Thursday, October 10, 2013

Good God I Miss Sourdough Bread: My Gluten-Free Journey

I'm sure all of you have heard about going "gluten-free". You may have heard it's just a fad. You may have heard that all you have to do is eliminate gluten and you'll get a flat belly. You may have heard that it can actually hurt you to eliminate gluten. You may have heard that you can solve your child's behavior problems by eliminating gluten. I'm not here to give a universal opinion on whether or not YOU should eliminate gluten from your diet or your child's. I'm simply going to share my personal experience in this post. In the second installment, I will share the pros and cons as well as what I would do differently if I was starting all over again.

Five years ago I went to a new doctor. When I signed in at the front desk, they handed me a very detailed 4-page questionnaire to fill out. I was ready to check "no" to virtually every question and write down the few surgeries I had. But this form was different. It didn't just ask if I had diabetes or had ever had a stroke. It asked how often I experienced headaches (daily), how much they affected my life (greatly). It asked how often I experienced bloating or intestinal distress (when did I NOT?), and how much it affected my life (significantly). It asked about my allergies and asthma. It asked about my level of energy and moods. It asked how often I felt irritable (ooooohhhh, should I answer this one or call my husband for HIS answer?). It was redefining "healthy" for me as I answered the questions. I started to realize that lack of major illness did not necessarily mean that I was "healthy".

When I met with the doctor, she said that many of the symptoms I was experiencing could be caused by a gluten sensitivity. She didn't reccomend any tests, but she did suggest that I eliminate gluten from my diet for a couple of months to see if it changed how I felt. It was really difficult. I LOVE me some gluten. But within a couple of weeks I was feeling significantly better. My headaches disappeared completely. A couple of months later I got a little headache and I couldn't even remember where I put the Excedrin. I wasn't running to the bathroom several times a day. I wasn't avoiding social situations because of "intestinal distress" that could clear a room. I had more energy. I felt less irritable. I felt like I could think more clearly (it was just like a Claritin commercial). I definitely felt the difference. The first couple of times I ate gluten again (either by accident or because I just said, "screw it, I really want that pizza") I felt all of those symptoms come back. It got to the point where it was pretty easy to say "no" because I felt so crappy when I let myself give in. Five years later I've identified other, more subtle side-effects of eating gluten. The most surprising to me was the dry skin/eczema I would get around my nostrils and on the sides of my chin. It started in my early 20s and I didn't even realize it had gone away at first. It wasn't until 3 years into my gluten-free journey that I realized that every time I ate gluten, the dry skin would come back about 48 hours later. I never would have thought there would be those sorts of connections between what I ate and very specific changes in so many parts of my body.

A couple of years after going gluten-free I started having severe, debilitating headaches again. I was also having some increased intestinal distress. I went through neurological testing, CAT scans, an MRI, and some kind of crazy probe that went up into my sinuses. Everything was coming up clear. Then, at the ENT's office, I noticed a poster advertising a test for food sensitivities. I told him about my gluten issue and asked if some other sensitivies could be causing my problems. We did the test and it turns out I am also sensitive to egg yolks, egg whites, all dairy, and almonds. Your body can develop these sensitivities over time. With no gluten, I was eating a lot of these other foods which may have contributed to developing a sensitivity to them. Within a couple of weeks of cutting out these other foods I felt much better again.

The testing also helped me to understand the actual process of what was happening in my body. When most of us think of food allergies, we think of hives or anaphylactic reactions. It turns out there is another type of allergy that results from different antibodies. These non-IgE allergies are more likely to have a delayed onset and have a wider variability in symptoms. This is why it is often so difficult to make the connection between the food and the symptoms. When you eat shrimp and break out in hives 30 minutes later, it's not hard to figure out what's happening. When you eat bread and 18 hours later you feel foggy headed and have diarrhea, it's a lot harder to connect the dots.

