Monday, November 28, 2011
Gluten and Dairy Make Duckie a Dull Bird
I want to touch on something that I feel is very important. Ask any good triathlon coach and they will tell you nutrition is a critical part of the equation. It is fueling. It needs to be done at precise intervals. How else are you going to recover fast enough to do it all over again tomorrow or even later today?
Not only because I try to tri, but because my digestive system has chosen to rebel against many common foods, nutrition has become a huge obsession for me. I was walking around the grocery (health and natural foods) store today and found myself suddenly so demoralized and frustrated, it was all I could do not to just sit down and cry.
You see, I cannot tolerate gluten or dairy. I don't know why. I got very sick a few years ago and the docs spent a lot of my money not coming up with anything conclusive. I have that vague group of symptoms that are associated with Thyroid, auto-immune, etc. At first it was fatigue, pain (some generalized, some localized), digestive upset, bloating and water retention (at times I gained water so fast I had to change clothes), weight gain, migraines, etc. Later the symptoms started to include bloody stool, dangerously low heart rate, high cholesterol (over 300), fainting, rashes, crippling muscle, tendon, and nerve pain. These things were enough to spur them to splurge on another round of inconclusive tests. They still had no answers and I was getting sicker.
One day I had a fainting episode and due to my already dangerously low heart rate and blood pressure, my heart stopped.
Thankfully, I had the good sense to drop in a doctors office so I am here to tell you about it.
I decided on a lark one day to try an elimination diet. I was broke and my insurance had dropped me but it was free, and I didn't need a doctor to tell me I could or to interpret results. I dropped almost everything from my diet, using a diet book written by a triathlete* as a guide. When I added gluten back, it became crystal clear that there was a problem. (I did not at that point check dairy because I continued with a vegan lifestyle for some time afterwards. When I did add it back, the results were, well, dramatic.)
Do I have celiacs? Who knows. I know that I have no intention of going back on gluten so that they can draw more blood to find out. The stakes got a little too high there at the end. Most literature says that the most conclusive test for celiacs is an elimination diet anyhow.
For a while, I could get away with things that did not have gluten ingredients but did not specifically state gluten free. Then recently, I was eating meal replacement bars that were manufactured on shared equipment and started breaking out in an awful rash. I now have scars on both arms from it and it continues to flare up a few times a week.
My sensitivity has increased to a level comparable to any celiac patients and that is the reason for the frustration. I was in a health food store, looking for gluten free cans of beans so that I could find a veggie based protein source and I couldn't find any. They had soup and chili that was appropriately labeled but no beans. I went to the bulk foods section thinking I could soak my own and realized that I no longer trusted the bins. I feel like these food reactions have me cornered. I bought eggs. I train too hard to not have a reliable protein source in my diet and the lack of gluten makes getting carbs hard enough.
I am also afraid to introduce many other common allergens that were also in the foods I was eating at the time of one reaction or another. I am suspicious of soy, leery of corn, worried about too many of the common ingredients in food. I find I worry about almost everything I put in my mouth now. If it was not a whole food, purchased and prepared by me, it is dangerous.
I remember a time when I loved gourmet foods. Grocery shopping was an art form and brought a lot of joy into my life. Of course, the sit down and cry moments happened when I went clothes shopping. Now I can barely navigate a grocery store without needing therapy but buying clothes is not a problem.
On Thanksgiving, I was grateful for not being invited anywhere. I had peanut butter and banana slices on gluten free bread and went to bed early. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat and the duck is trying to figure out how on earth to navigate this holiday without ending up seriously ill. I don't post this because I have answers. I post it for the same reason I post most things. The honesty is cathartic and if someone reads it, identifies with it and feels a little less alone this holiday, then it was worth it.
*Don't know the rules of mentioning published material here so I will refrain from giving this man a well deserved shout out.