My Journey to Gluten Free

I hesitated making a post about this, but I honestly cook too much & share too many recipes for this to go unnoticed. And before I start into the story, I want to say something that I still stand by:

There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, unless you are allergic to or have a reaction to those foods that doesn’t make you feel great!

Gluten free was, and still is, sold as a cure-all diet. Just typing “why is gluten…” into Google yields an host of autofilled questions from “why is gluten bad for you”, “why is gluten free good”, and “why is gluten all of the sudden an issue”. It’s a big deal and, I would argue, a larger one just a few years ago. But it’s not only gluten. Modern-day diets label foods as “good” or “bad” depending on the rules of that particular diet. It’s no wonder we’re unsure. There’s options ranging from “You should only eat meat” to “You should only eat vegetables and plant-based”. It’s confusing!

Personally, I’m in the camp of: “Do what works best for you and fuels and nourishes your body best FOR YOU.” It’s individual. I know people who have loved keto and it’s worked great; I hated it. I grew up vegetarian, but now I eat meat regularly. It’s completely individual, as it should be. Throughout this, I’m not saying that gluten is a bad thing for everybody. Heck, it wasn’t even “bad” for me until more recently. But we have to grow and learn what works best for us. Now that I’ve cleared that up, and gotten it out of the way, let’s get into the story!

I don’t remember the first time it happened, but I would say it started around in the summer of 2019. My legs started itching at night. No rash and no apparent cause, but uncontrollable itching. It started happening regularly enough right after I ate that I thought it was food-related. At the time, I was on a huge ice cream or yogurt kick. Naturally, I thought it was dairy. I reduced my consumption and it only moderately helped. By no means was it gone.

In November, I had my annual physical. My doctor said it was likely a combination of dry skin & the fact I wore leggings for +10 hours per day. I was starting to think it was more than food as well, since the dairy didn’t really do much, so I took her advice. I switched lotions, body washes, and detergents. I wore leggings less. (Or as “less” as I could working as a coach…) Nothing changed. In fact, it continued to get worse. Still no rash, but uncontrollable itching. This is when it started during the day.

It wasn’t every day. But my “ice cream at night” theory no longer held up. Ice cream isn’t typically a mid-day snack for me 😉 But there was a little part of me that always thought it had something to do with food. It was always best in the morning, worse throughout the day, and flared up after I ate my meals.

Enter, a long period of experimentation. I switched up everything, in phases, so I could see what happened with each individual variable. I started with my diet and nutrition; I tried:

❌No sugar or sweets at night

❌No diary

❌No lactose, specifically

❌Eliminating foods known to cause an inflammatory response

❌Watching glycemic index and carbs, specifically

Then, came lifestyle and environmental factors. I switched sheets, lotions, body wash, basically anything that was leg-specific. Nothing helped. The itching never spread beyond my legs, but it didn’t get better either. It continued to worsen, especially throughout the day.

Then, quarantine hit. It got even worse. I didn’t think it was possible, but it continued to itch more & more. Still flaring up around meal times, after I ate. I had tried to cut out so much and I truly didn’t know what could be the cause. However, there was a bright spot. Finally, there was a rash.

It’s weird. All this time, no one knew what was happening because you couldn’t see it. I almost thought at one point that I was actually making it up in my head. That there was no cause; it was simply psychological. I was almost relieved when there was a tangible sign.

But with the rash, there was seriously zero break from the itch. It was constant; first thing in the morning, until I went to sleep; and even then, would wake me up some nights. Not to be too specific, but I would itch, break skin, and not even care because it was that bad. I tried creams and ointments, allergy medication and anti-inflammatory all to no avail. The only thing that helped was ice packs to numb my legs to the point of not feeling it.

In case we’re not grasping the seriousness yet, I went to the clinic, in the middle of a global pandemic. This visit was unhelpful, but the rash was & I turned, once again, to Google. I found a rare form of celiac that manifests as exactly what I was experiencing. Could it be? The one common food allergy that I somehow missed is causing all of this?

Immediately, I cut it out. Now, I don’t eat a lot of gluten anyway. I typically opt for potatoes, quinoa, and rice in my meal prep. However, since being at home and working from home, I’ve had time to cook more meals. I’ve baked bread and made sandwiches. We’ve ordered out to support local restaurants. At the beginning, I was single-handedly on a mission to keep my favorite craft breweries in business. So, after thinking about it, my gluten consumption skyrocketed at the beginning of social distancing! Could it be?

There was only one way to find out. I cut it out and throughout that first week it got consistently better. I nearly cried the first day I had an itch-free day. I was so relieved that something finally worked. Even if it meant giving up craft beer and, if you know me, you know that’s a big ask. So for me, it looks like goodbye, gluten for a little while!

Now, I didn’t get the official test, & I don’t plan to, so I won’t say that I have this form of Celiac “officially”. However, after eliminating gluten for almost three months now, I’ve had relief from itching for the first time in recent memory. There were a few flare ups as I had a sip of beer (I couldn’t resist…) and a few crackers that I thought were gluten-free, but weren’t. But finding something that helps truly means so much more than any test would be able to tell me.

I cannot stress enough that this was not an overnight discovery, even if this is the first you’re hearing about it and you’ve known me for all of this time. I truly took time because I do not want to add fuel to the “gluten free is the best” fire that can occur. As I mentioned, I even hesitated making this post – both here and on Instagram. But sharing food and recipes with the world, I couldn’t exactly go gluten-free overnight without an explanation. And I didn’t want to either.

Food sensitivities are tricky. Like I said in the beginning, I truly don’t think there are any “good” or “bad” foods, except the ones that you that cause an allergic reaction. Eating gluten free WILL NOT bring you magical weight loss powers or “cure” many of things that it’s marketed to do. For ME, it was causing deeper issues that I took time to discover through months of experimentation. If you think you have allergies or a food insensitivity, seek help. Work with a doctor, dietician, or other professional who can help guide you through the process of learning what foods fuel YOUR body best.

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