I did not know I had Celiac disease until later in life. Before that I led an active life eating what most Americans would regard as a normal diet. Growing up I was sick a lot without explanation. I spiked mysterious fevers, was extremely thin, and was in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals. In my early twenties I developed extreme allergies. My family joked that I should get my own bubble to live in. I asked, “Can I get the disco-hamster exercise ball option?” In my late twenties I suddenly ballooned up to 200 pounds.I did have a sweet tooth. I would have cheat days where I would share a pint with two dudes named Ben and Jerry. But for the most part I ate what my friends and family viewed as healthy. I made no change in routine that would explain the weight gain. I was still trying to remain active, and going to the gym; inside I felt I was dying. When we realized I had Celiac disease it occurred to me that what I was feeling was true. I was malnourished, and failing to thrive. I had to make a life change.
First (This was a no brainer. ) I had to remove gluten from my diet. This was easier said than done. It was long before the new trend of eating “gluten free”. I began by educating myself on what gluten was. Celiac disease was not really recognized here in the States the way it was in Europe. Through trial and painful error, I discovered it was hidden in many of our foods under other names.
The list is very long. The following links were helpful:
I started by cutting out obvious sources of gluten. I was horrified! I had grown up loving Italian food. I cried, I cursed, it seemed impossible. There would be nothing left to eat! I would starve! ( Yes, I was being dramatic, but I felt like a wind-up toy that was running down. ) I felt worse every day, and trapped. I had no choice. I made the change. In approximately two months I went from weighing 200 pounds to 135. This was from diet alone. I was shocked. After the initial weight loss I felt healthier, clearer, stronger. I still had many allergies, but learned to rotate my foods. Faced with limited allowable foods, I made up my own recipes. I noticed that my energy stayed stable throughout the day. I no longer felt hungry all the time. I felt lighter inside, My face looked years younger. This made me look at health in a whole new light. I made the connection between what I saw in the mirror, and what I put in my body. Next, I decided to give up sugar. Why continue the food torture you may ask? Diabetes runs in my family. It is extreme. My relatives have lost limbs and their sight. Diabetes was not gonna get me; I am a dancer dammit! I need my legs. Sugar had to go! Going gluten free in a bread obsessed world was far easier than quitting sugar cold turkey. IT WAS THE HARDEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE! I was physically ill from sugar withdrawals for weeks. At Last, after being sugar free for months, I no longer craved it. I actually preferred fresh fruits. They tasted better and there was no sugar crash. My health continued to improve. I lost weight and averaged 125 to 130 pounds.
I have more energy than I did when I was twenty. I listened to my body, it showed me how to be healthy. My disease was a blessing , not a curse. Celiac was my friend and teacher all along.
Months later I ate a precooked meal that tasted “bad” to me, strangely I craved more. I read the ingredients, it contained sugar. I found that previously “safe” processed food would change ingredients to include gluten. Even simple things like cottage cheese could suddenly contain Modified Food Starch (aka gluten). Today the foods that the FDA labels “gluten free” are allowed a certain percentage (less than 20 parts per million) of gluten; they must not “ intentionally” cross contaminate; and oat is considered gluten free. This is a start, but Celiac sufferers are not all alike. I, for one, am part of a group that also reacts to oat. And, cross contamination is not an option for me. I concluded I would be better off without processed food. I have been.
If you had asked me when all this began, “Would I want a cure for Celiac?”, I would have replied, “ Yes!” I couldn’t imagine eating the way I do. Today, I can’t imagine not eating this way. I love eating Paleo. I prefer my food as raw and unprocessed as possible. It tastes better. I graze the edges of the supermarkets. I eat when I am hungry. I eat until I am full. It isn’t a diet, it is a lifestyle. I never feel deprived. I have no guilt about the things I eat. I do not get sick all the time. I enjoy my life. I have more energy than I did when I was twenty. I listened to my body, it showed me how to be healthy. My disease was a blessing , not a curse. Celiac was my friend and teacher all along. If tomorrow I woke up and found I no longer had Celiac, I can honestly say I would continue to eat the same way.