Saturday, March 29, 2014

How I struggle with the gluten free diet

Over the years I’ve seen many people question the gluten free diet and even make jokes. I did an internet search. I searched for sugar-free/diabetic jokes and gluten-free jokes. While I found pages and pages of jokes about gluten-free, I found very few about sugar-free/diabetic. I can tell you that the gluten free diet is not a joke. A growing number of people are being diagnosed with gluten intolerance or the more extreme form an autoimmune disease called celiac sprue. I have several family members who have been diagnosed with celiac or gluten intolerance. I am on the gluten free diet. It is a day-to-day struggle. 

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley as well as any product made with these grains. Gluten intolerance is the villi of the small intestine’s inability to break down the protein. The person experiences a wide range of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and bone or joint pain. Actually, there are 250 symptoms in which a sufferer can experience. This is makes it so hard to diagnose and often gets misdiagnosed as another disease or disorder.  

I’ve been struggling with this diet since 2008 when I began to experience more extreme symptoms and more often. I had the blood tests done in 2010 but when it came back negative, my doctor said, “Oh you don’t have it.” But I insisted that I have a biopsy done because it is the only way to definitively know if someone has celiac. When it came back negative, again my doctor said, “No, you don’t have it.” Then I started my own research and I learned that you don’t have to have celiac to be gluten intolerant. In fact, gluten intolerance can turn into celiac if it is not taken care of. Even though I do not have an official diagnosis, I went on the diet and I felt better. However, I struggle. Even though I know that my body functions better when I’m on the gluten free diet and I have my moments of weakness and I eat that cookie or that slice of pizza. The reaction is sometimes so severe where I’m miserable and I’m beating myself up for doing it yet again.

I began questioning why I have such a hard time following the diet when I know it is for the benefit of my health. I’ve come up with these reasons:
1. As a cook and baker as a hobby, I love food and sweets. Cakes, cookies, and doughnuts. Pizza, Chinese food, and green bean casserole. Even some candy bars are off limits like Twix, Kit Kats and Milky Ways. 
2. The gluten free diet is very expensive, takes extra planning and shopping. Every item is securitized for any possible gluten ingredient. Some are obvious like gravies and cookies while others are not so obvious like soy sauce, BBQ sauce, and salad dressings. 

3. Eating out can be difficult. I find going out to parties especially difficult because I don’t expect people to remember my diet restrictions or even to go out of their way to offer a food I can eat. A few years ago, I was laughed at by a waitress for requesting a gluten free items. Or I’ve gotten blank stares from people who don’t know how to answer. Thankfully, many restaurants are recognizing the gluten-free community. A few restaurants that now offer a gluten free menu:
BJ’s Restaurant and Brew house
            The Cheesecake Factory 
            Red Robin
P.F. Chang’s

It really irritates me when someone jokes about the gluten free diet because so many people are on the diet when they don’t need to be. This makes those individuals who do need to be on the diet like they are just following the trend. Living with a special diet that is life altering is a struggle. It’s a day-to-day decision to remind yourself that it’s for your health and your future. It’s a day-to-day struggle because it’s not as simple as don’t eat it especially when that food is intricate part of most, if not, all foods. It’s the day-to-day question “is this gluten free?” because you can’t take it for granted. Wheat flour, especially, can be in everything!!! So, if you know anyone who has a food restriction, whatever it may be, don’t make fun of them. It’s a daily struggle not being able to enjoy the food that you take for granted. Would you joke about the sugar-free diet of a diabetic? Probably not. Please don’t joke about the gluten free diet. It is very serious for a growing number of people.