sick, the official diagnosis just doesn't seem worth it.
So I can't eat bread, or pasta, or pastries, or breakfast cereals. That's the obvious stuff. But I also can't eat soy sauce or soba noodles, most potato chips or rice crackers, marinades or marmite. I can't even eat most brands of ice-cream! Supermarket products are rife with gluten disguised as wheat glucose or caramel colour or thickener or natural flavours. But you know, that's ok. As long as I know the gluten's there, I can avoid it. And the best part is that in avoiding gluten I'm learning to look after myself and to feed my body well. Because to eat gluten-free is to eat freshly prepared, high quality, naturally flavoursome foods. When you're eating like that, you really don't miss mass-produced foods that taste like artificiality. And good things follow: I'm losing weight, I feel energetic and bouncy. I feel properly like me for the first time in years. We are eating well.
Where it gets difficult, though, is eating out. At cafes, restaurants and friends' houses food becomes a risk. Not everyone understands the many forms gluten can take and the unexpected places you'll find it.
We spent the weekend past at Alex's parent's place, in celebration of my boy's recent birthday. Hs father takes great joy and pride in cooking, and has been happy to accomodate my increasingly difficult requirements. On Saturday night he made roast beef with baked vegetables and gluten-free Yorkshire puddings. He even used proper corn flour to thicken the gravy! But he didn't think to check the supermarket-bought stock. I was a veritable picture of mysery that night and the following Sunday; my belly hard and bloaty, and my stomach sore. It was Sunday night before I could even face up to food (a gentle, easy to digest gluten-recovery diet) and today I'm still feeling tender and tired, my digestive tract grumling gassily.
But even in recovery mode, gluten-free food is fabulous. Just look at what my wonderful husband has made me for dinner. And even better, it's made with love.