I never wanted to be one of those paranoid people

April 26, 2016

We all know one of those people. They’re super paranoid about what they eat. Was the chicken cage-free? Was the feed free of antibiotics? What exactly is in that dish? What IMG_20160426_141926brands of ingredients were used?

I was never going to be one of those people. Ugh!

And yet, I am.

When I first went gluten-free, I avoided bread, pasta, and other obvious foods. Over time, I started eliminating more and more. Then I paid attention to non-food items, like toothpaste and floss. I was doing a lot better, but I was still sick.

I made phone calls. I checked on hand lotion and sunscreen. I washed my hands before I put anything in my mouth – even a Tic Tac!

I learned about surprising places gluten hides, like lemon juice and cooking spray and got rid of those.

Still, I was getting sick.

Then I found out about kissing. Damn it! If I kiss someone who has been eating or drinking gluten, I’ll get sick. Well, that makes dating a lot more awkward! So I’ve been careful about that, too.

Still, I was getting sick. It was a lot less often, but it still happened. What was going on?

Then I spent 6 weeks at home recovering from foot surgery. I barely left. I ate only food that I’d prepared or carefully checked. And I didn’t get sick once. Hmm…

It felt amazing to not get sick at all!!! I wanted to keep that up! But how? I started being super careful about everything. Ok, I was a bit paranoid. I didn’t eat anything unless I was absolutely positively certain that it was safe. If a friend said something was gluten-free I quizzed them carefully, and then I probably still didn’t eat it. But it was worth it. I remained ok!

Last weekend I went to a family sedar. My mother hosted and was her super wonderful, considerate self – except for the matzah and matzah ball soup, the entire meal was gluten-free. Still, when she and my aunt went into the kitchen to get the food, I asked them to wash their hands because they’d touched the matzah, which has gluten in it.

I’d become one of those people. I hate it. But you know what? It’s a hell of a lot better than being in so much pain. So I’ll keep on being one of those people. So be it.


It feels so good to be included

June 22, 2015

Over the weekend we had a family thing. As part of the thing, we ate. Simple, right? Well, it’s not quite so simple when you have a lot of food restrictions. But it gets a lot easier when it’s at my mom’s house.

My mom is amazing. She has always been my biggest supporter. Now, with my food issues, she goes out of the way to have food I can eat. There’s gluten-free bread in her freezer and gluten-free crackers in her pantry for when I visit. When I’m there, she prepares meals I can eat. She thinks it’s absurd not to do that. Fantastic, right?

She wasn’t planning to cook this weekend, though. Because of the way things were scheduled, the plan was to get takeout. My aunt wanted to pick up some prepared foods from an Armenian shop near her. My mom asked if I could eat that food and I said no, but that I’d bring my own food.

I always offer to bring my own food. I always say I don’t mind, but the truth is that I do. It sucks having to always bring my own food. It feels awkward when I’m invited to dinner at a friend’s house. I stand out at potlucks. I have to cook more and prepare more than other people do. Logistically it’s hard to always carry it. It’s a pain in the ass, really. And I have to eat the same old boring dishes while everyone else gets to enjoy something new and exciting. Still, what else can I do? I can’t always expect others to prepare gluten-free, dairy-free, broccoli-free, kale-free, peanut-free, alcohol-free, corn-free, caffeine-free etc. foods. It’s too much. So I bring food with me wherever I go.

In this case, there would be 13 people, and I didn’t want the others to have to accommodate me. My mom, ever the ally, made the offer, though. She asked where I could eat. So I listed a few general options. Indian food usually works, for example. My wonderful mother decided we should all eat Chinese food, one of my favorites, because there’s a Chinese food restaurant near them that has a lot of gluten-free dishes, and I’ve eaten there before, so we knew it was ok. I asked that my gluten-free dish be set aside separately, so it wasn’t contaminated.

