I’ve always suffered from intestinal issues, but I never though I could really do anything about it. I always attributed it to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which I was diagnosed with in college after a night curled up on my bed with sharp, painful, and inexplicable abdominal cramping. I thought the issues I had were just something I had to live with.
After a particular episode that consisted of about three weeks of consistent intestinal distress (of which I’ll spare you the details), Tim urged me to see my doctor. She determined that it was my IBS acting up, and that I should start taking a prescription medicine to help control the symptoms. She also recommended adding more fiber to my diet. If I wasn’t feeling better in a week or so, I should see a gastrointestinal specialist.
A week went by with no relief. I still felt gross. So off to the GI I went. The first thing she suggested was to get a blood sample to make sure I didn’t have any sort of gluten sensitivity. In the meantime, she put me on a high-fiber diet. I also had to continue taking the prescription medicine, which, by the way, gave me horrible nausea. For about a week, I was consuming two or three times the amount of fiber that I was before; unfortunatley, a lot of that fiber contained gluten. But how was I to know that was why my symptoms weren’t going away?
On November 1, 2011, I was at work when I received a call from the nurse at the GI specialist’s office. In the same way that you’d tell someone something as trivial as the time of day, she informed me that I had a life-changing disease. I had to ask her to repeat herself. I have what? I had never even heard of “Celiac Disease” before. She quickly informed me I’d have to go on a gluten-free diet. Then she rattled off a few tips about cleaning the crumbs from my toaster and perhaps even getting new kitchen utensils. Turns out the doctor’s first instinct was the right one. I didn’t have IBS after all: all this time it had been Celiac Disease. I felt absolutely blind-sided. I had so many questions…Okay, thanks….
Immediately after I hung up the phone, I was online Googling like crazy. Among many other things, I found a list of the common foods a Celiac cannot eat: bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, beer, etc., etc. It was all so incredibly overwhelming. I had to walk away from my computer and my cubicle. Standing all by myself in the small gray bathroom at my office, I pressed my hands over my face, slumped my head against the wall, and tried my best to stifle a sob that escaped without warning. At that moment I felt devestated. This was truly a life-changing moment for me and I will never forget it.
Thankfully the GI specialist was much more compassionate and informative than her nurse when we spoke over the phone later that night. She actually called me from her home after work hours. Yes, this is a disease, but fortunately, unlike other diseases, there is a known and proven treatment: a gluten-free diet. I felt a little better after our conversation. Later that week, I spent at least an hour at the library looking through all the books I could find on gluten-free cooking. I took home a stack of four books: Three were cookbooks that held tons of information about the disease, how to read food labels, the different types of flours I could use instead of wheat flour, and a vast array of recipes. The fourth book I checked out was a novel called Gluten-Free Girl by Shauna James Ahern. I dove in. Saturday morning, I sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and the stack of cookbooks. Within a couple of hours, I had plowed through all three of them. Feeling pretty smart and well-informed, I was confident enough to make our first shopping trip since my diagnosis.
I was so surprised to see how many more things were on the store shelves when I actually started looking for them. At my local Super Target where we always shop, we found gluten-free pasta, a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix, gluten-free Bisquick, boxes of Chex cereal that sported colorful “Gluten-Free” banners across the front, gluten-free soy sauce, gluten-free pasta sauces, gluten-free macaroni and cheese, and gluten-free cake, brownie, and cookie mixes. Instead of leaving the store feeling discouraged because of everything I couldn’t eat, I left feeling extremely hopeful. If a normal store like this had gluten-free options, imagine what else was out there!
I started feeling better on the second day of my gluten-free diet. In the days and weeks that followed, I noticed a number of changes. I very rarely got hearburn/acid reflux. I used to get it almost every day – I had antacids with me everywhere I went. I no longer felt the need to use the bathroom immediately after a larger meal. Tim also noticed that I no longer spent long, frequent periods of time in the bathroom. I finally experienced how a normal digestive system is supposed to function!
Nearly four months after my diagnosis, I’m starting this blog celebrating the gluten-free life. It hasn’t been a relatively long journey, but it has certainly been a challenging one, and I have learned so much. I look back at that moment in my office bathroom and I wish I could go back there, give myself a hug, and tell myself that this is not a reason to cry. This is not a reason to get upset. This disease is actually something that will change your life for the better.
Since then, thanks to the solid-as-a-rock support and encouragement from Tim (he always eats whatever I make for us, even though he doesn’t need to conform to a gluten-free diet) and the rest of my family and friends, I have had the freedom to disover and enjoy many more gluten-free foods. I’ve also found new ways to enjoy foods that are naturally gluten-free. I’ve always loved cooking and baking, and learning how to cook and bake gluten-free was challenging. I’m still learning of course – in fact, I’m sure I’ll never stop learning – but on my journey so far, the online gluten-free comunity has been one of my biggest sources of information and inspiration. Every time I found something new or put together a new recipe, I felt this tugging inside of me, this urge to share my discovery with others in hopes that they’d feel the same joy and excitement I felt. And that’s what Gluten-Free Sweetie is all about. I created this blog to share my ideas and discoveries with you about living a gluten-free life. I hope you make some of your own discoveries here!