Note: This post was originally posted on March 16, 2017 on my old blog, found HERE.
“Maybe it’s the gluten allergy talking, but if I hear Oprah gloating one more time about how she gets to eat bread every single day, I am going to track her down and smack her in the face with a baguette!”
I posted this as my Facebook status back when Oprah was just kicking off her “I love bread” Weight Watchers campaign, at a time when I was just coming to terms with a self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity. It’s been 18 months since I stopped eating wheat, and I’m a lot less angry about it now. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, not being able to eat gluten is a pretty small issue. But, damn… I miss bread.
It all started with a cough. A persistent, annoying cough that wouldn’t go away, sometimes accompanied by sinus congestion & pressure. After about a month of coughing, the doctor put me on a Z-Pak and the cough seemed to go away; then inexplicably it came back. The doctor put me on something else, the cough seemed to go away. Then I went to a wedding where I drank beer and ate wedding cake, and the cough was back before the reception was over.
I started to think there was something seriously wrong with me. Lung cancer; pneumonia; COPD– all the things that pop up when you try to diagnose yourself via Google search. But, determined not to let my new terminal condition keep me down, I continued to live life as fully as I could… One evening while out with my girlfriends, I noticed my friend Jill turning down a slice of pizza, and I asked her why. She told me that when she ate anything with gluten in it, she felt congested. And, not to bring Oprah back into this, but… that was my “Aha!” moment.
I decided to experiment with cutting gluten out of my diet, just to see what would happen. And, voila, the cough went away! Yay! Happy ending, right? Well…. kinda. But in many ways it was just a beginning. Going gluten-free is not easy. Especially not for someone like me, who never met a baked good she didn’t love.
For one thing — unless you have been formally diagnosed with celiac disease (which is an autoimmune disorder that is far more serious than what I have), people think you are just jumping onto the latest dietary fad when you tell them you can’t eat gluten. When I first explained to my good friend that I wasn’t eating gluten anymore, she said, incredulously, “Oh, come on. Why is gluten suddenly a ‘thing’?” Turns out, researchers believe there is a reason for that. Apparently, wheat has been genetically modified so that it is not the same as wheat from 20 years ago. It contains a lot more gluten now, and our bodies have not adapted to it.
My friend is hardly the only person to question my new diet. When I mentioned my new sensitivity to my general practitioner at my annual physical, he seemed skeptical– but he had me set up an appointment with an allergist. The allergist turned out to be more than skeptical… He downright didn’t believe me. His solution was to prescribe me an inhaler and to have me start eating gluten again while keeping a diary of everything else I was eating at the same time, and to come back in a month.
I started to question myself. I went straight from the allergist’s office to the McDonald’s drive-thru and got myself a cheeseburger WITH A BUN for the first time in a year. (Damn, it tasted good!) But 30 minutes later: *Cough cough cough.* So, I went back to my gluten-free diet and I cancelled my follow-up allergist appointment.
It really was not as hard to cut out gluten as I imagined it would be. I just had to stop eating bread. And pasta. And pizza. And cookies. And cake. And really good beer. Although, it turns out there are a lot more decent gluten-free alternatives to most of those things than I ever realized! Bread being the biggest exception. I have not been able to find a really good gluten-free bread. Cutting out gluten has actually been really good for me because I’m no longer the carbohydrate junky I used to be. As long as I can eat fish, meat, cheese, potatoes, rice, vegetables, salad, and fruit– I’m good! I just hate that I’ve turned into the annoying person at the party or the dinner table who is always having to explain that I can’t have a certain appetizer or dessert because I can’t eat gluten. I can almost hear people’s eyes roll when I say it.
I am lucky. I don’t have celiac disease and I’m not so dreadfully gluten intolerant that my health is in danger when I do accidentally or on purpose eat something made with wheat flour. But now that I am used to eating this way, I feel so much better. Aside from losing the chronic cough, my seasonal allergies this year were much less severe than they usually are. And I am sure now that if I hadn’t cut out the processed food I’ve always loved, I would weigh at least 20 pounds more than I do. So I avoid eating gluten whenever I possibly can. (The one exception I will always make is for my mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing!)
The reason I am writing about this in my blog is I am hoping to help someone else. If you are experiencing any inexplicable symptoms like my persistent cough, it could be the gluten! It is worth a try to cut it out for a week and see if it makes a difference. (Important: If your symptoms include digestive issues or other signs of celiac disease, you should definitely seek a professional diagnosis because celiac disease can really be dangerous.)