There are many different ‘self-help’ groups on Facebook and other sources where people can go to discuss their issues and share successes. I’ve recently joined a couple new ones and even created one myself for local gardeners. The challenge with these groups is you have to take the advice and opinions with a grain of salt. These are people who likely have an equal interest and varying levels of expertise in the subject you’re interested in, but how many are really professionals?
The challenge that irked me today, and most of last week, but I’m just now getting to voice my unprofessional opinion on, is when a Mom, Dad, or member of the gluten-free society, whether by choice or not, complains of symptoms still suffered by a loved-one after going gluten-free. We celiacs know, that when going gluten-free, symptoms will clear up if you get it all out of your system and give your body time to heal. There are stages of going gluten-free, much like grieving. In some circumstances, it’s the whole family that will be effected and need to process through. What stage are you in and what’s holding you back from moving on?
What has gluten? Bread, flour, pasta, crackers, cookies. No problem. I’ll just stop eating those and buy the gluten free versions. You’ve now put on 5 lbs from indulging in everything labeled gluten-free at the grocery store, which I may add, you probably would not have purchased the regular version if you could still eat gluten. It’s psychological about having something taken away from you and fighting back.
You bought gluten free bread, but why do you still feel sick? Soy sauce? Crumbs in the butter? Cross contamination in the kitchen? A kiss from your loved one? What do you mean these are all making me sick? Welcome to stage two. You now realize you need to go through all of your cabinets and read every label. Don’t forget to toss the peanut butter and mayo if anyone has ‘double-dipped’ when spreading on regular bread. It’s also time to educate your family and friends on how important it is that every molecule, yes, think smaller than crumbs, must be considered and watched for. Separate toaster, separate colander for your pricy gluten-free pasta. They must wash hands after everytime the TOUCH bread or other gluteny product to avoid spreading it around the house on door knobs, computers, pens. I can’t stress enough, it’s that serious. This goes for you, too, when out in public. Don’t casually bring your hands or a pen to you mouth after you’ve shaken hands with someone or opened a door. It’s not cold germs you’re avoiding, it’s worse. This isn’t fun and you don’t want to play anymore.
So now that you have a few months under your belt and are starting to feel better, you think, “Well heck, I deserve a reward!”. STOP. Or don’t stop. (please take note of sarcasm here) Take that bite of pizza or eat that Panera sandwich, or whatever comfort food you miss the most. How do you feel? Physically? Emotionally? How have the feelings changed after 24 hours, 3 days, and a week? Was it worth the few moments of joy you had to set yourself back this far? Only YOU know how you feel on the inside, but the loved ones and coworkers around you have to work around your subtle symptoms of gluten. Some of us are laid up in bed for a few days, others can’t leave the bathroom. If you’re lucky, you just have stomach cramps and head fog. That must be fun to be around a person who’s only 50% there for a week. So tell me, how good was that treat food?
It’s real. May or may not be the clinical type, but at some point (probably a lot of points), you are going to start feeling sorry for yourself. My own personal struggles are hardest when going to a restaurant with friends and family and I’m told there is nothing on the menu I can eat other than salad. And if there’s that much gluten in the kitchen, I shouldn’t be taking chances. Everyone else is seated and ordered. Looks like I’m going to go hungry. This story is not for drama. It’s happened many times. I appreciate restaurants being honest, but I feel like a second class citizen. The group I’m with doesn’t understand and asks too many questions, trying to be helpful. This is where I loose it. Head to the bathroom. Cry for a minute. I come back and pick at my salad. I’ve been Celiac for 9 or so years and still come across this emotion. It’s less as time goes on, but better planning has improved things. I don’t expect conferences to have food for me to eat, I bring my own. I check with the group where they want to go in advance and do some on-line research, or call the restaurant. If needed, I suggest a different location, they’re often accommodating because they love me and want me to be happy.
What a beautiful and freeing word when it’s true. It doesn’t mean you’re happy you have to go through all this work, but you’ve realized you have options. And you’ve experienced how good you can feel when you stop poisoning yourself. You’ve moved to the stage of sharing recipes and food ideas with others. When you explain your dietary needs, your head is held a little higher, you’re more patient in trying to explain the issue. You’re not a freak, but you know how, and why, to take care of yourself.
Reaching this level for me has meant sharing the light at the end of the tunnel with other Celiacs and Gluten-Intolerant folks. There is a happiness in sharing your successes where there is a ‘yes you can’ instead of, ‘no, you can’t have that’. Move forward and not be a victim. Embrace the opportunity to explore new foods and lifestyle. Build a new community of support around you and take the opportunity to educate.