Monday, December 30, 2013

It has nothing to do with self-control.

After my mother's death, my sister Serena, a diagnostic bio-chemist, laid out her argument for why she felt my health issues may stem from problems with gluten.  I was resistant.  After all, I don't do fad diets and I have been eating stuff with gluten in it my whole life.  Okay, so I did show a symptom or two of Coeliac disease in my late 20s, but they went away after a day or two, and only reappeared on a yearly basis for a few years. And then there was that time when I tried to follow the old food pyramid for a week.  After two days, I literally had to crawl out of bed into the kitchen, because I was so weak and fatigued. I only ate protein and milk products that day to recover.

But gluten is a wonderful thing. It's filling. It makes food fluffy and tasty, and not crumbly. It's in a lot of cheap and easy to make food.  And most of all, it's practically ubiquitous. Not only is it in wheat, but it's also in barley, rye, and more food additives than you can shake a stick at.

However, when my sister actually offered to pay to have me tested for gluten sensitivity bio-markers, I realized how serious she was and how concerned she was.  I didn't start a gluten-free diet right away, but I started to be more aware of how much wheat I did eat.  Or more exactly, how much I preferred proteins over carbohydrates.  I was also coming to terms with the fact that for the past few years, I've been rapidly becoming weaker and more fatigued, to the point that I was afraid I wouldn't be able to care for myself in a few more years.

This last September, I spent several days with my sister, eating almost totally gluten-free during that time.  After a few days, I realized that I wasn't feeling as bloated and my brain was actually feeling a tad bit clearer.  I guess my body felt more improved in other ways too, because when I made the decision to eliminate gluten from my diet, it was surprisingly easy to turn down some of my favorite foods - KFC original recipe, M&Ms (dextrin comes from wheat), Coca Cola (caramel coloring), and malt-flavored stuff.  It was practically creepy. I did think ahead. I knew that if I was going to succeed at this, I had to find some easy foods to make because I knew I would have days when I wouldn't have the energy to fix meals from scratch. I found some good apps to use when I go shopping and out to eat. But hasn't been all smooth sailing. Like I said, wheat and gluten stuff is all over the place, and it's not cheap finding gluten-free foods.  But I've been slowly feeling life coming back to me. I'm not losing weight to my knowledge, but I'm gaining energy.

I've also had to be careful with my activity. I have a bad habit of over-doing it when I start feeling better.  Internally I go, "OMG! I'M HUMAN AGAIN! I'M GOING TO RECLAIM MY ENVIRONMENT AND BE ADEQUATE!"  Underneath this is the fear: "I need to get everything done while I still have the energy to do it!"  I usually end up not being able to move for three days.  During my vacation this month, I managed to pace myself until the second to last day, when I overdid it to finish my projects. And, yes, I paid for it. In my pained state, I ate some food with modified food starch because I was craving sugar - and I had to leave work because I became sick from it.

Still, it's awkward following a gluten-free diet, even when you don't inadvertently sabotage yourself.  Group meals are full of apologies on both sides.  I apologize for not tasting the wonderful dishes someone brings, and the other people apologizing for the lack of gluten-free food.  I usually bring some extra stuff for just me.  People keep asking me if I'm still doing it.  When I answer 'yes', they say things about how amazing my self-control is.  But the thing they don't understand is - it's not a matter of self-control.

Occasionally, I feel guilty and eat something with flour in it.  Now, even if you don't have a gluten intolerance, your body will have some problems eating gluten again, which is why your average person shouldn't really do a gluten-free diet.  I imagine that it's like when you eat beans only a few times a year:

I say "I imagine" it's like re-introducing beans to your diet, because the few times in the last two months that I have given in or accidentally eaten something with gluten in it, my experience has been drastically different:

When I eat gluten, at first, I only get a sour feeling in my stomach.  I feel groggy and a bit grumpy.  But the real fireworks start hours later, when the gluten reaches my intestines. Waking up in the middle of the night, feeling extremely nauseated and constipated, only to realize I have explosive diarrhea.  This lasts for several hours, as my body violently tries to expel the offending substance from it. Between the cramps, bloating, and migraine, time seems to move half as fast as normal.  During the worse attack, I woke up at 4 am and it wasn't until noon before I could leave the bathroom.

Like I said, it's not self-control; it's aversion conditioning at its finest.

And that's why I'm writing this blog post - to remind myself why I need to avoid gluten, when that sweet, well-meaning friend wants me to try their awesome homemade dish.  As much as I love my friends, it's not going to help anyone if I put myself through that torture.

As for the rest of you, diet however you like. While I would love to warn you against going on diets that are not specific for your metabolism, I have to admit that I would have even a harder time finding gluten-free prepared foods if it weren't for you.  You have no idea how torn I am over the fact that I actually have to follow a "fad" diet because of medical reasons.  But there you have it.  I may not have Coeliac's disease or even a wheat allergy (no histamine response), but I am gluten intolerant.  But at least now, I have hopes of becoming an energetic human being again.