It’s easy to think abstaining from gluten is the popular movement du jour because in this day and age, many without gluten intolerance or celiac disease are giving it up voluntarily to better their health.
I am not here to defend or deride gluten but to share my experience on the topic so perhaps an active gluten denier will expand his or her horizon. I know this is an uphill battle. Even my oldest son doesn’t believe the malady exists, and I have it.
My mother can confirm that from my earliest days, I struggled with an upset stomach and subsequent malcontent. She can also confirm that trend continued through my youth and into adulthood. She would often give me antacids as a young person to help alleviate my symptoms of heartburn, bloating and gastric distress but was baffled, often chalking it up to my having inherited the “bad Briganti stomach” that plagued my father’s side of the family.
We ate a typical, well-rounded American diet but with an extra dose of Italian dishes and on the healthy side.
Shortly after heading out into the world on my own, I would have my first upper GI exam, later an endoscopy. I would pop antacids like candy, several a day to alleviate the heartburn I believed would always be a burning reminder I was alive. Doctors diagnosed me with all sort of things: a hiatal hernia, GERD, and a lose valve between my esophagus and stomach acid. They prescribed medication. And surgeries. And living with it as is.
Years went by. I endured.
I went back to the doctor and learned I was lactose intolerant. I gave up most dairy and my symptoms improved. Some.
The Internet was invented. I searched, stumbling across interesting data. I implemented, tested and tried new things. I whittled additional foods out of my diet. Still ailing.
I went back to doctors. They told me I had IBS. Talk about the diagnosis of the day. I tested it; they were wrong.
This much is true: even though I had been sick for years from eating, I didn’t totally get it was from eating. I had lived with it so long, it was too obvious to be true. But when I started to get really sick, in a way that didn’t go away overnight or within a couple of days, I buckled down and finally deciphered it was about gluten. Not through doctors but though my own tenaciousness, and finding others who felt like me.
I eliminated gluten completely from my diet and in three days, I felt great. Not a spec of heartburn! Within a week, I’d dropped ten pounds, a trend that would continue. It was like my body had been waiting for me to free it from the jail in which it lived and it was shedding weight, pain, malfunction and fatigue like no tomorrow.
Was it hard? Heck yeah. America is a gluten-loving nation. We are home of the cheeseburger, the sandwich, the donut and fried chicken. I grew up eating all things gluten and I still loved those things. Plus, the gluten free substitutes back then were mostly unpalatable for this foodie girl (they’re better now). So it sucked, but I couldn’t deny how fantastic I felt and the reason why, so I stayed the course.
I am super clear I am gluten intolerant. Not a celiac, who will be sick or worse every time they eat it, but intolerant, meaning I might feel okay or sick. I learned I don’t get sick every time I eat it, and if I avoid it most of the time, when I do have that rogue donut, my chances of fallout are far less. But if I eat gluten products regularly, I can expect heartburn, bloating, brain fog, fatigue, headaches and gut pain. Sometimes lasting weeks.
I know others who have a different story but have ended up here all the same, feeling better without gluten, just like many experience without dairy, sugar, soy, legumes, caffeine, etc. I’ve got a long food avoidance list and seek rational moderation nowadays.
My point: I don’t know why the gluten deniers even feel the need to voice their opinions or judgments about those who abstain, but I can assure them the malady exists and there are documented health benefits for ditching the gluten … even if you don’t “have” to. Perhaps they’d become believers if they resisted it long enough to witness their energy return, skin clear up or headaches dissipate. Why not try it? The cheeseburger isn’t going anywhere.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, November 12, 2017.