Thursday, August 20, 2015

Gluten-Free is Not a Fad for Many People

I know I haven't written in a while but there is one thing that has had me slightly upset since about March when I watched a video of comedian Joy Behar saying on live TV that gluten-free is just a fad to be endorsed by celebrities and that Celiac disease basically doesn't exist. A lot of people, unfortunately, believe this, but to have a celebrity say it without research, honestly, hurts.

Gluten-free is not a fad for a lot of people.

I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in August of 2002. I've been gluten-free for 13 years. Almost half my life. When I was diagnosed, gluten-free foods were disgusting. They were bland and were perfectly nicknamed cardboard by my family.

Unfortunately, because gluten-free is now the "in" thing, the new fad, many companies have taken this to the extreme. I literally will pay twice as much for half the amount of food that is also higher in calories, fat, sodium, etc and has less fiber than gluten foods. If you don't believe me, look for yourself the next time you go shopping.

Luckily for me, I love to bake and try to make most of my foods from scratch, but that is also incredibly expensive. I have to buy three different kinds of flour to get a good texture, when non-Celiacs only have to buy one bag of flour. I don't like the pre-made gluten-free flours because to me they have an odd after taste and I don't care for them. I've tried many, trust me, and nothing compares to the mix I use.

For the people who think I do this for a fad or because a celebrity says I should, I eat gluten-free to stay healthy and not kill my body from the inside out. For those of you who are ignorant, and I don't mean that in a bad way, here is what Celiac disease is:

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, not an allergy, where our bodies literally cannot digest gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found naturally in wheat, rye and barley. Oats are naturally gluten-free but become contaminated when processed. When a Celiac eats something with gluten (we tend to call this "getting glutened") our immune system is triggered and our antibodies damage the villi, or the lining of our small intestine. The villi is what absorbs the nutrients our bodies need from the foods we eat. If they are damaged, we cannot get vitamins or minerals our bodies need to function. In a grown adult, it can take up to two years for the villi to fully heal. In that time, we can have "attacks" or get sick without warning or reason.

The rash on my hands in 2013
that was caused by my Celiac
Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose because we all react differently. My body's first sign that I've been glutened is a migraine. That migraine can be slight or severe, depending on how much gluten has gotten into my system. I also feel like I have the flu. Trying being sick to your stomach, dry-heaving, while having your head feel like there is an ax stuck in the middle and God-forbid someone makes a noise. If the amount of gluten is relatively high, I will also break out in a rash, similar to hives but more painful, in the more sensitive areas of my body and my hands.

There are a lot of symptoms that a Celiac can have. There are tests that can determine if one has Celiac, but they are not 100% sometimes. I got lucky, knowing that there was a history of it in my family (the disease is hereditary) and I showed many of the more common signs. I went off gluten for two weeks then had one slice of bread. I became incredibly sick within 30 minutes, roughly the amount of time it takes for food to go from your stomach to the small intestine. I've been gluten-free ever since.

More and more restaurants are providing gluten-free items on their menus. Joy Behar called this annoying. I'm sorry that it annoys you for me to order something that will not make me sick. I want to eat out just as much as you and enjoy a meal with my family or friends.

By the way, gluten isn't just in food. I have to read the ingredients of lotions, soaps, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and anything else that might touch my skin. I feed my dog her food and have to immediately wash my hands, because her food is gluten based. I can't have certain vitamin brands, because they are gluten based, and that goes for a lot of other medication. If I want to go out and have a drink, I have to be careful of the liquor used because they may or may not contain gluten. Beer is out of the question, unless it's made from sorghum and there aren't many options out there. If a product says malt or malted beverage on the label, I avoid it.

Being gluten-free is not simple and if you don't actually have Celiac disease and are just doing the gluten-free diet because a celebrity endorses it, I would stop. There are people who actually are gluten-sensitive and can only handle gluten in moderation. That's fine.

In the end, eating gluten-free is a choice. Plain and simple. Celiac disease does not have a cure. The only thing us Celiacs can do is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of our lives. I will be gluten-free for the rest of my life and I'm proud to stand up and say I'm a Celiac and I'm gluten-free.