No, today I’m not talking about coming to a saving faith in Jesus of Nazareth, though I identify myself as a born-again Christian and would love to talk with you about it. Instead, I’m talking about my experience getting a new life by eradicating gluten from my diet (I’m certifiably gluten intolerant). This my story of how that came to be and how it’s changed my life.
Discovery of Gluten Intolerance
It was a complete surprise to me that I am intolerant of gluten. Frankly, I didn’t know much about it other than I had been hearing more and more about it in the last few years – I assumed it was another dieting fad (which I’m sure it actually still is a fad for some, but overall gluten intolerance is pretty much as real as it gets). I did know that something was hurting my body and I had been trying to figure that out. When a friend was describing how much a blood allergen test had helped her family identify and eliminate foods that were causing trouble (asthma, inflammation, weight gain), I decided it would be worth it just to know how the different foods affected me. Prior to this I believed that I had no food allergies. Boy was I wrong!
My reactions to gluten and gliadin were high in the “not safe” zone. These and a few grains jumped out on my chart and I decided to look into the matter. When I found out just how severe an allergy or intolerance to gluten can be, I knew that I would have to eradicate it completely from my diet; this I did practically overnight.
What I Gained from What I Lost
Since then I have knowingly ingested gluten on three occasions. Each time was progressively worse and more painful. Taking away the gluten made me a new man. The following list outlines symptoms I have had which have disappeared since going gluten-free:
- Exhaustion after eating, feeling like wanting to collapse, struggling to stay awake
- Frequent and painful mouth sores
- Growing appetite, feeling poor despite a healthy and nutrient-rich diet
- Joint and muscle pain, general pain, especially when running or walking briskly
- Lack of mental focus throughout the day
- Overall fatigue and exhaustion, feeling lethargic and slow
- Pesky dandruff, despite cleaning hair every night with dandruff shampoo
- Severe fatigure driving or sitting idle for any appreciable duration
- Thrashing at night; poor sleep
- Unstable emotions, strange feelings without identifiable causes
Besides ridding myself of these symptoms, here is a selections of things I have discovered since taking the plunge:
- I had forgotten what boredom feels like. Over the past several years, every time I sat still for any significant time, I became exhausted and either struggled to stay awake or crashed asleep. Now, I can drive for hours on end without the fight, simply doing nothing.
- My energy has surged beyond what I anticipated. My body feels like it did in high school where I can go and go and still have more in me.
- Running doesn’t hurt. I’ve never been able to adequately describe the pain I felt while running, but now that I’m gluten-free the pain is gone. There was no buildup: I went from having a miserable time running one mile to comfortably running five miles with basically no training involved.
- Without changing my diet otherwise, and without drastically changing my exercise regiment, I dropped about twelve pounds within a couple of weeks. My weight has mostly leveled off since that time, although I am still losing about a pound every three to five weeks.
The Search for a Cause
For me, gluten has been quite an enemy. It’s been a very emotional and psychological experience recovering from it. I can trace some of my symptoms back to elementary school and most of the symptoms have had a big role in shaping me. How would I be different today, I wonder, if I had known back then and could have avoided it? I used to have to try and game the system in gym class for improving your time running the mile because I knew it would be so difficult if I didn’t; there was guilt in that feeling. I have struggled to stay awake during class and even at church; there was shame in that. I had perceptions of myself being uncontrollably lazy and slothful; that doesn’t help one’s self esteem.
At this juncture of determination and failure, I started to search for some kind of a reason. My first active investigation involved a webcam one night when Mandi was away. I pointed the camera at my bed and fired up iSpy. In eight hours, there were about twenty-five times when I tossed from one side to another, violently flailing my arms in the air. With less than twenty minutes to sleep between waking and tossing, my body was never entering any true deep sleep. I knew there was something seriously wrong at this point, that something physical was going on and it was taking away my ability to rest. This, I thought, was the cause of my problems, that I was fatigued because of lack of sleep.
