After two weeks I still did not feel well. But I was so desperate I kept with the gluten-free diet another week. And I finally started to feel better. Along with feeling better came the realization that I did, in fact, have celiac disease. For the first week I let self pity wash over me: mourning the pizza, cakes, sweet rolls, bagels and fresh breads I would never eat again. However, the self pity did not last long. The longer I avoided all gluten the better I started to feel.
Contrary to some of the hand-wringing, hardship accounts of living with celiac disease, and my doctor’s prediction of how difficult it would be to eat a gluten-free diet, I learned in a relatively short time to love the gluten-free life. You may have heard people say illness or difficulties can turn out to be a blessing. Yeah, I know, the amazing power of rationalization. So you probably think that is what is going with me when I say, I’ve never been healthier than since I “came down” with celiac disease, had it diagnosed and changed my diet to gluten-free foods. But it is true.
There are gluten-free mixes, breads and pastas. The pastas are ok but the breads for the most part are unpalatable. Rather, I have learned the easiest way to eat gluten free is to prepare my own food. Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free. Meat, fish, rice and many other foods are gluten free, delicious, and can be easily and simply prepared. Not only are the meals I prepare gluten free, but they are lower in sodium, which recent reports indicate is vastly over-represented in the typical American diet. I now often and easily fix meals with fresh ingredients, even fresh herbs and spices, but without excessive salt, added preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, or excessive or unhealthy fats. And the food tastes better.
You might think dining out is a problem. I have found, on the contrary, most restaurants readily will serve a gluten-free meal: fish or meat, simply grilled, with vegetables and salad, leaving off the extra sauces. I just need to make the request and make clear gluten is a serious health issue for me, even in trace amounts.
In my research about this autoimmune disease, I have learned there is much more gluten in our diets now than there was a generation ago. People of northern European ancestry often have a predisposition towards developing celiac. Times of stress, physical or emotional, frequently will trigger the development of celiac. (So, much as it pains me to admit, my psychologist-husband was right.)
Once you have celiac disease the only treatment is a gluten-free diet. Untreated celiac disease can produce a variety of symptoms and serious health issues. And the average time from onset to diagnosis is often much longer than the six months it took to identify my illness.
Now, after more than a year on a gluten-free diet I have never felt better. I have easily maintained the weight loss even though I eat an abundance and variety of foods: fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and dairy. Not only can I walk in the park, swim laps at the pool and keep up with an exercise class, but I ENJOY those activities and fully partaking of life’s adventures. Perhaps coincidentally or perhaps the combination of weight loss, increased exercise and a more healthful diet, but my blood pressure has dropped so dramatically my internist has taken me off the two medications for hypertension she previously had prescribed.
I count myself lucky to be one of the “sufferers” of celiac who has immediate and strongly adverse symptoms to gluten. As a result, I have no desire to cheat on my gluten-free diet. A bite of even the most wonderful bread or donut does not compare with how good it is to feel strong and healthy. How much nicer it is to have celiac disease. Really.