20 September 2013

30 days to gluten freedom

so, im gluten intolerant. what i once would have described as a tragedy, now seems just a mere annoyance.

where to begin? ...for the past several years ive had a niggling feeling that gluten might be an issue for me, but giving up bread and whatever else seemed laughably impossible, better to just deal with the (health/life) consequences. well, i was wrong, but thankfully i dont feel bound up in feelings of "if only...". now was the right time in my life to take this on and as it turns out it was indeed the root of many mild-moderate level problems over the years, possibly for my whole life.

after getting home from our summer travels, i was able to finally get ahold of a blood test i had requested before we left. i had been inexplicably fatigued to a strangely paralyzing degree for too long and i wondered if i was anemic since ive usually hovered around the low end of "normal" most of my life. well, no, my iron levels were fine. there really wasnt any other explanation i could think of but to finally turn to that long standing idea of gluten sensitivity.

well, why not finally try it? weve spent the last few years getting used to managing Xs sensitivities, lets attempt this one now that hers are under control. i had lots of suspect symptoms that, combined, made it seem like an obvious guess: chronic fatigue (and/or insomnia), intestinal/digestive issues, a particular type of chronic skin rash (charmingly described as "chicken skin"), brain fog, headaches, unexplained tingling/numbness in extremities, and being prone to depression and anxiety. none of these separately are dire of course, but the way theyve managed to worm their way into my life and take turns playing a central role in making me feel uncomfortable hasnt been very pleasant. plus, its nice when several nebulous and fairly mysterious annoyances can all, basically, go away from just one action; id say thats a large win.

ultimately, i was tired of feeling these things so regularly, and with winter approaching, i didnt want any reasons to be feeling bleak, if i could help it. plus, ive got a bit of a family history regarding intestinal issues so the motivation was here from all sides. here we go.

changes in the past 30 days:

- i first focused on just a few major gluten changes (to make the transition easier). i needed to find replacements for pasta, cookies/dessert, crackers, and bread. the gluten-free (GF) pasta is great, i cant tell a difference. the cookies are hit or miss, but once i found the brands that make decent cookies, that area has been satisfactory. ive found one decent cracker replacement too, but, alas, the bread...the "fresh" stuff is basically all shit. frozen GF bread has been miles better but still not something to fall in love with. ive also dabbled in making my own baked goods, the typical GF flours mixes i found here are a blend of the cheaper foodstuffs: corn, rice, and potato. ive not been impressed. but the GF oat flour (often oats are processed on gluten equipment, so its a grain you need to get specifically labeled "gluten free") and buckwheat flour have been much tastier choices. now its just fiddling around with recipes to get them to taste to their full potential.

- after only a few days i noticed a couple major changes: no gas pressure/pain or mega bloating (this is pretty major for me). in the past month ive certainly overeaten (whoops), so ive felt full, but nothing like i used to, with the painful pressure. and while some days i still feel a bit tired due to boredom, i dont experience my usual 2 hour huge dip in energy. i mean a dip in energy so large it was hard to keep my eyes open or my mood up. having that feeling vanish was very strange. it almost made me feel like i must have been faking it before. but i wasnt. it was very real, the feeling of being wrapped in a blanket and pushed to sleep. but that has vanished.

- after a week i noticed more: no more panicky hunger. this is a little hard to explain, and certainly impossible to make anyone else understand how real and urgent the feelings were when i was having them, because they seem so silly when you are sane. but, previously, even as i was eating a meal or snack i would sometimes already be worried about the next time i would get hungry: where is my next food going to come from?, will it be enough to satisfy my hunger?, what if it isnt?, it was quite a cycle and it made it hard to live in the present. but now thats gone. its been weird waiting around for those anxious feelings, but not having them come. this is what normal people feel like!? who knew?

also, previously, strenuous activity (including just walking up a hill) would make my energy level dip way low. it was honestly like walking through deep water at times, id just try to kick my legs forward to make them keep moving. but now im actually happy to chase X around outside when she asks me to, instead of saying no. i feel unchained. free.

lastly, my mind feels clear now. i didnt realize it was struggling, but now i see it. there would be feelings, reactions (mostly snappy, impatient reactions) that never felt like me. immediately i would sort of stand outside of myself and cringe "why did you just do/say that? thats not you". im not trying to sound crazy or like i dont take responsibility for my actions, but there would be an element or a split second where it sometimes felt i wasnt in charge/control, something else was. i'll go further to say that, while im not suggesting i was autistic-like, i think i now do have a tiny understanding of the changes that ive heard about in regards to seemingly autistic people "getting better" after dietary changes. i get how that could be possible, especially for children.

