From Glutton to Gluten-Free

 

Dick’s Drive-In is a local drive-in burger joint in Seattle, Washington.  It has been around since 1954 and has become a sort of tradition.  The restaurant’s large bright-orange logo that is emblazoned on every sign, bag, and employee can be counted among the city’s numerous icons.  At any time of day or night, you can find the place hopping with lines of eager patrons waiting to fill their bellies with the deliciously simple burgers, fries, and shakes that the drive-in is famous for.  While growing up, I would sometimes go there four or five times a week to get my fix; and when I became a mother, I was thrilled to make the trip with my children, past at least a half a dozen McDonalds’ for burgers and fries at Dick’s Drive-In.  Little did I know that August 11, 2006 would be the very last time that I would eat at my beloved fast-food joint….

On that day, my life changed forever.  That was the day that my doctor told me that I was gluten sensitive…..  

What is Gluten?

Very simply, gluten is a large, sticky protein found in many grains including wheat, barley, rye, and oats*.  When consumed, some people will experience adverse reactions that can include but aren’t limited to,  gastrointestinal problems, asthma, eczema, depression, anxiety, and joint pain.  Some medical organizations specializing in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity estimate that up to 60% of Americans may actually be sensitive to gluten, but most are unaware.  It is often only when symptoms manifest themselves  in the form of a disease like celiac,  rheumatoid arthritis, or gastritis that people become aware of gluten.  That is what happened in my case;  I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis so my doctor ordered that I be tested for gluten sensitivity.  Until then, I really didn’t understand what gluten was.

*Oats do not contain gluten naturally, however most crops grown in the US is contaminated with gluten because it is usually grown and processed among wheat and other glutenous grains.  Always eat oats that are certified gluten free. 

Testing

There are blood tests that your doctor can administer to determine the presence of celiac disease.  While these are fairly accurate at finding celiac, they don’t tend to pick up on gluten sensitivity.  You can defininately be gluten sensitive and NOT celiac.  That does not mean that symptoms of aren’t as severe if you have a sensitivity rather than celiac; with either condition, your body treats gluten like a foreign invader marked for death.  There is one and only cure for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity:  a gluten-free diet. 

Obtaining a diagnosis of either celiac or sensitivity can be tricky.  Testing is designed to detect severe cases of celiac disease… I could go on all day about the pleasantries of the intestinal biopsy test for diagnosis, but I think I will skip that in favor for a less intrusive and much more accurate way to determine gluten sensitivity….

I personally had a blood test to determine gluten sensitivity and it came back negative.  So when my doctor ordered a second test, I protested.  I didn’t understand why I should need to undergo another blood draw for a test that had already determined gluten was not a problem.  My doc explained that his test did not collect blood, it collected feces….<blush>….yes, as in poop.

I am not going to go into the details of the test, but Enterolab is pioneering a method that uses poop to test for gluten sensitivity.  My doctor and his team were trying the lab out for themselves, except they were going to use me (and my pooh) as one of their guinea pigs.  Enterolab contends that testing through the digestive system, where gluten is actively processed, is a much more effective and logical means of determining whether the body is reacting to gluten.  Yes, that makes perfect sense to me and anybody else who reads their website. However, Enterolab’s credibility is hotly debated on the web.  And why not?  Anything new or unconventional is always scary.  Doctors can pooh-pooh  (no pun intended) the lab in favor of gold standard blood and biopsy methods all they want, but the fact is, they are largely ineffective at identifying gluten sensitivity. It cannot be argued that Enterolab shows great promise with their research and testing methods.

As a patient and the mother of an Enterolab patient, I can honestly say that Entorlab delivers on its claims.  My results from Enterolab came back positive for gluten sensitivity (as they usually do from Enterolab.  You don’t tend to require such a test if you aren’t showing signs of needing it).  When my doctor was finished explaining the results to me, I decided then and there to commit myself and my family to a gluten-free lifestyle and we have not looked back. 

Going Gluten-Free

Before going gluten-free I was addicted to food, particularly foods with gluten in them.  I was overweight and my body was swollen with inflammation.  My skin was always broken out in ugly red sores, which consequently, were a direct reaction of the gluten.  I was depressed, quick to anger, and forever in a brain fog.  I could never organize anything and worst of all my body was succumbing to the RA rapidly.  My hands and feet were developing nodules and I was living in a constant flare.  So, in summary, I was an ugly, evil, cripple who could eat like a farm animal…..  That life just wasn’t worth it. 

Transitioning to a gluten-free lifestyle was challenging.  There weren’t nearly as many options as there are now.  The few breads and cookies that were available were inedible.  Thankfully, gluten awareness has gone mainstream since my conversion and the product market has exploded with palatable foods (I will be writing about some of the better items, as well as recipes).   You can now find gluten-free selections at large grocery chains and restaurants in metropolitan areas.  Those who are just making the switch to gluten-free have it a lot easier when it comes to food options.  However, breaking the psychological and physiological addiction to gluten is a very personal journey. 

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Gluten Isn’t Addictive

I was a mess for the first few months of gluten-free life.  I would find myself bawling for hours, for no reason.  It was difficult to think about anything else but food, and I was constantly trying to justify in my head ways of “accidentally” getting a fix.  I know it sounds crazy.  I sound as if I was trying to kick a drug habit or at least, something more serious than food, but what I describe is absolutely true and my account is only a taste of what I experienced.  I was profoundly addicted and when I came through that battle, I learned that I had no coping skills at all.  I used food to comfort and subdue my emotions, but that is another blog post entirely….  Anyway, I know I should write that anyone can overcome gluten and that it is easy, but that just was not true for me and to lie and say it was would undermine my struggle.  It was hard, but again, I would do it over again a million times to get to the level of health I am today. 

Gluten Freedom

Today, my rheumatoid arthritis is under control.  I have no nodules on my joints, in fact, you would not be able to see that I have rheumatoid arthritis by looking at my hands.  I have lost weight, my skin is clear for the first time ever, and I can finally think clearly.  I am not depressed, in fact, I have learned to be a much happier and patient person.  All this has happened as a result of simply removing a single protein from my diet.  The best part is that my RA symptoms improved within a week of going gluten-free.  If there was just one thing I could recommend to help someone with rheumatoid arthritis, (or any autoimmune disease for that matter) it would be to go gluten-free.  It makes a world of difference.  

Related Articles and Resources:

 “How Accurate Art Blood-Antibody Tests?”

http://www.celiac.com/articles/32/1/How-accurate-are-blood-antibody-tests/Page1.html

 “Challenges of Gluten-Free Living: The Addictive Nature of Wheat”

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1038974/challenges_of_glutenfree_living_the.html?cat=5

Entrolab Website (lots of info!)

https://www.enterolab.com/

One Last Thing….. 

The gluten-free diet has become popular in the last few years.  As a result, there is a ton of conflicting and mis-information on the web.  For more, reliable information on gluten, and for a list of gluten and gluten-free foods, I highly recommend: 

Celiac.com

http://www.celiac.com/

Gluten Intolerance Group of North America

http://www.gluten.net/index.php

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. foodallergytherapist
    Oct 22, 2010 @ 17:48:09

    I really enjoyed reading your story! So glad to hear how much better you are feeling since going gluten free. It’s very challenging at first, but as you start to see the benefits, you realize that it’s worth giving up some foods that you were once “addicted” to!

    Reply

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