Friday, April 25, 2014

4 Weeks In...

I'm jumping on board. It seems like everyone knows someone who has decided, either for medical reasons or just as a preference, to go gluten-free. Although I'm not sure why anyone would subject themselves to that level of torture just for preference or for weight loss. Because, let's be honest, who doesn't love a hot, flaky biscuit, or a donut from Krispy Kreme when the Hot Now light is on? Why someone would voluntarily give that up I have no idea. But, I digress.

So if you don't know what gluten is, it's basically in everything delicious. Kidding (kind of). Basically it's a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and malt. But that information is everywhere and you can find out more with a google search. Plus those people will be smarter than me anyway. I'm more worried about sharing the personal side of this story and how gluten affects me (and maybe you or someone you know).

I've always had headaches. Since as far back as I can remember. We are talking all different types of headaches; sinus headaches, tension headaches, migraines, you name it and I've had it. Regularly. Like 4 or more per week for my whole life. I buy Advil in the giant tubs at Sams Club and everyone laughs when they see it on the kitchen counter. Or when they hear me walk into a room because of the pills jingling in my purse. And there was a time that I thought I had carpal tunnel syndrome. Mom took me to the doctor and they did all these special tests and shocked the crap out of my arms to see what was causing the numbness in my hands in the mornings.

And about 9 years ago, I developed a rash on my legs and arms. It wouldn't go away. Sometimes it would heal in one spot only to reappear in another only days later. I had been to regular doctors and specialists for this crappy thing and no amount of lotions or creams or antibiotics could kill it.

The numbness in my hands and the migraines started about the same time; right as I started high school. . Also, around that time I started to notice there were certain restaurants that made me really, really, sick. It was mostly italian restaurants like Olive Garden. I noticed that no matter what I ate there, I would get a really bad migraine and end up on the toilet for days after eating there. (sorry for that visual) The rash started right after I started college, and at that time I hit 21 and I also started to notice that drinking beer had the same effect on me as eating at Olive Garden. I told the Hubs that I thought I was allergic to beer and Olive Garden and he thought I was nuts.

After we got married, we started trying to have kids. I had a miscarriage, and I went back on birth control for a while after that. I started to notice that my brain seemed really foggy all the time. I noticed that there were a lot of times when I knew what I wanted to say but words and phrases that I used all the time were hard for me to come up with. I would catch myself saying stuff like, "what's the word for when you...." and the answer would be something simple like "change lanes" or "investigate". It was like phrases I used everyday were hard for me to remember or use in a sentence. I thought it was the birth control so I stopped taking it, but that didn't help the fuzziness go away. I was always tired and I could sleep like 11-12 hours a night no problem, and I would still need a nap the next day.  

Now, I'm a little slow on the uptake sometimes, because for years I had friends who noticed similar symptoms, plus others like early onset arthritis, or numbness in their hands and legs in the morning. Those friends all decided to stop eating gluten and saw a dramatic improvement in their symptoms and their overall quality of life. I had several people tell me that I should look into the symptoms of Celiac disease or try to cut out gluten and see if it helped my symptoms. All I heard was stop eating bread and I knew that was not an option for me.

Well, the rash got increasingly worse, and it got so itchy that it was all I could think about. I finally went to the doctor. He tested me for Celiac disease, which it turns out I didn't have. That was a major bonus. But, he said it sounds like I have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which can have all the same symptoms of Celiac disease without the autoimmune component. Basically, people with celiac have more gastrointestinal issues (and maybe other issues as well) while people with gluten sensitivity have more non-GI symptoms like foggy brain, joint pain, numbness in legs/hands, or chronic fatigue.

I heard the doctor say that and I immediately went to Chick-fil-a and ordered a fried chicken biscuit because I didn't want to deal with that. Long story short, after a couple more weeks of pretending the doctor was wrong and my symptoms would go away on their own, I stopped eating gluten. That was almost 4 weeks ago.  And I simultaneously wish I had cut it out sooner, and that I didn't have to do it at all and I could have one of those chicken biscuits again.

What I mean by that is this: I feel better than I ever, ever, ever have in my whole life. My headaches are g.o.n.e. I haven't had a single headache in almost a month, except for the migraine I got immediately after eating something with gluten in it by accident. That's an all-time record. Also that migraine was my wake up call that this is serious. I'm can't just play around with it and eat gluten free when I want to and have a double cheeseburger on the weekends. Well, I could, but I am afraid I would pay dearly for it and to me, it's not worth it. I am not nearly as tired as I was before. I can thrive on 6 hours of sleep, whereas before, that would have been my husband's worse nightmare. Me on no sleep/too little sleep is like shooting Godzilla with a tiny airplane- your town will be destroyed. Now, I can get up early and go to the gym without falling asleep at my desk at 8 am or killing a co-worker for looking at me the wrong way. My joints don't hurt when it rains and I can run on the treadmill for more than 5 minutes without being crippled the next day. My foggy brain is gone and the annoying film on my contacts is gone and I can see clearly without running to the eye doctor every month for a stronger prescription. It's amazing!

The downside is that I'm past the rainbows and unicorns phase where the health benefits alone keep me from salivating over a donut or wanting to shoot someone for a loaf of french bread. We have now entered the despair phase. The poor, pitiful me part where I realize I can't go out to eat like a normal person without making the waiter want to spit in my food because I have to ask for the ingredients of every marinade and whether they fry their french fries in the same oil as their breaded chicken nuggets. I'm starting to become more comfortable with ingredients like xanthan gum and corn starch, and I'm learning to try (and fail miserably) with new recipes. There have been some successes though so it's not all bad. And as much as I'm complaining right now, it's still worth every single minute to not have migraines and a nasty rash all up my leg (why hello swimsuit season, I've been afraid of you for the last 3 years so let's make up for lost time).

So, there's all the dirty details of why I'm not eating gluten anymore. Maybe someday I'll take a picture of all my recipe fails so y'all can laugh with me (or at me) because last night's crab rangoon and sesame chicken was downright inedible. We are still laughing about it. If you made it this far into this post you are either my mom or some sort of super human who just loves reading. Either way, you deserve a medal for your dedication.

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