In small town Kansas, gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease isn't something that's really known about. When I was first searching for a diagnosis, my body had drastically changed. I had lost almost 30 lbs really fast which meant I was wearing saggy clothes. I was extremely tired so I skipped my contacts most mornings and went straight for my glasses. My hair also started thinning, really fast. Honestly, I'm not surprised people noticed and speculated. Looking back, I was almost a totally different person than I was before. When I finally had learned about my diagnosis of having Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (+ some other autoimmune problems), I was so relieved. I heard a LOT of extremely invasive, hurtful and just plain rude comments about my health. What I heard most often was "I WISH I had your problem." or "I wish I could lose weight like that." Always, my response was, "Trust me, you don't. I would never wish this on anyone."
What I have found that most people do not understand is the variety of symptoms that a person can have. Mine were mainly digestive but I have found that since eliminating gluten, my skin is better, my hair has stopped falling out, my energy has improved and my depression is getting better. I've met people who have more neurological symptoms or skin related issues. What I have also learned is that gluten sensitivity can be just as severe as someone with Celiac disease or a true gluten allergy. My sensitivity is so severe that we can't even have gluten in our home. I NEVER eat it intentionally, I do my best to NEVER touch it and I pretty much steer clear of any gluten related items at the store if I can. If I do get "contaminated", I instantly break out in hives on my skin, my stomach begins to churn and then for the next 3-4 days, I am pretty much bedridden. I know people with true Celiac disease that can occasionally consume gluten without as severe side effects. I never eat foods that I do not prepare myself at home - no restaurants, no family dinners at my moms, etc. It's tough but we manage.
Most of our family is aware that I have a "gluten problem" and do their best to understand. However, I bet at least half couldn't tell you what gluten was. Many of our friends don't understand as well but they don't see me as often. We typically give the briefest, yet as descriptive as possible explanation. Here's how it starts... "So you can't have gluten, so that means no bread right?" I then say something like... "Yes, gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye but it is also used in many other products besides bread. We have found many foods containing gluten, such as salad dressings, spices, body products, cleaning products, etc." I'm also often asked, "What do you eat then?" This is a question that I find rather amusing because there are SO many more healthy foods available than "bread." We eat mostly fresh fruits, vegetables and quality meats. I also can't have dairy, eggs or soy so we drink almond or coconut milk. Honestly, over half of the foods in our pantry are derived from coconut probably! I get a lot of questions from people who think living this way is silly. If necessary, I explain the adverse effects that occur to my body if I consume gluten (or other problem foods) and after that they usually don't ask again!
As a blogger, I often find many people wanting to "try" going gluten free as they have heard it can improve their health. To be truthful, I'm all for helping anyone who wants to give it a try. I think that people whole think of eating gluten free as a fad diet, have probably tried other diets to see improvements. For some people, it will be just a "fad diet" but for others, it can be an extremely helpful lifestyle change. For me, living gluten free is my life - not a fad, not a diet, not temporary. This is a permanent change that I've had to embrace to protect my health. I've seen how bad it can harm me and I know that I MUST avoid it. If someone wants to embrace the lifestyle because they have seen positive effects, by all means - do it! There will always be doubters to anything but that can't stop us from living healthy, quality lives... with gluten free bread or not!
Honestly, I'm so thankful for campaigns like this that help spread awareness for better understanding and acknowledgment to help promote better lifestyles for those with Celiac or gluten sensitivity. As I mentioned before, the symptoms can vary so much and it's important for people to know what to watch for. If you are interested in learning more about living gluten free or Celiac diease - head over to Gluten-Free Living's Awareness Campaign.
How has going gluten free helped you?
You can find more stories and tips at Gluten-Free Living here.