Hello there! This year; 2013, I realised is my 10 year anniversary of going gluten free and to celebrate I thought i’d tell you a little about my gluten free experiences over the last 10 years and offer a giveaway prize! One lucky winner will get a small box of gluten free goodies sent to their door directly! All you need to do is answer the question at the bottom and I’ll pick the best answer and declare the winner on Friday! I’ll post the winner on my Facebook page and twitter so be sure to follow me to make sure you get the news – it might be you! I’ll need to contact the winner personally to get their post address but other that you don’t have to give me any personal information and I won’t keep the address once I’ve posted the prize. I don’t give addresses or information away to third parties either so do rest assured. And the giveaway prize is open to all countries!
So let me see, well I guess it all started at University 10 years ago in 2003, I was 19 years old and at Bristol University studying German and Russian to be either a war correspondent journalist or work for the foreign office abroad somewhere. My lovely student diet consisted of muesli topped with banana or toast and jam for breakfast, tuna and cucumber sandwiches for lunch or beans on toast, a chocolate bar snack, or crisps, Soreen malt loaf buttered or some fruit and for dinner usually pizza or pasta followed by ice-cream or cake of some description. Drinks would be coffee and juices and a lot of alcohol, cocktails and lots of vodka not to mention my social diet of partying and lack of sleep then smashing out assignments close before deadlines and then all the romance and typical relationship dramas and stresses and then dancing and working out at the gym. I crashed every holiday we had and was ill and eventually I started having trouble with my stomach and was putting on a lot of weight.
I noticed that whenever I ate bread I would bloat and have terrible intestinal cramps and then be constipated. I asked mum if that was normal and she said it might be the yeast as she has trouble with yeast in bread. OK so I decided to steer clear of bread due to the yeast and continued to eat pizza, pasta and noodles. And again the problems were getting worse. Strange. I spoke to my uni friends about it but they said they were fine when they ate those products and said maybe see the student doctor.
So off I went. I sat and explained my symptoms. He said well it sounds like stress and possibly classic IBS. >>Had to research IBS when I got home as I had no idea what it was<< and then he said well looks like wheat trigger your IBS and so you should avoid those. He continued to tell me that the body goes through a hormonal change every seven years and sometimes during this cycle our bodies can sometimes reject certain foods. >>is this true? I’ve no idea, not found anything online to support this?<< I was probably just going through a phase and I should try to reintroduce wheat again later on. I should keep trying to tolerate them as whole grains are important in the human body’s diet but for now I should give my body a break. And so off I went. Straight to the supermarket to see what I could substitute for dairy and what I could eat instead of bread, pizza and pasta. Not a lot I can tell you was on the shelves. This was 2003 remember. The huge explosion of gluten free products hadn’t happened yet (that was 2012) and the best I could come up with were some rice cakes and oat cakes. >>Yes I know, oats have gluten in them but I didn’t know that at the time and the doctor said “wheat” not gluten. I didn’t even know what gluten was nor had I heard of coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity.<<
My stomach still didn’t comply and was annoying and interfering and I was getting irritable and restless and my PMS got worse and my skin was terrible and so when I was home in the next uni holiday I looked up a nutritionist in the local area and decided to see a dermatologist for my skin. I felt lousy and stressed.
The dermatologist put me onto a harsh drug called Roaccutane, which dried everything up including my hair and eyelashes which fell out and caused my lips to pale and crack but it was worth it to get wonderfully clear skin like the American actors in the TV shows. >>sarcastic tone there 😉 << That was a 3 months intensive treatment. The nutritionist told me I had candida and needed to cut sugar, gluten and dairy, no rice, no alcohol, no foods that could ferment and learn to look at labels and eat fresh vegetables, pulses and a bunch of healthy stuff I couldn’t pronounce plus told me to take like a million supplements and especially chromium to get my blood sugar levels back to normal. She said she can help solve my PMS problems and then look at the dairy and wheat for my IBS later on. I came away from the dermatologist way more jubilant i have to confess. >>Later research has taught me that Roaccutane is awful and will mess up your immune system and should be approached with extreme caution. I’ve read a lot of negative reports on Roaccutane since.<<
So I sat at the kitchen table with mum and we looked at each other and I said “I actually don’t know what I’m supposed to eat now.” Mum made up a batch of cooked peppers, tomatoes and courgettes and said I could use that maybe as a sauce to top fish. So back to uni I went and my new diet consisted of fish, chicken, eggs, tomatoes and peeled peppers >>the nutrionist told me I had to peel ALL fruit and veg<< and apples and pears and oats. I had to continue to drink rice milk but cut coffee and drink herbal teas instead and no alcohol. I lost weight though and my PMS got better but truthfully … i was starving and still felt lousy. >> she also didn’t tell me oats had gluten in as well<< I was studying and dancing everyday and working out and what I was eating didn’t keep my energy levels up. I started slipping back into snacks and didn’t bother to read labels properly and thought a few snacks here and there won’t hurt surely and of course I kept trying to test bread and dairy to see if my body was improving. Nope. It wasn’t quite there yet. I’ve since learned that sleep and rest also play vital roles in metabolism, health and mental function so I shouldn’t have burned the candle at both ends but rested more!
And so it continued until 2006. I was tired all the time, got very depressed, started getting constant nosebleeds for some reason, >>doctor said it was stress and wanted to cauterize my nose but I refused<< snacked, got sick a lot with chest infections, flu, my immune system couldn’t fight anything, I’d have crazy migraines where at one point the pressure in my head was so bad I thought I might have a tumor and I’d take strong painkillers but nothing eased it, I tried to stick with a gluten, dairy and sugar free diet but failed the sugar free part miserably and just felt really low.
