Some Reflections on My Two-Year Gluten-Free Anniversary

April 28th marked the day that I officially was diagnosed with celiac disease and went gluten-free. It was my two-year anniversary as a celiac, and it’s amazing how much I have grown in those two years.

In the initial months, I had a quick crash-course in gluten-free living. I had pantries to clear, food to donate, and shelves to stock with all new food. I constantly scoured books and the internet to ensure I was well-schooled in all I needed to know to ensure to stay healthy. In the early months I relied a LOT on pre-packaged foods, which were quite expensive (two small pre-made pizza crusts were around $6.49, a 6-pack of English muffins around $5.59). I found myself constantly hungry and binging a LOT simply because my body was at its lowest weight and malnourished from lack of nutrient absorption. Most of the foods I consumed were still very high-carb and grain-based though: cookies, bagels, rice cakes, English muffins, pretzels, pasta, and GF breads. I still wasn’t very keen on cross-contamination issues and unfortunately still managed to gluten myself several times in one month, especially since I didn’t want Chris to be on a GF diet also since it was all so expensive.  I still ate plenty of sugar-filled indulgences, like ice cream, cookies, cake, etc. As long as a label read “gluten-free” it was a free-for-all with no regard to what I was putting into my body, whether it was refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or various chemicals and preservatives.

Fast-forward two years, and I feel like I have grown a lot, and still continue to learn:

Our home is now gluten-free in order to avoid cross-contamination. It took many glutenings to realize that it was too difficult to attempt to prepare two separate meals, and this is the easiest way to avoid it. Luckily Chris is right on board with the diet and loves it! I’m very lucky to have someone like him who never complains, if anything I’m one that will lament a recipe gone awry.

I’ve learned to love and embrace healthy fats, something I always shunned in the past because low-fat living used to be touted so much as the way to stay lean. We love avocados beyond the guacamole stage, and we put them into our meals all the time. We easily go through 4-6 avocados in a week. Nuts, nut butters and homemade hummus are all daily facets of our diet, and extra –virgin olive oil is a major staple as well.

I’ve learned to cut corners on the cost of gluten-free living simply by rolling up my sleeves and making my own food, and now make my own hummus, pesto, bread, vegan burgers, and other foods. For a fraction of the cost I can make 12 vegan burgers and pay less than half what I would pay for a box of 4 frozen ones. Eating out and ordering take-out is something that is a very rare treat when we used to eat out at least once a week minimum.

I’ve learned to love quinoa, a valuable protein source that’s gluten-free and can be used for any meal (even breakfast, it’s excellent with some cinnamon, raisins, and nuts), added to soups, and as a base for vegan burgers.

I’ve learned to think outside the normal American diet. Sometimes my breakfasts consist of a fruit smoothie and veggies and hummus, something I never would have gone for in the beginning. In a pinch, I’ve eaten peanut butter on a banana with a side of white rice in the airport. As long as I can realize that “non-breakfast foods” in the American diet CAN indeed make a good breakfast, it’s not difficult to find meals at all.

I’ve learned to love fruit beyond bananas, apples and grapes; I never was a fan of berries (I think I’m a texture person and always had a hard time with eating raw berries) but now I load up on them, freeze them, and blend them into a smoothie. I might not be eating tons of raw fruit, but with the smoothies I am still getting those awesome nutrients for an early morning boost!

I’ve learned to always be prepared, whether it’s a Lara bar and a bag of almonds in my purse or glove box in my car, it’s best to never go somewhere without SOMETHING lest you have no options. At Universal Studios I ended up buying a bag of peanut M&Ms as my sustenance for the ENTIRE DAY when there were no options beyond very overpriced fruit (a small cup of cut watermelon was around $7.00). Now I know to always bring my own food as a safeguard.

I’ve learned to live without refined sugar, chemical artificial sweeteners and HFCS. In the past not a day would go by without a sweet at lunchtime and dinner. I would get incredibly cranky without it! But within a matter of weeks I have been able to rid myself of the sugar addiction and noticed massive differences in my mood and overall health.

I’ve learned to love the taste of food on its own without tons of condiments. I was a voracious ketchup fiend, I loved BBQ sauce and honey mustard and pretty much any condiment I could find. Chris on the other hand always just wanted olive oil on his salads and just a little salt or pepper on things like roasted potatoes. He always felt food should be appreciated exactly as it is without slathering lots of dressing and condiments all over everything, and I have learned to adopt his approach.

