Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Journey to Gluten Free

Jeremy and I Christmas Season a few Years Back

I believe I've always had a food intolerance or celiac (still in process of confirming diagnosis.) Growing up, I remember having reoccurring throat infections from age 12 to now. In high school, I developed anxiety and a bit of fatigue - which I didn't understand at that time - I just thought I was a "lazy" teenager. I felt like this nervousness kept me from joining in to many social functions. I also had digestive issues, which I attributed as symptoms from the anxiety and nervousness. I was told that stress can do weird things to your body, and although I know that's true, I know that's not the cause of my symptoms now.

Out of high school, I landed a job as a customer service rep at a health insurance company with help from my mom, whom also worked there in another department. We commuted together an hour each way from a nearby valley. This was hard on me; I couldn't handle the stress and started having panic attacks. Maybe it was because it was my first real job? I mean, I never had to deal with "grown-up" responsibilities before.

At work, I remember having loose stools and embarrassing gas after breakfast. I thought maybe it was lactose intolerance from my lattes, but I didn't always get this after drinking milk so I was stumped. My doctors chalked it all up to depression, and soon after I began taking Zoloft. I was on this for close to 5 years. I would stop taking Zoloft, but only after I went gluten free later down the road. My moods seemed to get better while on antidepressants, but my digestive problems did not. In the last few years I have had some embarrassing situations and close calls where I had to be near a bathroom due to uncontrollable bowel movements.  Maybe I had IBS?

Two years ago at the age of 32, it became even worse. My muscles started tightening and I was always very tense. Again I thought it was stress and tried working out at the gym several times a week. It didn't help much. These pains slowly turned into debilitating muscle spasms where I was out of work for days on end. I couldn't lay down in bed and slept upright with pillows propping me up. I took a chair massager to work with me to get through the day. Not fun at all. I began seeing a chiropractor, which seemed to help only temporarily. I remember one day I went in to get a therapeutic massage, I was in so much pain that I sat huddled in my robe in the corner of their bathroom crying. Along with these pains, I was having brain fog, joint pain, digestive problems, trouble concentrating and memory issues. I remember always "searching" for words that I couldn't seem to find. I was falling apart and it was frustrating.

Then one day during all of this, walking upstairs to my apartment I realized I was completely out of breath. That night I slept on the couch because I couldn't get comfortable in bed. I had horrible chills that night and knew something was terribly wrong. The next day, I walked to my doctors office near my work (have no idea how I was still working as I really was getting nothing done due to the pain and other symptoms), an xray showed a large amount of fluid in the lining of my right lung. I was immediately checked into the hospital and was told there was an underlying infection and would need thoracic surgery. I was really scared. I was in the hospital with a chest tube for more than a week. Everyone said how unusual it was for a then 32 year old to have this illness. I mean, I was healthy right? How did this happen?

But in all honesty, I really wasn't. One of my friends jokes with me whenever I get sick that I always have had some kind if illness, and he is right. In my 20's, I had endometriosis, the cartilage in my knees was falling apart, and then of course there was the tonsillitis and strep almost every year. Where was all of this coming from? Were they possibly all related?

After the thoracic surgery I thought I would get better, but I didn't seem to be healing the way I thought I would. I still had chest pain, joint pain, brain fog, severe fatigue and an inability to concentrate. I lost my job two months after my surgery. Doctors had given me broad-spectrum antibiotics for about 6 weeks. (Later I would find out what a detriment this was to my body due to a candida overgrowth.) Since doctors could not find a reason for my health issues, and didn't seem interested in helping me further after my surgery (tried to push pain pills and antidepressants), I started doing research and went through several self diagnoses. First I thought it was my moldy apartment, so I moved. Symptoms got a little better but not much.

After no help from doctors, I started researching an had an "a-ha" moment. Could it be Celiac or a gluten intolerance? I immediately began following the diet, and what do you know, my symptoms lessened. Today my brain fog, anxiety, joint pain and digestive symptoms are significantly reduced. I rarely feel joint pain, and it is nice not to have panic attacks anymore. About 5 months ago, I stopped taking Zoloft and find I don't need it now.

Still, I believe I have a lot of healing to do. Due to the broad spectrum antibiotics, I believe I have a candida overgrowth. I think I may have had this even before my thoracic surgery. I remember a few months before I got terribly ill, I had a throat infection, and took antibiotics. Within a week I was vomiting, and my health went into a downward spiral from there. I think that all of my healthy bacteria was gone; this left a door open to candida, molds and other pathogens. I started getting better eating gluten free, but as soon as I started eating GF breads and baked goods I became ill again. I suspected yeast and sugar. I heard somewhere that many celiacs have other allergies or sensitivities. Today, I am not only eating gluten free, but yeast and sugar free. Whenever I backslide and eat sugar or yeast (I'm always gluten free), within a day I begin to feel ill and inflammation builds. So, I've learned to adjust my lifestyle.

I can't say it was easy in the beginning. Going gluten free, I've had many setbacks. While in the learning stages, I've had a few bouts of accidental gluten ingestion. It's been a challenge learning to read confusing labels. And there was a time I went through denial and backslid, only to get sick again.

There are days where I feel sorry for myself and just want to devour a Philly cheese steak. I have to remind myself that my health is on the line and I'll regret it if I eat a pretzel with cheese at the mall. Parties and family events are hard. Some restaurant management look at you like you are speaking a foreign language and don't know what gluten is.

But now I'm in a groove and am pretty comfortable with my new diet. I've found new foods and new places to eat. And you know what?  I eat healthier than before and that's a good thing. I also keep a food journal in case I get sick and need to look back at what I might have done wrong. I try to focus on the foods I CAN have instead of those I can't. And my boyfriend has been very patient with me, adapting with dinner and groceries. I am fortunate as he is really supportive and knows how much better I feel as a result of my diet. I've always been into nutrition, but this has really opened the door to true healthy eating! It's a good thing for me that I love to cook. I really enjoy using whole, organic local produce and visit the local farmer's market several times a month. It's good for our bodies, the environment and the communities we live in.

While I still don't know for sure if gluten is the real cause of all of these illnesses, until proven otherwise, I know this is a much heathier way of eating for me and I will continue to do what helps me heal. I can only hope that my story will help others and those with health issues like mine will be able to listen to their bodies and find the right path for themselves as well.


  1. Thanks so much for your tweet--and for leading me here! It really does get easier. . . sugarfree, glutenfree, dairyfree--it's all second nature to me now, and I don't even think about it. (plus you get really used to bringing your own food everywhere--ha ha!). :D

  2. It is becoming like second nature to me now too! And it's been fun along the way as I've learned about so many foods I was missing out on. I really enjoy being creative in my cooking and baking, too.