But that wasn’t good enough for my mom. Oh no. She made sure all of the food was gluten-free! She and my aunt intentionally made sure every item they chose was gluten-free. She carefully stated it several times when she placed the order. And, sure enough, I could eat every single dish on the table! Sure, I skipped a couple (I don’t like shrimp and ribs don’t appeal) but I ate each of the others and loved it. Even better, I ate the way everyone else did. I didn’t stand out at all. It was such a treat!

I don’t expect every person to always find a way to include me in their meal plans. That simply isn’t realistic. But it’s so damn great when they do! Thanks Mom!


That time I didn’t have anorexia

June 19, 2015

I was horrified when I looked in the full-length mirror and saw how thin I was. I forget why I was looking in the mirror while I was naked in the first place. I usually only looked it in to check my outfit, but that day, I was naked, and I was shocked. I immediately went to my mother and showed her. She took me to the doctor. I was diagnosed with anorexia. I insisted I wasn’t trying to lose weight. They assured me they believed me, that this was a different type of anorexia, that they knew it wasn’t intentional. If I’d only understood then what I understand now, I’d have recognized the bullshit.

I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, but I’ve been reading this book on Celiac Disease and it’s really opened my eyes to a lot of misdiagnoses in my past. As I read about eating disorders, this memory came flooding back to me. I remember being weighed; I was 89 pounds (and about 5’0″ tall.) I was told to drink high protein shakes. The nutritionist wanted me to gain 11 pounds in the next two weeks. I gained a lot, but not that much. I had to continue with the high protein shakes and eat more at every meal. She wanted me to eat more high calorie foods, too. That was my treatment.

Now I wonder how different my life might have been if they’d asked me questions about my health. Instead of assuming this underweight teenage girl was anorexic because she was underweight and a teenage girl, what if they’d probed more? What if they’d recognized my own fear – after all, I was the one who told my mother I needed to see a doctor to find out why I was so thin – and considered other options? What if, when I told them I sometimes skipped meals, they had let me explain why? (I tried to explain but they wouldn’t listen.) Maybe they would have learned about my digestive problems, about how often I was doubled over in pain, about how frequently I had diarrhea. Maybe it would have occurred to them that I wasn’t absorbing nutrients properly.

The doctor and nutritionist terrified me. I’d never had an eating disorder, and suddenly I became anxious about food for the first time in my life. They insisted I had to eat three meals every day. This meant that if I slept in and ate brunch at 11am, I needed to squeeze in another meal before dinner. In college, I would get out of bed early on Saturday to eat breakfast before heading to brunch with my friends an hour later. It didn’t stop the diarrhea, and it certainly made me worry about food constantly, but it did keep me from being quite so thin. I maintained a weight of around 100-105 for a long time. It was better, but still too low.

I don’t remember when my perspective changed, but it did. At 22 I insisted on seeing a gastroenterologist and was diagnosed with IBS for the first time. The appointment was 10 minutes long, with no physical examination, just a recital of my symptoms and then a diagnosis. I wasn’t told there was a diet to follow. I learned that on my own a year later when I accidentally found a pamphlet in a doctor’s waiting room. My first colonoscopy and endoscopy were years later. They ruled out Crohn’s disease and cancer. Then I was on my own again with the IBS diagnosis. I was still constantly sick. My next endoscopy with a different doctor didn’t give me any more information, but it changed the diagnosis to IBS, reflux, and some mystery ailment. The doctor said she wasn’t sure what it was, but that IBS and reflux alone didn’t explain my symptoms. Then she said she couldn’t do anything else for me. I have no idea if either endoscopy checked for Celiac. Maybe they did and the damage to my intestine wasn’t visible yet. Maybe they didn’t look.

It wasn’t until age 32 that I tried going gluten free. My primary care doctor didn’t want to test me for Celiac or send me to a nutritionist. I pushed on seeing a nutritionist and she gave me a referral to someone who was very nice but who, as it turned out, had absolutely no experience with gluten free diets. No wonder it took me another TWO AND A HALF YEARS to eliminate all of the gluten contamination in my diet!!!

