A journey to gluten free-dom
If you’ve been wondering if you should go gluten free for your health and need a little more insight into when this seemingly drastic move might be necessary, I’ve shared my journey to gluten free-dom and what I learned along the way.
A history of un-wellness?
As a child I was always sick; colds, allergies, asthma, and vomiting bugs – they all found me; I was pale and failed to thrive. I remember being given medications by doctors for my symptoms, inhalers and antibiotics were the norm, and I never really seemed to grow out of it.
At university I pretty much lived on toast, bagels and pasta, a caffeine induced insomnia, homesickness and stress. I missed a lot of lectures because I was so tired or sick and was an emotional wreck. At the end of the final year I was supposed to be staying in halls for a bit longer to complete some in-school teaching experience, but after 2 days my doctor declared that I was suffering from exhaustion and I had to head back home to recuperate before graduation.
My parents assumed that I was “burning the candle at both ends” and that my “wild” student lifestyle was the cause of my illness. But when I got home and they saw the way I was living and the fact that my illness didn’t improve under their roof (with no fast burning candles). They came to realise that I was telling the truth and that I hadn’t been reckless with my health.
The struggle to solve the mystery
For a number of years I had raised concerns with GPs about my inability to gain weight and my all too frequent illnesses, but was fobbed off with remarks such as “some people are just more prone to catching bugs than others”.
Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of a focus on nutrition in our medical system and I was never asked once by a doctor what I ate or how I lived; I was only ever given a prescription to treat my symptoms.
This time when I went to the doctors, Mum insisted on coming with me. Fortunately, the backup, combined with finally seeing a genuinely caring doctor, meant that investigations started to take place.
So what next?
Trialling an exclusion diet
We thought it may be something that I was eating that was causing me problems, so I started trialling an exclusion diet; ruling out dairy made no real difference to how I felt but ruling out wheat brought about an instant improvement.
What’s the difference between a wheat intolerance and Coeliac Disease?
Learning about Coeliac Disease
In the meantime, we started doing some research and found out about Coeliac Disease – an autoimmune disease where the gut attacks itself in response to the presence of gluten – which perfectly matched all of my symptoms; chronic stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhoea, mood swings, mouth ulcers, skin rashes and more (note: not all Coeliac sufferers experience all of these symptoms – in fact, some people live with it unknowingly). Whilst I was excluding wheat I wasn’t excluding all gluten and found that my symptoms persisted, albeit at a somewhat reduced intensity.
Is it easy to rule out CD?
Getting a Coeliac diagnosis
Our experiments were later verified by some of the test results (they weren’t conclusive as I was unable to eat gluten for 6 days, let alone 6 weeks, which are the test conditions for a fully conclusive result) and I began a life of gluten free living.
What’s the end of gluten like?
Adjusting to a gluten free life
There were definitely some bumps in the road and, at first, I really struggled to adjust (and it wasn’t too easy for Mum who was food bringer in our household). I had a few occasions of desperately wanting buttered bread which I gave into (much to my own detriment), numerous occasions of accidental glutening and (the first time we had to do a food shop) a teary experience in the middle of Sainsbury’s in response to how very difficult and laborious it was.
What help is there through such a tricky time?
Support from Coeliac UK
I registered as a member of Coeliac UK and started to educate myself more about food. The more closely I followed a gluten free diet, the better I felt in myself. With a bit of help in the form of Complan and Fortisip drinks (available on prescription) I started to regain some weight, my energy had already appeared in bounds since removing gluten and my moods started to even out. Adjusting to this new lifestyle took some time but the benefits were immediately apparent.
Hope for the newly diagnosed
Going gluten free completely changed my life and gave me energy I never imagined I’d have. It’s amazing how you can become accustomed to a state of living; discomfort becomes so normal that it isn’t until you make changes and realise how much better you can feel – this applies to any and all walks of life.
I’d have laughed at you 8 years ago if you’d told me I’d one day run on a regular basis and would even complete a half marathon. On a gluten free, plant based diet.
If you think you might have Coeliac Disease I strongly urge you to check out Coeliac UK for advice. Don’t start an exclusion diet until you have seen your GP (and make sure you really press them for tests) because there’s a good chance your reaction will be even stronger after a period of exclusion and, unfortunately, you do need to consume gluten to get a conclusive result.
It can be scary considering a lifestyle overhaul but trust me when I say it is worth it and it is getting better – eating out is becoming easier with safe food options far easier to come by.
If you have any questions about going gluten free, I’d be more than happy to answer them. Comment below or, if you’re feeling shy, feel free to send me a direct message on Instagram, email or facebook.