What I am Thankful for, as Someone with Celiac Disease

Yes, folks, it’s time for the tried-and-true cliché of “What are YOU thankful for this holiday season?”. To be honest, I am thankful for SO much in my life. My life is really, really good, I have many things to be thankful for on a daily basis and the list would be long (and maybe to some, pretty typical). But I would like to focus on the fact that I have celiac disease for a moment and reflect on how thankful I am in regards to how my environment, friends and family are all so wonderful in helping me heal, thrive and LIVE.

I’m so thankful for:

My wonderful and amazing husband who insists on making sure I am never put at risk, checking and double-checking labels, always looking out for me, always handling “his own food” when we have gluten in the household (it’s not very often, but I find it to be unfair if he can’t have pizza from his favorite place once in a while, I just steer clear of it). He eats anything and everything gluten-free (and likes a LOT of it!), has never once complained while traveling that we have to find a place that is safe for me, enjoys any GF recipe I put in front of him, loves GF beer and never makes demands of me at ALL when it comes to anything regarding food. The most important thing to him is that I am healthy and safe from harm, and living in a GF home is 100% fine for him. He’s never complained about gummy pasta, or having rice again, using tortillas for hamburger buns, he just accepts and enjoys every meal without complaint, and that is amazing to me when I read the horror stories of others who have spouses or SOs that refuse to convert to a GF life to protect their loved one. He’s such a blessing in my life!

Having family that never fails to make sure my needs are met. There is always a gluten-free dessert, always a lot of gluten-free options, and everyone has made sure to be very well-versed in what contains gluten, cross-contamination risks, and other things that come with a gluten-free lifestyle. There is always some Angry Orchard or Strongbow stocked just for me, and my mom especially loves to try new GF dessert recipes. They have never once teased or belittled my having an autoimmune disease and always have taken it very seriously. I think this is SO SO SO important for anyone, of any age, in order to thrive with celiac. If you don’t have the support of your family, I think it can really affect your health, well-being and also self-esteem. I really couldn’t ask for a better family.

Having friends that make extra sure my needs are met whenever we socialize. I have been to parties where there are GF desserts and snacks that are specially marked GF and set aside specifically for me, and I find that so incredibly endearing and thoughtful. Whenever we go out to eat, they never complain about going to a place that is safe for me, and are completely easy-going and have zero demands that things go their way. They take my having celiac seriously, and sometimes even order off the GF menu in case I want to try something. It’s pretty amazing when I think back on all of the good dining experiences I have had with friends. I may not have a million friends, but the ones that I have are gems and I couldn’t ask for more wonderful and selfless people in my life.

Having awesome co-workers that bring in GF treats for me, are always looking out for things that are safe for me to try, and never making me feel left out. Time and time again I find myself pleasantly surprised by this, and I won’t ever forget the time a co-worker went out of her way to get a GF cupcake just for me when we had cake in the office. In fact, that has happened more than once, and with different co-workers! You guys rock on so many levels, seriously.

Thanks to my GI doctors that have helped me through this journey, and I am glad I can be so frank with them when it comes to discussing my symptoms. When discussing bowel movements, bloating, and GI distress, you have to sometimes approach it with a  sense of humor…and I have definitely brought on quite a few laughs and have been called “quite a character/very interesting individual”  on more than one occasion. Hey, I like to keep things lively. But I am so grateful that they finally pinpointed my celiac with no further questions after years of being misdiagnosed, not to mention they have personally called me just to check in, remind me to take my supplements, and have made themselves available if I need them without having to go through 5 receptionists first.  

Thank you to the online celiac and gluten-free community, that is tirelessly working to promote awareness and not taking crap from anyone! You guys have been great on calling out the scams, standing up for what you think is right, getting on the media that dismissively regards the “gluten-free trend” as a fad, and have been vigilant with educating on celiac disease and gluten-free living. You bring us all together when, as a very small part of the population, we can often feel alone. You are a wonderful asset and resource to the celiac community, and I am very grateful to know you!