I assume that I don’t have hidden gluten in my diet anymore because, for the first time in 20 years, I don’t have nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain on a regular basis! The feeling is miraculous and I am constantly thankful to be free of it all.

Still, I have to wonder, how might my life have been different if, instead of assuming that every underweight teenage girl was anorexic, that doctor had actually examined me and maybe figured out that I had Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance? (Note: I don’t know which I have because I was never tested and the only way to test for Celiac disease is to eat gluten again, which I can’t do. My doctor should have tested me before I started the diet.) Ok, gluten intolerance wasn’t known 20 years ago, but Celiac Disease was, and they never even considered it. For that, I may never forgive them. I’m just so grateful that I finally took things into my own hands, did my own research, and got better. And next month, for the first time ever, I’m seeing a Celiac specialist! I can hardly wait!


In search of chocolate and reasonable customer service

June 3, 2014

The thing about avoiding gluten is that it isn’t always obvious where the gluten is hiding. I do web searches, but often there’s no clear indication about the product I’m searching, or there’s something clear but it’s 5 years old. Sometimes a product is well labeled, but often it isn’t. And that brings me to my two-day search for chocolate chips.

A different cake made by my aunt

A different cake made by my aunt

Chocolate itself usually doesn’t have any gluten-containing ingredients (though there are exceptions.) However, flour is often used on conveyor belts to prevent sticking, and that means that the chocolate isn’t actually gluten-free. If the chocolate package isn’t labeled, then, how do you know? The answer is that you call the company.

I decided not to have a birthday cake this year. Just having a party will be exhausting enough and I didn’t want to have to worry about stopping at the gluten-free bakery that day. I didn’t mind. Well, not too much. Then my aunt offered to bake me a cake! She’s always been so considerate of my food restrictions, and she’s one of the few who I trust to cook or bake for me.

The other day, with my party fast approaching, she emailed me a list of ingredients. She said she wanted to use Ghirardelli chocolate chips. Yum! I could find the info on the web site, so I called the company 6 times and each time I heard the same message about how no one was available and I should leave a voicemail and it would be returned. I left a message, but it was never returned. Not helpful.

With Ghirardelli not an option, my aunt suggested Callebaut. Again, the information I needed wasn’t on the web site. The first time I called, I got a message about how no one was available, etc. I didn’t leave a message. When I called later, I got a human being – success! Or so I thought. She needed a product number. When I said I didn’t have one, she said she couldn’t help me because they have multiple products. I asked her to tell me which of their chocolate chips are gluten-free, even if it’s more than one, and she said she couldn’t do that. Well, I’m not about to spend hours standing in a store aisle calling customer service numbers where I may or may not reach someone and reading off product numbers! That’s a #customerservicefail if I ever heard one!

Finally, my aunt said she could use Nestle, though it wasn’t her first choice. Maybe it wasn’t her first choice, but it sure was my favorite! I didn’t even check the web site this time. When I called I got a human right away. She didn’t transfer me. She apologized for making me wait about a minute while she pulled up the information. Then she read through multiple items and told me not only that they didn’t have any gluten ingredients, but that the equipment did not process wheat products. That was it. Simple. Straightforward. Easy. The way customer service should be.

I get that gluten-free folks, those of us with an actual medical condition and not just the ones doing a fad diet, might not be the most powerful demographic for companies to reach out to, but they still should. If they ignored every small group, they wouldn’t have many customers left. And really, it’s the right thing to do. Anyone should be able to find out if a product contains allergens. I understand that having a product number might be more convenient for them, but it’s just not realistic for customers. And it’s not necessary. If Nestle can be so helpful without a product number, then should the other companies have that same capability?

So it looks like I’ll get my birthday cake, and it won’t make me sick. Too bad it was so hard to get the information I needed to begin with!


%d bloggers like this: