Celiac Disease Gfree Living

Delicious Gluten-Free Food

A decade ago, when I found out I had Celiac Disease, I was grateful to finally understand what was wrong with me. However, I underestimated how much my life had to change. It would take YEARS before I actually started to follow my diet, for no reason other than missing delicious foods.

Back then, gluten-free options were not the same as they are today. The bread had the texture of a wet sponge and was littered with holes. If I wanted a cupcake or something sweet, I had to make it entirely from scratch or spend a ridiculous amount of money at a restaurant or bakery, hoping it would taste somewhat normal. These days I find myself with a different problem. Now I have so many choices that all the pounds I kept off because I had nothing to eat are catching up to me. The world has changed for those living with Celiac Disease; we are taken seriously, and people have realized we do LOVE food when it’s not killing us.

Gluten-free bread and I mean a good, soft, yummy sandwich bread, used to be impossible to find here in the States. The first time I tasted a slice of bread worth the calories, I was in Portugal in 2015. The brand Schär had so many options. They had a sweet breakfast bread that was amazing with nothing but butter and a cup of coffee, and their sandwich bread was to die for. I am not going to lie–I cried a little bit as I left Portugal, thinking I’d never find another bread like that back in the States. And I was right…..but thankfully not for long.

In 2017, my husband and I went to visit his family in a small town in Alabama. We drove from Florida, so all my snacks were gone when we reached his aunt’s house. Not wanting to risk getting sick meeting his relatives for the first time, we went to their supermarket. The moment we walked in, we knew there wouldn’t be many choices, so after taking a quick look, we ventured to Walmart, hoping to have better luck. I never expected to find the bread that I loved in Portugal in the middle of a small town in Alabama. Though they didn’t have my breakfast bread, they did have my sandwich bread, cookies, and tasty cakes. I really can’t tell you how satisfying it was after twelve years to be able to open a SINGLE wrapped cake. I was able to bite into the delicious chocolate frosting, knowing that I didn’t only have a few days to eat twelve more cupcakes because I’d be wasting ten dollars.

It was heaven.

Even though we don’t have all the Schär options here in Florida, we have many other options for delicious gluten-free foods.

For the traditionalist, Betty Crocker has you covered from a chocolate cake mix to their sister brand Bisquick, allowing you to take back breakfast by making pancakes without any worries. If you want to branch out and try something different, there is Krusteaz. Krusteaz also has cake mixes and chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon crumb cake, and a sinful honey cornbread. If you’re looking for a great breakfast, treat you should try Martha White’s blueberry muffins (I always add fresh berries because no box ever gives you enough). Another friend to the gluten-free baker is Pillsbury. I found that their mixes and flours are probably the closest to regular food.

The Lance brand has old favorites if you are searching for things to pack your kids’ lunches with. Their little peanut butter or cheese cracker sandwiches could easily be confused for their traditional counterparts, which is great if your little one loves Cheezits. Glutino has the closest thing to an Oreo, and I’m not mad about it. They also have chocolate-covered pretzels, which I thought I would never have again unless I made them myself. If you’re a cookie monster like me, Enjoy Life foods have both soft-baked cookies and crispy, crunchy ones, and to make it even better, they have small snack-size bags that fit great in any purse.

For me, breakfast and lunch were always the hardest. When it came to dinner, I swayed more to rice and potatoes as my starches because the pasta alternatives were not an option in my book for years. They would fall apart in the water or turn to mush. It was easier just to avoid it altogether. Now I don’t have to do that anymore. Brands like Barilla have come through in a big way with not only having small pastas but spaghetti, fettuccine, and LASAGNA options. Muellers also offers an extensive array of pastas. These two brands have probably been the best ones I have tried out. I now feed other people without them asking why there’s a strange taste in their mouths. When it comes to gluten-free mac and cheese, I usually make a big box of pasta and pour Velveeta original cheese sauce packets over it. If f you can’t find any of them (there are days that my supermarkets don’t have them), I’ll grab a box of Annie’s, which has both a deluxe rich and creamy option as well as the classic kind.

I don’t know what happened for the markets to wake up and take gluten-free food seriously, but I am beyond grateful. Eating food without gluten that has the correct texture and actually tastes like what it’s supposed to makes living with this disease a little less daunting. For many, making the switch isn’t easy. It’s hard to change the way you’ve eaten your entire life, and for most, the change affects their families as well. Thankfully now they don’t have to go through the same trials and errors I did with cardboard and sponges but instead get to go right to the good stuff.

Celiac Disease Gfree Living

My not so secret love…Food

I have a love-hate relationship with food.

When I was younger, I would eat anything, but before I knew I was basically killing myself because of my undiagnosed Celiac Disease. So when I think of comfort food, I have two different ideas on what will make me happy. If you had asked me this before my diagnosis, the answer would have been easy…BREAD! There really isn’t anything better than sinking your teeth into freshly baked bread. The crunch of the perfectly toasted crust is one of my favorite sounds, and this is coming from someone who hates mouth sounds. I was so jealous when I was in Ireland and couldn’t try the bread we had on the food tour.