Thank you to the restaurants that are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of cross-contamination and having knowledgeable staff and management when it comes to gluten-free menus. When I have questions, they either immediately know the answer or they take the time to consult the chefs or management to get a concrete answer. In the first month or two of my diagnosis, I was glutened a couple times, but lately I have found that the staff seems more trained, the menus are clearly marked, and they are really getting wise to safely providing for my needs. It’s amazing to see how things have progressively gotten better in the 2+ years of my diagnosis. And I will give a special shout-out to P.F. Chang’s, Pei Wei, and Q’doba, all places I have gone to multiple times and have had excellent experiences with when it comes to safely eating gluten-free. And believe it or not, I have YET to get a serious eye roll when I ask for a GF menu. That’s a plus. Oh, and lastly, FIVE GUYS for their fries, always guaranteed to be GF. I’m a pretty healthy eater 90% of the time, but there are days where I need that fix, and they deliver.

Thank you to the supermarkets I frequent with the gluten-free sections all clearly marked and an amazing selection of products. I will never get bored eating the same thing, as I am finding plenty of variety and I appreciate how careful you are with being specific about CC possibilities and clearly marking your labels of freshly made foods. Wegman’s is a godsend, and Giant has also been very good to me!

Thank you to all the gluten-free food manufacturers that take a lot of time and care to process food safely and are so careful with disclosure when it comes to cross-contamination concerns. I am finding I am getting glutened a LOT less as of late because the labels have been very clearly marked and I always am made aware when a product is processed in the same facility (or with the same machinery) as wheat or gluten. I am really happy to see more and more gluten-free products that are safely marked as GF certified, it really puts my mind at ease! Oh, and to all the gluten-free beer and cider distributors, I bow to you, it’s been so nice to be able to enjoy a nice cold one after a marathon!

I can only hope I covered everything, and if there is anything you are thankful for that you feel I may have missed, please feel free to comment!

I wish you all a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving. Take some time to reflect, and realize how good you really have it when things in life sometimes seem less than ideal; trust me, we’ve had a rough year with some bumps in the road and are still grateful and consider ourselves quite lucky.

May your holiday be filled with love, family, friends, good food and drinks, and most of all, thankfulness for all the good things in your life.

When Life Hands You Burnout…Sometimes You Just Might Need to Unplug

Not too long ago I ran a 15-mile training run, and all conditions made for a perfect day to go put in some good miles. The day was gorgeous, cool temps, sunshine, low winds, autumn was in full swing and the trees were ablaze in color. I should have really enjoyed this run, but instead just felt completely burnt out.

Lately I’ve been feeling that way, and it’s been in more ways than just my nonstop marathon training. I have barely posted a blog entry, I hardly log in my Daily Mile numbers (or pass on encouragement to others on DM, which is a big part of the community), I’m terrible at responding to email, and Twitter is becoming less and less a part of my daily routine. I can’t say why for certain, but I know I spend ALL DAY in front of a computer during the week, and the last thing I feel like doing is going home and going right back ON the computer. These things used to take priority, and lately I am finding it to be much more of a chore. I don’t enjoy it these days; if I don’t enjoy it, I think it just means I need to set it aside until I feel that need to dive back into it with more enthusiasm.

To be frank, I’m a Generation X girl. I lived in a time where there was no such thing as social media. My first cell phone was an analog with a pull-out antenna in the late ‘90’s, internet was exciting and new, I was still making mix tapes on cassette, and my husband and I used to actually handwrite letters on one another when we were apart. And honestly, I liked it and I really miss those days. I liked spending my free time doing things that DIDN’T involve the internet. I like spending time with my spouse, being with friends and family (and keeping the iPhone well out of range), catching up on reading (I only have maybe 1000+ books to catch up on), video games (that didn’t involve being online), art projects, photo projects, and just doing more than logging online and letting time pass me by, whiling my life away online reading my Twitter feed, thinking of things to blog about, trying to keep up with the bare minimum of social media and failing miserably at it. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just not good at this kind of multi-tasking.

I don’t want to give up and just unplug permanently, but I may just need to hibernate and go into Sleep Mode for a while with the little social media I have committed to. There’s just dozens of things I want to do with my life that don’t involve these things, and I mean absolutely no offense or disrespect  to those who can keep up with it…all I can say is kudos to you for being able to juggle it all and have a smile on your face at the end of the day. I’m just not that strong enough.

