Being gluten free is one of the hardest and best things that has happened to me recently.
For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been on a gluten-free diet since the beginning of the summer, it was not fun in the beginning, and sometimes still isn’t now, but the difference it makes in my health makes it worth it. Since I’m tired of people not knowing what gluten is and having to explain it a billion times, here’s a refined version of what I know. You can google search gluten allergy and celiac disease though and become an expert if you’d like. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barely, and rye. Potatoes are still good, rice is still good, and a bunch of other starches and carbs are still good, sometimes people forget that. In people with a gluten intolerance or Celiac’s disease, their bodies are unable to break down or digest this protein in the small intestine, which is where the majority of all the absorbance of nutrients in body happens. Being a physiology major and doing my physiology major paper on the absorption of gluten in the small intestine I could go on for a long time (about 10 pages) on this topic, but fear not, I won’t. Like any allergy, it’s an overreaction of the immune system to something that isn’t necessarily harmful to the body, but it doesn’t behave like the typical break out in hives and go into anaphylactic shock allergy that most people think of. Since the digestive process takes a few hours to occur, the symptoms of a gluten allergy can take a few hours to appear once the gluten is ingested. In the most serious form of gluten intolerance, known as Celiac’s disease, the body’s immunological response is to attack the small projections known as villi that line the small intestine and aid in the absorbance of nutrients. Results of intenstinal biopsies of Celiac patients demonstrate that the small intestine becomes almost porous and mesh like covered with holes from where the body as attacked itself. Without these villi, the body is unable to absorb essential nutrients like vitamin B and calcium causing malnutrition. A multitude of other symptoms occur from this allergy, most of them being GI tract related, but they can manifest in other ways as well such as migraines and interestingly enough asthma, both of which occurred in my case. These symptoms can also last a long time as well since it takes a while for the body to get rid of the gluten and recover which is why it is so important for people like me to stay away from gluten.
Being gluten free is difficult, I’m not going to lie, and frustrating, but also strangely rewarding. Sometimes I think to myself, the allergy can’t be thaaat bad, but then like the other night I accidently ingest a cheese-it or two and then wake up in the morning feeling nauseated and extremely fatigued, both some of the symptoms of what happens to me when I ingest gluten. Oh, and I had an exam in a class that day too, so I sat on the city bus on the way to class just praying that I wouldn’t be sick during my exam because that would just not be fun. And then there’s the times when my housemates all make cookies and I’m forced to sit and endure the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies, but not be tempted to eat them. I’ve also learned that I hate having to plan ahead if I go somewhere about if there will be food that I can eat, but I’ve just taken to eating before I go anywhere, or just bringing with food I know I can eat. Grocery shopping, I also dislike grocery shopping more than I did before…and I didn’t enjoy it to begin with. Sometimes I find myself wondering why God would choose to put this obstacle in my life when frankly I thought I had enough on my plate to begin with, but I now see this as another way that I need to depend on the Lord. I am reminded that I am not now nor have I ever been or will be perfect in this life, but that’s okay because the Creator of the heavens and the earth IS perfect and he longs for us to cast our burdens on Him.
Now that you all know my woes of this lifestyle, let me lighten the mood a little by saying why it’s been a good thing as well.
1) I’m forced to actually think about what I’m putting into my body. Thinking about what I’m eating has caused me to consciously make healthier decisions. Not that I don’t eat a bowl of ice cream once in a while…because I definitely do, but I also eat more fruits and vegetables and meals cooked from scratch than before. Even cooking from scratch has been healthier because you’re not ingesting whatever additives or preservatives have been added to precooked foods.
2) I feel good. For the first time in at least a year, my body finally feels good. No more daily migraines or unexplained stomach aches. Dr.’s always told me I had a form of the stomach flu whenever I went in complaining, but if that was truly it I would’ve had the stomach flu like 4 times last year. Highly unlikely.
3) It’s inspired me to make my whole lifestyle healthier. I actually try, not always succeed, to sleep more, which is a crazy statement for a college student. I actually exercise on an almost daily basis now too, which is a far cry from even what I did in my high school days. And I enjoy it. Never thought I would have said that. I take a weight training class twice a week, and then try to either run or do a core workout on the other days.
4) I’m a better cook now. Unlike a lot of the typical college student population I can’t live on a diet of ramen and prepackaged meals, so my cooking skills have improved. That’s always a good thing to have, because who doesn’t love home cooked meals over ramen?!
Well. If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading! You probably all know more than you ever wanted to know about gluten and my experience without it, but I hope you understand more about why I choose to respectfully decline that delicious cookie you offer me!