If you do go to Ireland, you MUST try Blaa Bread. From just the smell, you knew the soft white bread, with the doughy insides, would make the most delicious sandwich roll. If you just can’t wait for lunch, you can spread some jam on it, and it’s the perfect addition to anyone’s breakfast. I remember watching my cousin bite into the sandwich, and she let out a very satisfied sound. I can’t put into words how jealous I was of her trying out a specialized bread that I’ll never get to try. I learned that just like Scotch, Champagne, and Bourbon, for it to be called Blaa Bread, it has to come from one of the four certified bakeries found in either Waterford or County Kilkenny, Ireland. Nightly these bakeries make, freeze, and ship out this beloved dough all around Ireland. It is highly recommended and agreed upon that the best time to eat the Blaa is within a few hours of being baked. Also, whatever you do, don’t you dare think about toasting it. The disagreement only comes when deciding whether a soft or crusty top is better.

While in college, I don’t know how many dinners would end up being a freshly baked French Baguette and a pound of asparagus. I would go to certain restaurants based on the bread they gave you while you waited for your dinner. A great cheap dinner to overindulge in was Olive Garden and their endless breadsticks and salad. I had no time for the soup. I needed all the room for bread. Another must was stopping at Panera Bread and diving into a bread bowl filled with broccoli and cheddar soup on a cold, rainy day.

Nowadays, things have changed. I’m not exactly sure how it came about, but lately, my sinful desire can be satisfied with a warm bowl of savory grits. But don’t get it twisted. I’m not looking for sweet grits. I am searching for a tasty bowl of cheesy and a little bit salty grits. Loving grits wasn’t an overnight thing. They really had to grow on me. When I was younger, I would turn my nose up to them. The first time I tried grits was when I was at the Green Market and stopped by a booth called The Purple Shrimp and tried their Shrimp and Grits. What made me finally try them was the fact that they were Cajun flavored. I was not prepared for how unbelievable the mix of Parmesan cheese and tomato butter sauce would be with the smooth grits. The steamed shrimp was just added goodness. It was love at first bite.

If I can’t make it to the Green Market, or if it’s out of season, my go-to place to indulge in some savory grits is Another Broken Egg. They have these amazing City Grits. If, for some reason, I don’t order them first, I regret it, and I always end up ordering them halfway through my meal. There’s just something about the way the Gouda cheese is melted with the bacon, green onions, and tomatoes that just makes my mouth happy. Basically, anything I eat now is for that moment and that moment alone. I don’t eat just to be filled. I eat what I enjoy because my options are so limited. I really hope that one day I’ll be able to find a decent, gluten-free, crusty bread, but until then, I’ll settle with a bowl of grits to chase the blues away.

Celiac Disease Gfree Living

Surviving Poison

How do you convince yourself to eat when the first 22 years of your life were spent becoming violently ill after consuming any food?

This was the struggle I had to face for the last decade while living with the autoimmune disease Celiac.

Usually, when I tell someone that I have Celiac Disease, I have to explain that I follow a strict diet. The person tends to look perplexed and then informs me that “You’re so skinny. You don’t need to be on a diet.”

I hate this part. I hate having to explain my disease to anyone because on the outside I look healthy.

It’s not as if the person I am talking to can see inside my stomach and witness the damage that consuming gluten will do to my body. It has taken a decade for my insides to become healthy and match my outsides.

Whenever I begin the long process of explaining why being gluten-free has nothing to do with staying skinny but all to do with staying alive, I watch their eyes glaze over. It is nearly impossible for me to convince them that eating processed gluten-free bread has just as many calories, if not more, than regular bread. I am forced to live this way or eventually waste away and die because I have shredded my stomach lining from eating delicious food.

I’ve learned when it came to explaining Celiac to people I needed to keep it simple. I will tell them that a gluten attack could affect my joints, act like a laxative, or it might be the equivalent to eating glass.

These answers usually satisfy their curiosity. I personally don’t enjoy going into the details of how I am uncertain on which way I may be affected. I leave out that it nearly takes a week to recover because my immune system has been lowered. I also leave out that while my body is under attack, I am praying that I haven’t come in contact with anyone ill since their two-day sniffles could hang around me for nearly a month.

At 22 I was 5ft tall, 92 lbs and my stomach lining was shredded.

It had taken years for doctors to believe that I was actually ill.

At 18, I started the investigative process because I could no longer live in pain. My hands would lock up as if I had rheumatoid arthritis, and my sciatic nerve felt as if it constantly was on fire. All the pain made it impossible to sleep.

The first doctor I spoke to was for my arthritis symptoms. He was baffled because my body was exhibiting all signs of rheumatoid, but nothing in my blood work came back positive. It wasn’t long before he wrote me prescriptions for painkillers and muscle relaxers because there wasn’t much else he could do.

After meeting with him, I started the three-year-long process of finding out why my body rejected food.

