Change, at any age, is not easy, but when you have long-established patterns that you keep into your forties, change can be exceedingly difficult, especially when that change is something like your diet. I am not talking about watching your calories or cutting your carbs. I am talking about complete and total overhaul and having to rethink and redo EVERYTHING about your diet. Such is the case with me.
In the year before my ex-husband and I split up, I had become sick. I was having a lot of digestive problems, gaining a ton of weight, having a lot of pain (which I thought was solely the weight gain) and generally feeling like a giant pile of canine excrement. Eight months in, I finally decided to see the doctor because whatever I was going through was not getting any better.
Long story short, I was diagnosed with 2 autoimmune diseases. The first one, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I was pretty sure was going to come up positive. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism several years before but was only prescribed medication and told to lessen my carb intake. So, I took my meds and went on with life. That went on for several years until I started doing research. I found that 9 out of every 10 cases of hypothyroidism are actually autoimmune disease. The early symptoms I showed were fatigue, sensitivity to cold (I would be in a hoodie covered by a blanket in 80 degree temps), weight gain, crazy menstrual cycles (I honestly thought I was hemorrhaging), constipation and hair loss. The last one, hair loss, was what finally made me go see the doctor. A few more fun facts I found out in my research is that some of the additional symptoms of Hashimoto’s are brittle nails, muscle and joint pain and stiffness, depression, memory lapses and pale, dry skin (my skin was so dry and itchy, I would scratch until I bled). One of the dietary recommendations for Hashi’s is a lot of whole grains (whole wheat, rye, barley, etc), which leads me to diagnosis number two and the sucky change that followed.
Autoimmune disease number 2–celiac disease. I need to step back for a moment. While the doctor was positive that what I had was Celiac disease, I had to wait for the blood tests to come back from the lab. In the meantime, she told me that I needed to cut gluten from my diet. That meant no wheat, no rye and no barley–no pasta, no bread, no cake, no cookies, no crackers, nothing breaded, nothing batter dipped, no beer. While I was relieved to know that what was going on with me was not in my head and not a case of frayed nerves and stress, I had no idea just how difficult that diagnosis and “treatment” were going to be. I cut the gluten cold turkey. My first trip to the grocery store resulted in tears and frustration and a trip home with no groceries. Part of it was that almost everything has wheat in it. The other part that my doctor forgot to tell me about, was that removing gluten from my diet was like detoxing from a drug. Normally, I am a pretty happy go lucky, non angry person. Removal of gluten turned me into a monster. I was angry. Inexplicably raging over everything and nothing. I wanted to punch walls and rip heads off. My anger frightened me. Thankfully that only lasted maybe 5 days. Those were 5 days I would like to erase from my memory.
After recovering some semblance of my sanity, I returned to the grocery store and found that, while difficult, the changes necessary were not impossible. The easiest solution is no processed foods, only lean meats, vegetables, fruits, yogurt, etc. That is not always possible or feasible. Sometimes you need something quick and easy like a frozen meal or a prepackaged sauce. It became necessary for me to read every single label because wheat is often used as a cheap filler or a binder. There was no eating out because there are not a lot of places that do gluten free. Not only that but there is always the risk of cross contamination. That means there is always the possibility that someone won’t clean the prep surface properly or wash their hands in between a regular menu item and a gluten free item. One crumb or a slice of bread–it doesn’t matter. A crumb of bread will set off the autoimmune reaction. Family dinners became a nightmare. At first, I think my family thought the diagnosis was bunk.They kind of poo-poo’d my new issue. They are also set in their routines and they don’t have the restrictions that I have so it was even harder for them. But, they have really come around and make every effort to make sure they have gluten free, carefully prepared things for me to eat. They have taken the time to do what needs to be done to keep me from getting sick.
Two years post-diagnosis, life is much better. I lost about 50 pounds. I discovered that Coke and Funyuns were on my edible list and have gained some of that back. What can I say? I am a work in progress and always will be.I do eat better. I feel better. Muscle and joint pain and stiffness are a nearly constant companion on this journey, but thankfully, movement helps alleviate some of that so staying busy and running all over the store where I work is a blessing. Gluten free food is getting easier to come by and I keep a mental list of what convenience foods I can eat. I found a pasta that is comparable to regular pasta (Barilla–you helped me keep my sanity). That might sound insignificant, but when so much has been taken away, the little things like that are a Godsend. Restaurants are starting to get it. They are making efforts to have gluten free options on their menus which means I can go out to dinner with my kids and my family. My boys are amazing. While they tease me about my restrictions and give me a hard time (Thank God I still have a sense of humor or I wouldn’t survive), they are diligent label readers and will sometimes catch a possible screw up that I don’t even think about. Self control is no longer an “option”. It is essential that I pass on the doughnuts and French bread. If I slip up, I know what my body does and how it feels and I want to avoid that if at all possible. Avoiding the digestive cancers and permanent intestinal damage are kind of important too.
As crazy as it sounds, and as much as change sucks, sometimes it is a blessing. Such is the case with me.