The gluten-free craze over the last few years definitely seemed to me like a big fad. All of a sudden, everyone had some kind of gluten sensitivity. Everyone was suddenly eating soy birthday cakes and passing on the hamburger bun and reading books by Dr. Atkins. I continued to eat pretty much anything I wanted to in moderation and thanked heaven that I had a hearty enough constitution to handle something basic like bread. I didn't know what was wrong with everyone else. Pass the pasta, please.
At the same time, I had my own problems, but I never linked them to food. I tested negative for every kind of food allergy so I crossed that possibility off my list. The constant fatigue, daily stomach pain and esophagus dysfunction and spasms, inability to swallow food, the whole body pain, the constant joint swelling and injury, the insomnia, the perpetual brain fog... there had to be a reason but the doctor said it wasn't food and I accepted that in spite of my constant battle with painful eating.
Every once in a while, my symptoms would flare up so badly that I would schedule a doctor's appointment. The primary result was that I was either repeatedly misdiagnosed or dismissed. I became discouraged and decided to ignore the problems as best I could. We could not afford to throw thousands of dollars away on a non-existent problem. I felt guilty making appointments and embarrassed at the thought that all these smart people probably just thought I was a hypochondriac. My weight, cholesterol, blood pressure? All ideal. Good blood work. Reflexes fine. The smartest specialists in the city telling me that they didn't know what my problem was.
Two years ago, I decided to try again. I was injuring joints just walking around the house and in constant pain pretty much everywhere on my body. I stopped playing volleyball with my family because I was basically guaranteed an injury every time I played. I was tired of having to say that I'd hurt myself again and wondered if I had some kind of degenerative joint disease. I decided to research doctors a little and find the best... maybe then I'd have an answer. I found the most reputable rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic and after a lengthy discussion with his nurse, decided that his hefty price tag would be a good investment. Except it wasn't. He told me I was incredibly healthy and diagnosed me with sleep deprivation. It was a new diagnosis anyway. I think we're still paying off that bill. After that, I pressed on and found a specialist in esophageal problems. I researched her thoroughly and decided that she was the one who could help me if anyone could. She ordered an endoscopy and told me that my stomach was swollen and irritated and that I didn't have reflux. Ah. And how much do we owe you for that? I had begun to wonder if I had celiac's disease since my symptoms were so similar... but I tested negative for that as well.
Discouraged, I decided, once again, to suck it up and press on. Until last Spring that is. I remember being curled up on my bed in the middle of the day. Tears were soaking the sheets and I literally could not find an inch on my body that was not burning in pain. I need help, I thought, and for the millionth time, I mentally reviewed my options. I need to see a doctor... but which doctor? They were all wrong and expensive. I'll go back to my allergist. Maybe she missed something. But what more can she do? My mind started to explore that question and I revisited the idea of an elimination diet. She might suggest that. I don't want to pay money to anyone to have them tell me to do an elimination diet. I'm bright enough to figure that one out.
Two days later, without much planning or preparation, I began what I thought to be an extreme elimination diet. I was highly motivated and did not doubt I could do it. For thirty days I would eliminate anything that might possibly cause negative issues. Thirty days was not unreasonable. I figured that after that point, I would start to reintroduce foods and discover triggers easily. I had no other expectations. I just jumped in and began.
No gluten. No grains. No processed sugar. No white potatoes. No refined anything. No additives or preservatives.
In spite of my best intentions, let me tell you what that really looked like to me in that first week: mostly tomatoes and hard boiled eggs. For some reason, I couldn't seem to figure out much else to eat. I had not done a lot of planning and was perpetually astonished that seemingly plain foods were packed with a long list of ingredients I couldn't pronounce. I couldn't even have ketchup or sour cream. My stomach was still extremely sensitive to meats and vegetables so I stayed away at first. (A lot has changed but at the time, I wondered if I would have to start eating baby food.) There was certainly nothing in my regular meal planning that was permissible. My guideline was that if it wasn't a real, straightforward food, I wouldn't eat it. It was a long first week. You can read a realtime record of those first days here:
Elimination Diet Day #3: Carb Flu
5 Days, 5 Pounds. And other astonishing things
I had been eating a heavily processed, refined, grain heavy diet for a long time. By the time of this elimination diet, I was eating cold cereal for many meals because it is what my stomach was best able to tolerate. I loved eating salad and steak but it seemed as though my stomach could not handle it. The discomfort and pain was not worth it and I'd always head back to the cereal bowl. I had begun to think that my stomach wouldn't tolerate change at all. After doing extensive reading however, I had a tiny hope that I could begin to heal the damage and begin again. As much as I wanted to hold on to the foods I loved to eat, it became increasingly clear to me that I would give it all up to have my health back.
To be continued...
Life Without Bread: Part Two
(Photo from Pillsbury.com)