My doctor suggested that I suffered from Restless Leg Syndrome and I thought I had finally found my answer. It turned out that I could trace some sleep issues genetically and this gave me much excitement: a cause, a cause! Little did I expect that a full fledged sleep study, which provide a definitive answer, would cost around $4,500. I wasn’t quite ready to shell out this kind of cash for a diagnostic test yet, so I explored the DIY arena. Sleep as Android and Sleep Cycle helped me improve my sleep greatly and learn how to breathe better at night, but I was still having the same troubles.
A Turn for the Worst
Next came an ironic twist: it began with a CBC that showed a low count for serum Iron. Suspecting some kind of malabsorption, I focused on trying to improve my digestive tract by increasing my intake of fiber and whole grains. Everything became whole wheat: whole-wheat spaghetti, whole-wheat bread, whole-grain rice, and whole-wheat pizza. In other ways too, my diet was better than ever and I was trying hard to exercise more. Despite the better diet and improved sleep, and without making the connection to the wheat, my health started to noticeably degrade. I was getting worse and doing so faster than I had been before.
It was at this point that my attention and focus started to seem to disappear and that my appetite was increasing, on some days being insatiable. Feeling guilty for gaining weight, losing productivity, feeling deep sadness at random times for inexplicable reasons, and for generally feeling like I was failing, I set an ultimatum: if I gained one pound over the metric I set, I would take drastic measures, which I thought meant asking several people for help and accountability.
Testing and Gluten Intolerance
Thankfully that ultimatum didn’t have to materialize, as I was setting myself up for bigger failures yet. Several people I knew had taken the E95 Basic Food Panel test from Meridian Valley Lab. The test had opened their eyes to various food allergies that were hampering their ability to thrive. These ranged from the oh-so-common dairy allergies to a rash-inducing beef allergy. At the cost of several hundred dollars and no health-care claims to file, I figured that this test would provide me invaluable information for my health in the future. I actually took it more out of curiosity than anything, although I had a vague hope that something unexpected would explain my situation.
Gluten, gliadin, cashews, pistachios, and turmeric all jumped out on the test results. Cashews, pistachio, and turmeric? Those were unexpected and I was able to back-trace some acute spells of fatigue to snacks with those ingredients, which was kind of neat, and those were easy to eliminate. The gluten and gliadin, however, I knew practically nothing about at the time. It didn’t take long to realize that these are serious allergens. Everything I read indicated that gluten (gliadin is its partner in crime) needs to be eradicated entirely form one’s diet. This is serious stuff, in other words: it would mean a restricted diet for me forever.
No more could I be the human disposal I had often been teased about. In fact, I loved the fact that I wasn’t picky at all about my food. Now I was supposed to be obnoxiously picky, because pretty much everything has gluten in it. Despite the severity, the potential rewards were high enough – getting my life back – that I wanted to give it a try. I could have has a scoping of my small intestine to confirm, but I figured that simply changing my diet would give me a good enough indication. It did.
A New Me
The rest is a story in progress. After about two weeks of my new diet, I was feeling noticeably better. Even still, I was skeptical that I was suffering from the placebo effect until I intentionally tried a piece of pizza about four or five weeks into it. Devastated the next day, I experienced a wave of all of my former symptoms crashing down on me and lasting for several hours. One more unintentional glutination removed any shadow of a doubt remaining. For about two months I would find something new each week that I didn’t expect: I could run without pain, I slept still at night – no more shaking, and new bursts of energy abounded everywhere.
How much is health worth? Eating gluten free is expensive; eating wholesome food is expensive; but having life is priceless. It’s shocking, but it takes an average of four years for someone with symptoms of gluten intolerance to be diagnosed. I wonder how many other food-related maladies we needlessly suffer under because we are ignorant of our sensitivities to them. Most of my symptoms I have had since I was very little, but no doctor has ever recommended that I test for any allergies – I thought I had none. It’s a crazy feeling looking back at what could have been if only… What needless suffering!
So now I move forward taking charge of my food. Since so much of what has been put into our diets today has been known to cause a plethora of health issues, I’m going all-out in trying to give myself the best food I can – to fuel up well. Maybe I’m overreacting, but are the risks of convenient dining worth it? Not to me. I wouldn’t even consider going back to gluten. I don’t desire any of the foods I used to love because I made the trade for life, and I hope you consider doing the same thing too with your food.