I Don’t Want To Be *That* Person: On Being Gluten-Free
Let me preface this post by stating that I love gluten. I enjoy baking, eating out, brunch, all manner of gluten-laden meals. However, gluten does not seem to love me. I’ve been in various levels of denial about this for a few years, but recently I made a choice, to find out exactly what eating gluten is doing to my body, by not eating it any more.
It’s difficult to be gluten-free in a world of fad diets. I reluctantly ask waitstaff if I can see the gluten-wise menu, or if such and such a thing has gluten in it. I read labels, I buy packaged food splashed with “GLUTEN FREE!!!” wording, and I cook a little differently than I did previously. I hate that people assume I’m not eating gluten as part of some effort to lose weight, because I read Wheat Belly (I haven’t and I’m not knocking those that do) or because it’s the “in thing” these days. I don’t WANT to not eat it, but my guts, my colon, and potentially a whole bunch of other body parts don’t want me to.
I’ve had…a colorful host of problems with digestion for many years now. I won’t get into a lot of specifics because my friends are already threatening not to talk to me anymore if I keep telling them about my latest poop-related issue. However, I’ve had strange malabsorption things, chronic loose stool (does using proper medical terms make it less gross?) and I feel physically ill when I eat processed things. After spending 10 hours a day with me for 2 years, my best friend Wendy can easily identify when I have eaten gluten because I start making specific sounds that she has dubbed “the gluten grunts”.
This year I finally got tested for Celiac and it came back negative, but that doesn’t really mean anything except that my issue isn’t going to show up on a simple blood test. Gluten issues run in my biological family, and their symptoms and severity can change as you age, so just because I don’t have Celiac now, that doesn’t mean I won’t in 5 years, especially if I keep eating things that make me feel like garbage.
Despite the gluten grunts and gut aches, I just couldn’t convince myself to give it up. While many products are now available to people with sensitivities and intolerance, I never wanted to be one of *those* people who had to ask for the special menu or tell people “well if I come over for dinner should I bring my own food?”
Recently I’ve become concerned about the joint pain and inflammation that I haven’t been able to shake for a while. I chalked it up to the physical nature of my job. My doctor wanted me to get my knees checked for arthritis (I am bad at going to things like ultrasounds and x-rays, so that may still be a factor) because I’ve been whining about pain in them for a while. I also have chronic tendinitis in both of my Achilles, and then a couple of months ago my right hip joint started to hurt something fierce, and I hadn’t injured it or anything.
I left my barn job at the end of January and took three weeks off, and to my disappointment the joint pain didn’t stop. It didn’t even lessen. I still got out of bed feeling like an old lady, and creaked down the stairs in a lot of discomfort. Obviously something else was wrong and it wasn’t just my job that was causing me so many problems.
I turned to the internet for more information about arthritis, and started asking hikers and other athletic people I know how to cope with chronic pain but still achieve goals like long-distance backpacking. I got a lot of great suggestions, like special tape and vitamins I can try. One of the ladies mentioned that going off gluten made a difference for her, and then it hit me; the inflammation gluten causes was probably not just isolated to my intestines. So I started looking into it, and of course, there is a ton of evidence that suggests gluten intolerance can be the cause of joint pain and inflammation. Sometimes people with gluten issues are even incorrectly diagnosed with arthritis, because it seems more obvious to doctors than looking at diet and other factors.
“Joint pain can occur in both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity,” says registered dietitian Shelly Case, a celiac/gluten-free diet expert on the medical advisory boards of the Celiac Disease Foundation and Gluten Intolerance Group.
So, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. If I want to be able to hike, play with my kids, ski, backpack, LARP, or do any of the other things I love without being in a great deal of unnecessary pain, I should figure out for certain what is causing that pain. Cutting out gluten is actually *easier* than having to take pills forever (which I hate the idea of) or going through a bunch of other involved tests that might never result in an actual diagnosis.
It’s been 5 days of nearly no gluten, and so far my gut parts are super happy. I haven’t noticed a significant difference in the joints yet, but apparently giving it 4 weeks is optimal to really tell. Really, I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, because being gluten intolerant is not as bad as it could be. Also it’s forcing me to re-imagine many of my favorite recipes, and while I don’t expect Mike and the kids to give up gluten with me, we will all be healthier if we eat less refined and processed foods.
Going out for food is a bit of a challenge, but that will be easier on my weight and wallet. More restaurants are offering at least a few gluten-free items, and since my intolerance isn’t life-threatening, I don’t have to worry a whole lot about a bit of cross-contamination (like if my food is cooked in the same fry oil as breaded items). If necessary, I will take my own food when I visit other people, but if you’re not a diva about being catered to, most humans that like you are happy to be accommodating to some degree.
It’s not going to be easy to stay away from gluten forever, and I don’t like that people judge me for it, but if it leads to better health and less pain, it’s worth it. Besides, I can still eat meat and drink wine, so I’ll live 😉