The first gastroenterologist did blood work and took samples of my stomach lining, but he did this after telling me to fast. ThankfullyI’mm not a great listener, and I am hypoglycemic. I knew there was no way I could drive 30 minutes with a foggy brain to get my blood work done. So I ate half a bagel, thinking I was safe. What I thought was no big deal actually made the results confusing.

Here lies the first problem about this disease: it’s hard to test for Celiac unless your body is attacking itself and the only way to do that is if you’ve eaten the food that causes the attack. So, because the blood work had such low levels for Celiac and my stomach sample didn’t, he dismissed the results. I left the office with a diagnosis of IBS and a new prescription.

This brought my pill count to six. Six pills that may cause drowsiness.

Well, when you take six pills that may cause drowsiness, they will cause drowsiness. So I took all the pills, and I still could not eat. This problem brought me to gastro number two and three.

I wasn’t sure if I had anything left to test after two colonoscopies and countless amounts of blood work later. I was getting blood work done so often that I was in the lab twice a week every two weeks. This happened because of a fault in the medical system. I had requested the labs to share the information with all my doctors, but the results were never sent to the offices simultaneously. The doctors were all looking for different reasons for my illness but, none of my symptoms was a perfect match for the ailment they thought plagued me.

My bones, not my muscles but my bones, began to hurt.

My rheumatologist sent me for a bone scan. When the results came in, he said my bones looked like they belonged to a 45-year-old woman, not a 20-year-old. I took more pills to help my bones heal, and for the most part, they did help. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and that I might have finally figured out what was wrong with me.

That was until one night when I was drinking Guinness beer, and my throat started to itch. Shortly after, it was becoming tight. Thankfully I was with a friend who had a shellfish allergy. They suggested that I should take a Benadryl. Things did get better, not 100%, but I didn’t die, so I racked it up as a win.

I told one of the gastro I was seeing about what happened they said it was unrelated. Yet, they gave me even more pills to combat the newest problem.

If you’re keeping count I was now up to ten pills a day that would allow me eat and function.

I use the term function lightly because 95% of the time, I was left with a head fog when I ate gluten. The fog was so aggressive that it felt as if I had taken sleeping pills and stayed awake for far too long. Taking ten pills that may cause drowsiness and living with a constant head fog, it was a wonder that most of my professors didn’t think I was constantly high the entire time I was in class.

At 21 I was tired. I was tired of being sick. I was tired of the pain. I was tired of doctors telling me that I was making things up and hearing their side comments about how I might be a hypochondriac. I still can’t believe that one male doctor suggested that females tend to exaggerate their pains.

After that lovely dialogue, I found a new fourth gastro. This time it was a woman, and while we were in her office, she listened to me explain my medical history while reviewing my chart. I stopped talking when she chuckled, closing the folder.

“I don’t know why they didn’t see this before,” Dr. K said. “Because the first doctor, if not the second but most certainly the third doctor should have seen you have Celiac Disease.”

“What? What is that? What pills do I need to take” I was so excited to hear that I wasn’t crazy, and there was a name for everything I felt.

“There isn’t a pill. It’s just a diet””

She soon went into great detail about what I could no longer eat. How I had to scan labels on everything including shampoos, lotions, and makeup.

This was all in 2006 or 2007. I can’t remember specifically, but gluten-free food was awful. The bread tasted like sponges. There weren’t many options out there for me. I would “fall off the wagon,” as my mother called it, eating a whole bag of goldfish and laying on the bathroom saying the pain was worth it. Some days I’d sneak out and get a spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A.

I was like a diabetic in denial; I knew what horrible things I was doing do my body but I didn’t care.

In 2009, I said, “Fuck it. The pain isn’t worth it” Gluten-free started to become a fad, and there were more options for me. But really, my health was all that mattered. I couldn’t spend days anymore lying in pain. I was done with college and had to grow up. People weren’t going to excuse me because I was an idiot. This was the last year I was under 100 pounds.

Now I am healthy.

In the beginning, it was weird to not feel sick or in pain every single moment of the day. I almost missed the feeling because it was so normal.

It’s been out of my system for so long that the attacks happen quickly and painfully. Now, if I “get gluteneted,” I know within minutes. Even a tiny amount like eating french fries that could be cross-contaminated has become a big decision. I chose to eat naturally gluten-free things unless I wanted pasta or a burger with a bun. But I do love lettuce-wrapped burgers, so they tend to win.

My journey isn’t over.

This a lifelong process, and with 30 closing in on me, I know kids are in my future. I have to be even more careful than if I get pregnant. I do not eat a single thing with gluten because it can cause a miscarriage. Thankfully that chance is slimmer since I have been pretty good about following my diet, but there is always that chance that a waiter doesn’t take me seriously or someone in the kitchen misses it.

Maybe more people will start to understand this isn’t a fad but a disease. I still cringe when asking for my special menu because I know they are thinking, “Look at the skinny girl just being trendy.”

Sorry, I’m not being trendy. I’m just trying to stay alive.