Since my celiac diagnosis in May of 2011, I have joked that I am a “1%-er”; only 1% of the population is estimated to have celiac disease, and even fewer are officially diagnosed by undergoing an endoscopy (as I did). Celiac disease, in a nutshell, is an autoimmune disease in which the body cannot process gluten (which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), and it causes an inflammatory reaction to the small intestine when ingested. Left untreated, as I had, it eventually affects the absorption of nutrients, not to mention a host of other very serious problems.*
Basically, to someone with celiac, gluten is poison. There is no antidote.
There is no cure or medication, the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet…for life. This diet isn’t like the kind of diet where you can allow cheat days and give in to temptation. A cheat day would be devastating to a celiac, though I have heard of people who “can’t help it” and cave-in to eating gluten because it’s just too irresistibly delicious. To me, this is absolutely ridiculous and self-destructive. I cannot even imagine breaking this protocol. I’ve been accidentally “glutened” and the side effects are pretty devastating and never, ever worth it!
Not only do I have to follow a strict gluten-free diet, but I also have to look at possible cross-contamination risks with manufacturing when I purchase products. If a product was manufactured in a facility that also manufactures wheat, I don’t purchase or consume it. I am very grateful that more and more companies are disclosing this information as food allergies are becoming very common in our society. I feel that cross-contamination is also a big issue simply because there is not enough education in the food service industry. I have been glutened simply by eating food that was prepped on the same surface as gluten-containing foods or cut with the same knives. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see gloves being changed before handling my bunless burger at Five Guys, because even miniscule contact with gluten is enough to cause a reaction that last for days. Most establishments are slowly learning to take these needs seriously.
The bottom line is: when in doubt, I don’t ever risk it. That means, often, missing out on a lot of things, as well as sometimes going hungry when I travel unprepared.
It can be overwhelming when you suddenly have to follow the diet with no transition time, no adaptation. A doctor will simply tell you: Follow a gluten-free diet immediately. It took a lot of time to adjust, and a lot of mistakes were made along the way, but I have finally gotten the hang of it, and will be two years gluten-free this May.
My home is now gluten-free, with my husband also following the diet in order to avoid cross contamination issues when cooking. This was all HIS idea, and he actually enjoys the diet just as much as I do! At first I was against this, simply due to the monetary burden that a gluten-free lifestyle put on our wallet. The first year consisted of a lot of pre-packaged products, and when a loaf of bread can cost $6.00, it’s tough to pack sandwiches for lunch on a budget. With some adjustments and creativity, I have learned how to make many foods (such as bread, pizza crust, waffles, even chicken nuggets and sushi!) healthfully and simply at very little expense. The $7.00 frozen pizza crust can easily be replaced by making your own using three little ingredients with leftovers to spare. Sure, sometimes you have to make a little investment (like I did when replacing my appliances), but in the end it’s healthier, less expensive and the benefits are countless. I’m excited to be able to share these tips with you!
This section of my blog, Rebecca Eats, will be all about gluten-free living from my day-to-day experiences:
- Gluten-Free 101 (what must be done within the first few days, most of which involves cleaning out your pantries and replacing kitchenware)
- Places I have safely eaten out when travelling to and from events, state by state, as well as places I love that are closer to home
- Where I love to find my favorite gluten-free products
- Gluten-free brands I trust
- Gluten-free foods I use for training, as well as well as the night before and the morning of a race
- Gluten-free race course fuel and finish line amenities
- Simple recipes and meal ideas with few ingredients but still very satisfying**
- Experiences I have had during the holidays, when things can definitely get tough
- Meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts
- Any suggestions, please feel free to add them to the comments section!
I truly hope you enjoy this section, as I really have learned a lot about gluten-free living and really do thrive on this diet. There was a time I struggled with it, made mistakes, and had a lot of frustration, but now I see it as an opportunity to help others! I can’t wait to share my experiences with you!
*To learn more about celiac disease in depth, I encourage you to check out the Celiac Disease Foundation website.
* *I should note that I have no other food intolerances nor do I follow a strict method of eating such as Paleo. My diet is simply gluten-free, everything else is on the table in my house!