I’ve learned to embrace my old ways of appreciating and respecting animal life, and have again adopted a vegan diet. Last year I read an article about Scott Jurek, a vegan ultra-runner, and it inspired me to go vegan for maybe 2 weeks and the diet simply didn’t stick. Recently I noticed that on days where I ate a vegan diet I actually felt much better than I did on days I consumed meat, dairy and eggs, and decided it was worth a try to get back into this lifestyle. I had to do a lot of soul-searching as of late, because for a long time I had simply desensitized myself to factory farming and what it entailed. I realized it was a win-win situation, not only would I physically feel better, but from a spiritual standpoint I think I also feel a sense of contentment that I am not harming my animal friends with my dietary choices.

I’ve learned to finally stop feeling sorry for myself. When I was first diagnosed with celiac I went through a barrage of temper tantrums, thinking of all the things in life I’d never get to eat again or experience. I resented “how easy” everyone else around me seemed to have it since food is something I think many of us easily take for granted. Then I realized how lucky I was to finally be diagnosed with celiac and be on the road to healing my body. My problems are so miniscule, so first-world, that I feel ashamed to ever complain about things that at the end of the day don’t matter. Having celiac is something I have learned to live with, and while it’s definitely a challenge even two years later, it’s something I finally have a handle on, and I finally feel comfortable coping with it and hope I can help others feel the same way. I have so many other good things in my life, too many to count, and the idea of feeling sorry for myself for having an auto-immune disease just doesn’t seem worth it anymore.

I’ve learned that life does not revolve around food. I feel as an American that we live in a VERY food-centric society. Food is a part of almost any social gathering, food is a focus of our daily lives and something we look forward to enjoying. I love food, but I also love the fact that it is not my first priority in life. My choices can sometimes be limited, and I have to simply accept and be grateful for what I am able to enjoy. In the end, it’s a relief that food doesn’t have a huge hold on me like it used to, but is sort of an afterthought sometimes.
I’ve learned to be grateful that I DO have so many choices. People seem aghast at the thought of me throwing up so many roadblocks with food: no dairy, no gluten, no eggs, no sugar, no meat. What on earth DO I eat then? Surprisingly, I still have a multitude of choices, and food tastes so much better knowing that I’m putting whole, unprocessed fuel into my body. I’m lucky  I live in a country where I have so many choices and gluten-free options are becoming more and more prevalent. The fact that I have access to supermarkets with entire gluten-free SECTIONS is such an incredible blessing, and I have also found myself helping others scouring the shelves with lots of questions. I absolutely LOVE being able to help others adapt to this lifestyle, don’t let the tattoos scare you. I assure you I’m harmless and want nothing more than to help.

A moment of thanks for my loved ones

I’ve read a lot of stories about people who were diagnosed with celiac that had very little support from friends and family; I’ve even read stories of marriages falling apart over it (which, to me, is completely absurd). Teens and children get teased and shunned, siblings, parents and friends don’t “get it” or think “it’s all in your head” and continue to blatantly expose their celiac family member to gluten with no regard to their health or safety. Some of them had no support system but from their online community, and felt ostracized from those who should have loved and accepted them the most.

I wanted to take this moment to say thank you to all of the friends and family that have gone the extra mile to make sure I am safe.  Thank you for never questioning my diagnosis, or scoffing at me having such a strict diet. Thank you for being so selfless when it came to picking places to go out for meals, you’ve always said “Whatever you want, whatever is best for you.” and you meant it without a trace a snark. Thank you for always making me separate gluten-free desserts, and taking cross contamination concerns so seriously. Thank you for bringing me GF treats on a whim, thank you for always being a good host with so many options, and if I have to bring my own food, you’ve never taken offense. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, because without you all, I think this transition would have been much, much harder.

I have to admit, when I was first diagnosed with celiac, I perused a lot of message boards and online support communities to see what I could learn, and to see what others like me had to endure. In the end I abandoned going to these sites simply because there was a LOT of complaining going on, lots of self-pity and anger, lots of “woe-is-me-my-life-sucks” sentiments. I realized I was a stronger person than that, and I was not going to allow the negativity to feed my soul. I looked at all I had accomplished within two years, and wanted to share with everyone that “Life is GOOD, even with celiac.” I’ve run 9 marathons since my diagnosis, and the race calendar keeps filling up. I’m healthier and stronger physically AND mentally, and think it just takes some time to adjust before I could find those strengths within me.

If you are celebrating your OWN gluten-free anniversary, take the time out to think about the things you’ve learned and the people in your life that have supported you.

Also, if you had to make a drastic change in your own life, what are some things you’ve learned in your journey?

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