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How I Figured Out I Was Allergic to Gluten

gluten free bread products

Coming from a long lineage of gluten-loving family cuisines on both my Italian and Cuban sides, you can imagine the Earth-shattering horror I experienced when learning I had developed a sudden wheat allergy in my late 20s. It impacted my life majorly. I had never really known anyone with Celiac disease and kind of just assumed "gluten free" was a foo-foo diet trend for metropolitan adults trying to act hip and healthy. But after months and months of chronic digestive problems, I finally sought out medical guidance, and that was the beginning of my (actual) gluten-free life.

It was a common quote in my childhood home that "I never met a carb I didn't like." Pizza, pasta, baked goods... what kid doesn't love all that? Through college and my young adult years, I enjoyed a life with no culinary limitations, ate whatever and never thought to ask how something was being prepared. Fast forward to 27 years old when stuff suddenly got weird in the good ol' digestive tract. In an effort to spare you all of the "TMI details," let's just say I was going to the bathroom a lot. Like a lot, a lot. Like a dozen times before noon a lot. As with many things in life, you sort of don't realize something isn't normal until you do. My stomach issues didn't happen overnight. Looking back at it, it seems it was a slow progression over several months and I just resorted to coming up with reasons to justify the way I was feeling. I was in a really stressful period of my life with running my own business, and always just assumed it was impacting my ability to process food well. My now-husband is the one who started really noticing how much time I was spending on the infamous porcelain throne every day, and as a result, I began looking into what was "normal" in that regard a little further. This led me to visiting a doctor my family has gone to for a long time, and sharing my experiences with her.

It became obvious that my digestive problems were far from normal, so the next step was trying to figure out exactly what might be the root cause. Sure stress and lack of sleep weren't helping, but I learned my issues went way beyond that. We decided it'd be best for me to do a strict elimination diet to clear my system out and then reintroduce food groups back one at a time. It was an incredibly challenging six weeks, but I knew I needed to get better, so I followed the plan to a T. Finally in the last week, I was allowed to eat everything again. Proud of myself for completing the program, I rewarded my tastebuds with some old reliable Annie's Mac & Cheese. Within 20 minutes, my stomach was cramping and I spent the next hour in the bathroom. I went back to my doctor and told her I suspected it must be the dairy. I was distraught at the thought of being lactose intolerant, and told her verbatim that I'd rather die than live a life without cheese. She laughed (I was not laughing), and started explaining that there was a pill I could take to help it break down better during digestion if needed, but that I should probably look into dairy-free options moving forward.

Over the next few weeks, I did just that. Except I wasn't feeling any better. In fact, I think I was about as bad as I was before I started the elimination diet. One night at a party, a new friend started telling me about how she just got diagnosed with Celiac. Listening to her story, it was identical to mine. Every single detail about what she was feeling and experiencing was the exact same. I remember telling her, "have you been reading my diary?!" It was so weird! I'd never known anyone else who shared these same issues. And that's when it hit me... what if the reaction I had to the mac and cheese that night wasn't the cheese? Say it ain't so... anything but the bread!! Fast-forward through the next few weeks, and it was successfully determined that I had developed a severe allergy to gluten. I was so upset, trying to figure out how to live my life like this now, and distraught at how it happened in the first place after a lifetime of no issues whatsoever. My doctor went on to explain to me that the body makeup and cells change about every seven years or so, and in her experience, extreme levels of stress can bring on autoimmune diseases suddenly. This is what she thinks happened with me. Which, for the record, stressed me out even more!!

The coming months came with a lot of trial and error learning what I could and couldn't eat, experimenting with a lot of good (and mostly bad) wheat-alternative products, and figuring out that I generally couldn't trust eating out at most restaurants anymore. This made socializing really difficult, and ordering tedious. I hate being the annoying person asking a million and one questions about what's in every dish and how it's being prepared, but locking myself in a public restroom for 90 minutes at a fine dining establishment is unquestionably worse. I learned that I couldn't tolerate even the slightest bit of cross-contamination, which meant no glutenous items could touch or intermix with any of my food, even in a shared fryer or kitchen prep area. Over time, I discovered some decent gluten-free restaurants, apps to help identify where was safe to eat out, and brands that made good pasta and bread products to use for home cooking. (It's also worth mentioning that during a trip to Italy, I ate all the things and experienced no side effects whatsoever - so the food processing differences in the USA seem to be a major factor in how my body can handle, or not handle, wheat.)

Today, I'm happy to report that I am really good at navigating my gluten-free life and honestly don't miss much. I have favorite replacement items and spots to dine at that even my husband enjoys (and sometimes even prefers)! I am still hopeful that one day the intolerance will subside, or maybe even go away completely, but until then, I've made peace with the fact that this is just part of my life and it's better to have a positive outlook than to wallow in sadness over all the things I can't have. But most importantly, I feel better. Like, a lot better. Like, how did I live in suffering for so long without realizing? All that to say, if you're someone who thinks you might have something funky going on inside, it's always worthwhile to get it checked out and do your homework so you can live a healthier and more enjoyable life. And for everyone else reading this, enjoy a piece of brick oven pizza and some tortellini for me. You are living my gluten-fueled dreams!


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