- at the end of these 30 days, ive even noticed that my arm and leg rash ("chicken skin") is slowly fading. ive had this skin issue, continuously, since at least high school (carbo-load for swimming much?) so im assuming it will take many months for my system to sort that one out.

reflections on this dietary change:

the GF experiment is done. im sticking with it. i feel so much better, physically, mentally, emotionally, and even though i do still look at the bread dave and X eat and mildly wish i could have some, the urge is not there, because i know it wont taste good enough to justify how crappy i will feel for the next 24 hours. which is not to say i will never eat gluten again, im not just sure when i will find the right reasons to test my mind/body like that. plus, im still working on fine tuning not eating gluten in my regular life.

it can be tricky because gluten can be hiding on shredded cheese (a bit of flour keeps it from sticking together in the bag), in soup bouillon cubes, in processed meats, in baking powder, in medicines, and other things im learning about. these effects are more minor obviously because its not like ingesting a loaf of bread. but, the key is listening to my body, realizing that its more tired than it should be, thinking back to what i ate, and finding a replacement product. i think ive got most of the bugs worked out, and its been worth it, especially compared to how i used to be.

anyone who knew me when i was younger and spent any time with me would know that i was not pleasant when i was hungry. i always thought it was a blood sugar thing, and maybe in part it was/is that, but it certainly was also a gluten thing, i see now. i clearly recall trips with friends where i was manic about finding the next place to eat, talking about it, thinking about it, needing to know when the next meal or snack was going to be. it was pretty consuming. i would try to keep my mouth shut, but often i would get frustrated, not understanding how others werent as crazed and hungry as me. i cant believe i didnt drive dave crazy.

in college, i basically stopped exercising (being on sports teams was my exercise as a child) and mysterious IBS-like symptoms really flared up. that was a terrible time of knowing where all the bathrooms on campus were and freaking out about that like i did about hunger. then in grad school panic attacks got added to the pile. i eventually kicked the panic attacks just before we left for france. the IBS-like stuff calmed down significantly a bit after that, and then i was just left with the hunger panic i always had. then i got pregnant and the hunger panic mixed with the hormones and nausea of the first 4 months was enough to drive me over a cliff. i see now that it didnt have to be that terrible. my body was being seriously abused from all sides. the excessive feelings of exhaustion and brain fog and anxiety and when i was depressed feeling, sometimes it was a heavy depressed. the hormones, the new life transition, the tiny insistent person with a whole slew of her own challenges (dietary issues, strong-willed, highly sensitive) and several moves without much support locally. wow, i guess i should wonder how i didnt end up on the news.

but once we finally got to finland and life started to really settle down, i was still left with this terrible fatigue. it didnt seem normal. so i tried this out. and i swear, the first week without gluten i must have had a shit-eating grin constantly plastered on my face. i felt high. i could not believe that i had the same brain, same body but felt alive in a totally different way. of course that is not a sustainable feeling (gosh, wouldnt that be great though if it were?) so it has faded, and settled into just a more even-kiltered me (i like to think).

in general, instead of feeling my usual frustration of "why didnt i know about this sooner!?" im feeling upbeat and focusing on the positives. i can make things better, experience things more positively, more easily feel like me instead of a confusingly, inexplicably crabby version of myself. i was lucky to have anyone willing to be around me, hell ive often been pissed at myself for my tone, attitude and scowls. now, im not saying theyre all gone. lets be reasonable, im still me after all :), just a less lost and weighed down in an irritable, panicky, exhausted fog. i like myself much more these days, and maybe you would to.

...and what does dave think about all this?: as a member of the less observant sex, he told me he has certainly noticed that i have more energy, and that my enjoyment of things has been boosted due to the added energy. my mood seems to also have become more balanced. lol. gotta love him. maybe he has always had the ability to scrounge around for my more positive traits and to focus on those while the rest of me was a wild mess. what more can someone ask for in a partner? :)

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