Going gluten-free is not easy. Luckily there are many quality products widely available in stores and there are great resources on the web. But a lot of gluten-free stuff is high-calorie crap. In the next post, Good God I Miss Sourdough Part Two, I'll share some of the most difficult aspects of going gluten-free as well as a few of my favorite resources. I hope that sharing my experiences can help you if you decide that going gluten-free is something you'd like to try.

Please share your experiences if you've cut gluten or other foods out of your diet and feel that it has made a positive difference in your health. Your story might help someone make a positive change in his or her own life!


9 comments:

  1. Thank you for a well written, informative article! I have a close friend (Sally) who is a chef, that decided about a year ago to go gluten free and now loves it. She has since found she has sensitivities to it when she was tested. All her recipes now are GF. I think you might enjoy her blog and resources, it's: http://afoodcentriclife.com/ Enjoy!!

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    1. Thanks for the kind comment Michelle! I will definitely check out your friend's blog. I'm always looking for new recipes :)

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  2. Thanks for this blog Brooke!! I found it through FB- I attended NHS and graduated in 2004. I have been having very similar issues, and this blog has inspired to finally get up and get some testing done, now that I know it exists! Thanks and I'm glad all is going well for you in your life! You were an awesome psych teacher! :)

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    1. Wow, Jenna, thanks for the compliments on both fronts! I hope you figure out your issues and feel better soon. Make sure the doc does NON-IgE antibody tests for the sensitivities. Good luck and keep me posted!

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    2. Hi Brooke! I finally got myself to the doctor recently after having continued issues with serious intestinal distress, even after having cut out dairy from my diet (though not stringently enough, apparently). I was still eating foods that had dairy in them, but wasn't eating overt dairy. I went to the doc and got bloodwork done, and was told that while we waited for the results I should completely cut out dairy, as well as cut out gluten. I did that for a week and had absolutely no symptoms at all. I went back today and found out that I'm not actually allergic to anything- wheat, soy, milk, peanuts, and eggs. Is it common to just have food sensitivities to these foods without actually being allergic to them? I am going to continue eating GFDF since I haven't had any issues since doing so, but the fact that I'm not truly allergic just confuses me even more. Anyway, just curious if you have known others to just be food "sensitive" without being food "allergic." As always, I love reading your blog, and can't wait to try out your oatmeal! I LOVE oatmeal. Thanks Brooke! :)

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    3. All of the terminology associated with these issues can be very confusing and I tend to use the words "sensitive" and "allergic" interchangeably. I think most people differentiate because when people say "allergy" they usually mean a typical IgE antibody reaction. Check your results to see if the doc ran IgE allergy tests. Those tests are for the more common allergy reaction which causes symptoms like rashes, hives, etc. The IgG and IgA antibodies are what typically cause the symptoms such as headaches, brain fog, intestinal issues, etc. Your test results should be shown as a range of reactivity, not as simply positive or negative. The reactivity on the test may not perfectly correlate to the symptoms you have, in either variety or severity. My second set of tests after I cut out eggs and dairy showed a major drop in my "sensitivity" to those but I still find I can't have much before I start getting symptoms. I think of the tests as an additional piece of the puzzle to help figure out what foods to eliminate. The real test is whether or not you notice a difference in the way you feel. If you feel better without those foods, it's probably worth avoiding them, at least most of the time.

      I hope you like the oatmeal. I'm actually eating some right now. Don't forget the orange zest!

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  3. I'm a huge label reader, and as I'm going through the fridge, I see that there is wheat in more things then I realized. Are there any products that you found that you were shocked had wheat? And are there any ingredients to look for on the label that I might not realize are wheat based. Thanks for all your info!!

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    1. Condiments mainly; soy sauce was a surprise to me. Red Vines and a lot of other candies that you wouldn't think of as having flour or wheat. I don't eat stuff like that often but I remember taking the kids to the movies and sharing their red vines and then feeling awful for days. I finally looked it up because it was the only thing I'd eaten that was out of the ordinary and ~ surprise!

      I don't stress too hard about labels that say "processed on equipment used with wheat" or variations of that, but if you find that your daughter is more sensitive, you might have to be more careful.

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