Learning to Live Gluten-Free

What? Acid in my throat again? This is the second night in a row. I just got out of bed after lying there for an hour wondering why? What did I eat? Was it three days of spicy food? Maybe the first day when I ate at the Mexican restaurant that has the great HOT sauce to dip chips in wasn’t too much, but that followed by two days of chili was too much? Maybe it wasn’t the spice, but it was too much dairy? Could dairy be a problem, too? I had a lot of cheese at the restaurant and ice cream last night, but not much dairy the day in between. It could be that since it was really cold night before last and I was sliding down off the wedge that I sleep on so I could get way under the cover, that I was lying too flat and that is why I had acid that night, and then last night it was a different problem. Like…too much chocolate? I have been eating a little bit of a Hershey bar sometimes and that hasn’t bothered me, but last night I had birthday cake and it was chocolate. It was gluten-free and gluten is what started this whole investigation. (Only I didn’t know at first that gluten was a problem. I thought the whole gluten-free thing was a fad. Unless, of course, one has Celiac Disease.) And the corn chips that I had with my chili were two different brands, but the first one is processed on machinery that also processes wheat. The second brand has been tested below a certain level of gluten, but not totally gluten-free. Can I really be that sensitive? Gee, I hope not. Could it be tomatoes? I hope not, but it has to be something. Maybe only if they are cooked tomatoes because the pico de gallo and the HOT – wonderfully HOT! – sauce didn’t bother me.  How many possibilities have I come up with so far? Too many. See how complicated this can be? I’ll have to play detective with my food diary to figure this out.

I know one thing. I sure have enjoyed the nights of sleep without acid and whatever caused this will have to go. “Without acid” started after I stopped eating gluten. Until now, anyway. And it may be that if tomatoes are bothering me now, they won’t after my system has had more time to recuperate from exposure to gluten. I’ve also enjoyed not being bloated and feeling much better in general. People are even telling me that I look like I feel better.

Up until now, my life has been defined as the Days BC and the Days AC – Before Christ and After Christ. Now, I may be adding the Days BG and AG – Before and After Gluten. Well, there’s no “may” to it. I don’t want to feel like I used to feel.

I quit eating gluten at my doctor’s suggestion. In September when I saw him my whole digestive system felt like it had been to a rock concert. You know how when you go to a concert and the music is loud and you’re right up front at the stage and then when it’s over your whole brain feels like it’s pulsating from sound waves that are still reverberating around in there? A few years ago, I had two sons in bands together and I spent quite a bit of time having fun with loud music. Lots of reverberating afterwards. The head gets over it pretty soon. My digestive system was miserable. My doctor suggested that I try a really good probiotic with lots of different bacteria in one capsule and digestive enzymes. He said if that didn’t work after a couple of weeks to try cutting out dairy. If two weeks of not eating dairy foods didn’t help, then cut out gluten. The only time I could tell that the enzymes helped was when I ate something like pancakes or a big ol’ donut. So, I started with eliminating gluten. I’m still taking the enzymes and probiotic until I get everything figured out. Then I’ll see about cutting back on some of that.

So, what do I think of all this gluten-free eating? And what does my husband think? I’ll start with him; he’s pretty cool. He has liked the pasta and the pancakes and the cornbread. He liked the cake, too. He told my parents that everything I’ve fixed that has been gluten-free has been “delicious.” This morning he told me that it’s probably a good idea for everyone to avoid gluten since it can cause so many problems for so many people. Well, I think it’s great and wonderful that he’s so easy to work with here, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say everyone should avoid it. He might decide he’ll avoid it, except for beer. He likes beer. It’s a good thing I’ve never liked beer; that is about the only thing I haven’t been able to find a substitute for.

So, how has this changed my grocery shopping so far? To tell you that, I’ll tell you how I was shopping to begin with. I have a list to take to the store. It’s a master list. I’ve listed vegetables broken down into categories of green leafy, root, cruciferous and others. On my list, I also have fruit, nuts and seeds, grains and beans. I start in the produce department, checking what is in season and on sale, where it came from and what goes well with what and put meals together as I shop. I was only buying a few packaged foods like oatmeal, pancake mix, lunch meat (icky, I know – my husband eats it), bread, nut butters, canned soup, tofu. Most of what we eat is fresh produce and dried beans and grains. We eat pasta every few weeks. Rarely, I buy boudain or tamales. More rarely than those things, any other meat. It’s hard for me to say “never.” About the only dairy I was eating before I started having so much acid at night, was a little bit of milk in my coffee and butter in oatmeal or on pancakes. I did increase dairy though when I stopped eating cooked food for supper and started eating fresh fruit with some cheese, nuts, or peanut or almond butter. I was trying to get through a night without waking up with my throat burning. Nothing was helping with the bloating or the general sluggishness that my system was having. I’m not drinking coffee or tea, except herbal tea, more than once a week now.

Canned soup had to go. No biggie. Oatmeal in the US isn’t safe from wheat contamination. I miss oatmeal and plan to try it in a few months after my system has had time rest. (Europe and Canada are way ahead of us on this. I plan to write about some of that later.) Our couscous and pancake mix had to go. I had gone from being able to eat a stack of four small pancakes in May to only two pancakes by September and they sat in my stomach like a rock until I started taking digestive enzymes. The enzymes helped, but they weren’t fixing the problem.

The only time I’ve really felt lost is at breakfast. No barley cereal, no oatmeal, no French toast, no rye toast with almond butter and sliced apple or banana. We’re better off not eating a lot of eggs, because of my husband’s cholesterol. I’d like to have toast sometimes. I’m thankful for gluten-free pancake options. I’ve ordered Better Batter flour so I can make bread and do a bit of holiday baking. I picked up a small magazine, “Gluten-Free Recipes”, at the grocery store the other day because it has two recipes for flour blends that can be made up in bulk, one for breads and the other is all-purpose. So, I have some exploring to do. In the meantime, I’ve found some good websites with recipes. I LOVE the cornbread recipe that Nicole has on “Gluten-Free on a Shoestring”! Like a lot of folks, I live on a shoestring and once my Better Batter flour gets here I’ll be able to make pancakes with it and it won’t cost as much as the mix. I was desperate when I bought the mix. Oh, and pizza. I’d like to have pizza sometimes.

That reminds me of something else that I was thinking about when I woke up with acid in my throat. I’ve thought of this often over the years. It is just a question that I ask myself about different aspects of life. In this situation, I’m asking, “Do I live to eat, or do I eat to live? Am I a servant of food, or is food my servant?” I really enjoy food. I was cooking eggs and boudain for breakfast the other day and I thought, “I can have boudain and chocolate! What else do I need?” But, really. Am I remembering that this life and its goodies are temporary and what I have to look forward to is going to be better? Do I hold onto things here lightly? Really? Even favorite foods?

ADDENDUM (January 2, 2012): I kept seeing things about gluten-free beer here and there, so I thought for those of you who are interested, here’s a link to a website with reviews of gluten-free beers: Switch2GlutenFree This site is written by a man named Mike. The “About Mike” page is pretty interesting; this looks like a good place for a guy, especially, to do a little reading. Ladies aren’t the only ones writing about living gluten-free and I imagine a few guys might like to read another fellow’s writing.

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