Once upon a time in a world that now seems far, far away lived a little girl who… no, that’s a story for another time.
Today I’d like to write about, and possibly shake my first at the heavens, over a dreaded thing called food allergies. This post is probably a bit out of left field for me but anyone who has ever discovered themselves to be allergic to (insert food item here) knows what I am talking about. I spent the better part of my formative years nom-nomming my school sarmies on a daily basis Monday to Friday like every other kid. I ate mom’s macaroni cheese, enjoyed the occasional pizza treat and absolutely adored pepper steak pies, all things that are strict no-no’s for the gluten sensitive.
I never could figure out why I always felt incredibly tired and foggy brained, why I’d be forgetful at times, why I suffered from allergies and always had itchy eyes, insanely itchy ear canals and why I had stomach pain almost all the time. I would wake up in the mornings so nauseous I wanted to die and I would feel that way ’til about 11:30, just in time for my lunch break sandwich, as a matter of fact. I remember asking my mom once why my stomach was so bloated and I suffered weird aches in my joints which everyone put down to growing pains.
As an adult I developed an ever present dry cough, an itchy scalp and I developed cystic acne on my face and back in my late 20’s, with a particularly itchy spot right between my shoulder blades that drove me to near insanity. I piled on the pounds and just wasn’t enjoying life much. It was during a conversation with my late aunt that she regaled me with the symptoms of her gluten allergy and it was a real a-ha moment for me. Really? But that’s how I feel… oh no, really? But I have that too and other similar exclamations. I resolved to undertake a 30-day trial of gluten abstinence to see if it made any difference.
Ta-da, challenge accepted. Of course no one tells you that gluten is basically present in every processed food ever invented and that it stalks the ingredient lists of the supermarket under pseudonyms like hydrolysed vegetable protein. I also once went round to the folks for spaghetti bolognaise completely forgetting that duh, spaghetti is made from wheat, which contains gluten, silly. These little slip ups aside, I arrived at the end of my 30-day trial feeling fantastic. Hurrah, I’d figured out why I always felt so crappy most of my life. Ah, but then doubt and denial creep in and like any good addict you begin to talk yourself out of it, or into it, whatever applies.
Oh, one little pie won’t hurt, just a slice of pizza, come on, you can’t not eat a hamburger in your life ever again, it’s not that bad, I can quit whenever I want to. There is also the bargaining: I’ll enjoy this now, guilt free, and I’ll suffer later but then for the rest of the month I won’t have any gluten. And don’t forget deluding yourself: I deserve this treat because I’ve been working really hard. The social factor will get you every time. If you go to a party or for dinner in a restaurant there will be a multitude of wheaty gluteny food choices on offer and the “one little bite won’t hurt” reasoning applies. Often people are unsympathetic and think you are being difficult, or you don’t want to inconvenience your host and so you eat what is on offer to suffer the consequences later.
Crazy as it sounds it took about five years to really embrace being gluten free, but in those first few years knowing that I shouldn’t eat wheat or gluten because it made me feel unwell made every elicit morsel more attractive than ever. Oh woe is me, to never eat a slice of cake again? Or to enjoy a morning muffin hot out of the oven, or home baked bread, I was like an addict, I swear, trying to wean myself off my drug of choice, aka gluten and the more I knew I shouldn’t eat it the more I craved it. I bounced between the two extremes and when my non gluten allergic family members saw me reaching for a slice of french loaf they’d chide me and I’d grumble about it. Amusingly we realised that my late mother was also sensitive to gluten. Wow, count myself lucky I figured it out at 30, but mom had suffered for almost all of her 59 years and I recall my late grandmother often patting her bloated stomach after eating a wholewheat sandwich, her favourite, and saying she was sure she had cancer. Gran died never knowing what the cause of her discomfort was because in those days no one in the backwater that was Bellville in those days had heard of gluten, never mind an intolerance to it. Mom, of course, was in full denial, point ended.
I, however, have finally admitted defeat, or perhaps it’s just acceptance of the fact that how I feel when I eat gluten is just not worth the pain. If I do accidentally consume gluten, or have a rare moment when I let it pass my lips I am rewarded for my indiscretion by the familiar dry cough first thing next morning and complaints from my bleary eyed fiancé that I snored the roof off the house the night before – how embarrassing. Ladies aren’t supposed to snore!
As a consequence of torturing my villi with constant gluten assaults for over 30 years I am also sensitive to sugar and I am now susceptible to candida when I consume it too regularly. My curiosity about the effect of food on our bodies also led me to discover the Primal Blueprint and on cutting out further irritants in my diet I must say that I feel so, so much better in general. I no longer eat rice, corn, legumes or processed foods in general. I’ve gone back to basics and gone are the mysterious aches and pains, the gastrointestinal discomfort, the fog brained insanity that would often have my fiancé jokingly accusing me of having “Old Timer’s” (Altzheimers )…
I feel better than I have in years and my symptoms have almost all disappeared, no more acne, allergies, bloating, weight gain, gastrointestinal pain, et cetera. Although, since I’m in a confessional mood, I haven’t entirely given up dark chocolate and I also have to admit that I am mortal and that once in a great long while I’m probably going to indulge in a slice of chocolate cake… the gluteny kind. Sure, I am well aware of the vast array of gluten free products on the market and I enjoy many of them , sometimes though, sh*t happens. Just as long as I only err extremely occasionally, that is. Honestly, I now find the aroma of freshly baked bread slightly off putting and yeasty and I haven’t eaten bread in years. Take out is a big avoid for me and public events are always a trial as you’re only likely to find fare like burgers and boerie rolls on offer.
I’ve also come to realise that like any junkie, you have to make the decision to go gluten free. People can talk to you ’til they’re blue in the face, but it won’t make one iota of difference unless you are willing and wanting to commit to a gluten free lifestyle. If you have food allergies and suffer the consequences of the ill effects of your food choices, you have my sympathies. It’s not easy with so many alluring products on the shelf whenever you enter a store. Food items containing gluten are freely available so it can be so difficult to avoid. I guess like the Nike slogan says, just do it. Make a decision to change your life and take it from there. Occasionally you might slip up, sure, but the point is to keep at it and you’ll see the rewards for your efforts in the long run. That is the sucky think about being gluten sensitive… abstinence doesn’t render immediate results. It can take weeks to recover from the effects of that hamburger pie or that take out pizza. It can suck the joy out of your existence and dramatic as it sounds, it did for me for a long time. I had no energy to be creative even, but now those fires are reigniting.
I’ve started crafting again and I am currently working on a creative project in polymer clay, an intricate family crest that I can’t wait to complete so that I can show you what I’ve been up to. I am also working on my writing projects in between, so I am thrilled about that. They are long overdue for completion. Guilty as charged.
On that note, I shall leave you to the rest of your week. May you follow your bliss and ignore your food cravings and until next time, dear reader, thank you as always for reading.