I haven’t lost my passion, I still want to do what I am doing, but certain things in my life take precedence, and I want to make sure I can fulfill those priorities first. If you see less of me, I promise I haven’t disappeared. I would hope, and think, any one of you has gone through this kind of burnout and needed to sort of scale things down a notch in order to feel well-rested with a clear head and eventually reignite that passion for the things that you felt bogged you down.

I’ll still be running. I’ll still be taking care of myself and my family. I’ll still be loving life and perhaps going back to enjoying some old pastimes, and I will come back when I feel ready. That’s a heartfelt promise. And in the meantime, I thank you wholeheartedly for all of your love, support and encouragement.

Gotta Love the Element of Surprise: I Can’t Believe it’s Gluten-Free!

Having celiac disease means you have to immediately conform your life to a gluten-free lifestyle with absolutely no cheating and really make sure you avoid cross contamination at all costs. I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone tell me “I could never have celiac, I would die if I had to follow that diet.” There is one part of me that just wants to hit them in the head with a sack of gluten-free flour and retort “Really? You’d die? YOU’D DIE?” Way to be a total drama queen. And you might as well tell me how much it sucks to be me. It’s about that insulting to insinuate eating gluten-free is the equivalent of  swallowing a cyanide pill. You have absolutely NO idea how much it has changed my quality of life. It’s like I have been given a whole new life, but without constant pain, fatigue, pain, discomfort, bloating, pain…and more pain. If given a choice, I will go with Door #2, thanks.

My first year of having celiac disease was a major shift in my life where I had to completely overhaul every aspect of my carefree and food-obsessed life. I had my moments. My temper tantrums. My meltdowns. My self-pity parties filled with tears and frustration.  It was like trying to swim upstream while wearing concrete shoes and a weighted vest. And then one day the weights finally fell off, the current shifted and I was coasting freely, lightly, and happily with my diagnosis. It didn’t happen overnight, but it DID in fact happen in time.

To those naysayers that think celiac is the end-all of life as you know it, I have to say:
You know what? You adjust. You try new things. You learn to cook more and order take-out a lot less.  You learn to rely much more on yourself and a lot less on others. But you also learn to share your new-found knowledge with others.

I think a good portion of the population assumes gluten-free means tasteless, dry and not fit for human consumption. But time and time again I find that they are surprised to find that gluten-free actually tastes GOOD.

I host dinner a lot when it comes to social gatherings with friends and family, and since I run a pretty tight ship my meals are always GF across the board. And time and time again, the naysayers are pleasantly surprised at how good everything can taste. Homemade bread, salad, steamed veggies and baked ziti are often quick and easy staples for a group meal, and more often than not, guests are going for seconds and thirds, and I am left with VERY few leftovers.

Sometimes I bring in gluten-free goodies for the office, and time and time again people are pleased and surprised that the GF Oreos or cupcakes actually taste better than “real” ones. It actually makes me feel pretty good at the end of the day when I can “trick” someone with GF fare and reveal the “big secret” once all is consumed.

Gluten-free does not equal a culinary death sentence.  If anything, it expands the palate and makes you experiment and try new things. And you know what? Now many of my friends and family embrace the “dark side” of gluten-free, and some actually prefer it over ordinary fare. That is pretty significant, and means that GF is actually NOT the equivalent of eating food made from a 3-D printer (and yes, apparently that idea is in the works, and no thank you I won’t try it!).

And one of the most common things I hear these days when the “Big Reveal” is made is “WOW, I can’t believe it’s gluten-free!” Well well well! Take THAT Culinary Cynics! Surprise, Gastronomic Gourmands! And a big Nelson-Muntz “Ha ha!” to the Epicurean Elitists! Imagine that…gluten-free does NOT suck! You certainly won’t know that until you try it for yourself. And while my life DOES depend on it, I still enjoy it immensely and I love being able to share it with others…especially knowing my body is finally thriving rather than dying a slow and agonizing death.

Don’t knock it ’till you try it, folks.

What gluten-free food have you shared with others that they were pleasantly surprised WASN’T GF? How did it make you feel?