September I moved to Germany on a work placement as a teaching assistant. I started working and met new people. My stomach was still a problem though and I tried to avoid bread and the obvious gluten containing foods but wasn’t careful and I didn’t know the words in German for gluten free and it was too much hassle in front of new friends to be so picky at restaurants in a foreign country etc. So I just let it slide and let myself suffer a bit then got back on track the next day.
Things got worse with my stomach and I ended up in hospital. After 3 hospital stays and lots of blood tests an under active thyroid was found and several mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Calcium was the largest deficiency and doctors were very concerned so put me on a huge dose of calcium supplements. The doctors wanted to cut part of my intestine out and at that point I’d had enough. I discharged myself and I returned to the UK. The doctors back home said it was just stress and whilst home I decided to study Graphic Design (2008). I’d met my husband at that point and we did 3 years long distance whilst I was sorting out my health and retraining as a designer.
Over the last five years I started looking and researching into what is gluten free is and building my knowledge. I bought books and read and read and read. I practiced yoga and got meditating CDs and decided to take charge of my life and diet not let my life unravel and the diet control me. Andriy helped me all the way and supported me and stood by me and encouraged me. Departing from him for 3 years was the hardest thing I ever did and it definitely tested us both. I learned so much about gluten and coeliac disease and thought omg I must be gluten sensitive or coeliac. I immediately adjusted my diet, decided to start really label reading properly and being strict and looking at everything I was eating. Over the years i’ve been cooking and baking and experimenting more in the kitchen. I only eat foods I cook myself or that are labelled gluten free, no more convenient microwave dinners, I read up on healthy diets and nutrition in magazines and books and want to solve my stomach issues once and for all.
If I could summarise the last ten years I would say the first five years were a battle and there weren’t the internet blogs and websites to help me, nor were there books or gluten free products, no facebook or twitter. Social media networking didn’t exist. I was never really diagnosed just told to follow a wheat and dairy free diet by doctors and a nutritionist. I didn’t really have cooking skills but liked to bake. I couldn’t get wheat free flour so that was my love of baking out the window. I was angry, frustrated, depressed, sad, pined the loss of gluten goodies and would cheat the diet from time to time to test if I was getting better and could ‘tolerate’ gluten and dairy again.
The latter five years have been better, more of an enlightenment, discovery about myself and my body, learned loads about gluten and coeliac disease which I hope to share to help others. I have been bombarded and surprised at the range of gluten free products, websites, blogs, information and cook books that have exploded on the market since 2012. It’s like something triggered off an explosion and now suddenly everyone knows what gluten free is. I’ve now gone grain free and follow a paleo diet where I have seen amazing health benefits!
I still have slip ups though. Don’t think you’re a failure if you’re just starting out gluten free and mess up. I do. Its still tough and actually its hardest around my family. I haven’t been diagnosed. I think they think its all in my head. Its a kind of fad diet. I constantly have to prove my symptoms of bloating out to them and explain the agony i’m in when I eat gluten but they still offer me gluten containing foods. They still cook foods with wheat flour in. They forget or just say “oh will it make you bloat? still its only a little”. As if they think I just don’t want to look fat. I’m still learning how to deal with being gluten free and communicate better with my family.
I still go to restaurants with friends and forget or run out of time to check beforehand that they offer gluten free dishes. I still make mistakes and eat gluten by accident sometimes or order something in a sauce, which normally wouldn’t contain wheat in it but because the restaurant does it differently their sauce is with wheat and I suffer for it. I’m still learning to get my priorities in line and yes it is possible to dine out but I need to phone ahead and ask.
I need to phone manufacturers more often and ask is their product gluten free? Just because they don’t have any ingredients on the list containing gluten, it may still have gluten in it though as labeling isn’t as strict in some countries as it is in others.
My friends also forget or don’t know what has gluten in it. A friend cooked me couscous once as they thought it wasn’t wheat so I should be fine. It is difficult adjusting not just for me but for my friends and family. Some of my friends are paranoid and check everything; in fear they might kill me or something and I can’t even prepare a meal by myself without them panicking and asking me “are you absolutely sure it’s safe?”. I find mealtimes with friends and family are the hardest parts of being gluten free. I’m ok when I’m the one cooking and sorting everything. That’s why I created a gluten free food list (available to download on my blog for free here!) to help them and me. I created a blog to help them and other gluten free people find recipes that they can make and information about being gluten free, coeliac disease and other health issues that also benefit from a gluten free diet. I love to learn so I can help people and more importantly I understand now from years of experience that it isn’t up to others to cook me a gluten free meal. If i want to make sure its gluten free I need to do it myself, bring my own food or offer to bring a dish or the ingredients and make it there and show them. It’s a learning curve still for me and my family and friends but the gluten free trend is helping spread awareness so that’s good.
Let’s hope the next 10 years are even better than the last 10! And if you’re just starting out gluten free don’t worry, take comfort that you have a lot more help and advice around you now than I did in 2003 (check out my resources page for example) and if you’ve been gluten free for a few years maybe you’ve had similar experiences? i’d love to hear from you about your gluten free journeys! And here to finish off my post is the competition as promised! One lucky winner will receive a surprise gluten free goodie box! All you need to do is answer the question in the comments box below, make sure your name is on there somewhere and that’s it! Goodluck! I’ll post the results on my Facebook page and twitter on Friday 8th February!
Question: What information about being gluten free / the gluten free diet would you like to see featured on Charlie Loves Food? What would you like to know?
Post your answers here in the comments box!