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Photo of Gluten free cupcakes“It’s official. I found out today. I have Celiac Disease.”

This was me, two years ago, coming out to my family about the “Big C.” Many of you out there have probably never even heard of this disease. To say that in 2017, with all the app use, live streaming, YouTube-ing, Tweeting, Instagram-ing and Facebooking that goes on every day, seems shocking. So (with the help of a famous movie line), allow me to enlighten you!

What exactly is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease is a problem some people have with foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a type of protein. It’s found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a wheat-rye cross), which are all grains.

When you have this disorder and you eat foods with gluten in them, the gluten triggers an immune system response that’s not normal. This damages the inside of your small intestine so it can’t do a good job of absorbing nutrients from your food.

I used to think people on gluten-free diets were fad dieters and that this was the “elitist” way to lose weight. Well, it’s not. This Celiac thing is very much real. If you don’t get treatment, Celiac Disease can lead to anemia and/or osteoporosis and raise your risk of developing lymphoma.

Mistaken for a drunk

I remember drinking beer in Germany (‘cause when in Rome … or in this case Munich … ) and ending up in hospital. Twice. The first time, I had only one beer. The second time, I had only a few sips.

Of course, everyone at the hospital assumed I was drunk. I’m so not the get-drunk type. As a general rule, I tend to stay away from anything brown or clear. Anyhow, the doctors realized quickly that my blood alcohol level was well below the legal limit, and it left them (and me!) puzzled as to why I had passed out.

Once I was back in Toronto, my doctor thought I might be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or that I might be lactose intolerant. I somehow managed to cope on that diagnosis for two years.

Desperate consultation with a naturopath

Finally, in late March 2015, I consulted a naturopathic doctor in desperation. I wanted (needed) an explanation for the frequent headaches and fatigue, not to mention what I deemed “ethnic-lethargy“—Caribbean friends, you know that by a different name. 🙂

For one straight hour, I answered questions of all shapes, sizes and colours. The naturopath left no stone unturned, no question unasked. Then she conducted a full physical exam. She instructed me not to eat anything with gluten, soy, caffeine or sugar, or have cow’s milk for the next three weeks. She also told me to keep a daily diary of what I did eat and how I felt.

By Day Four, I had so much energy, I didn’t know what to do with it. I started working out again, something I hadn’t done in seven months.

At the end of the three weeks, I felt like a different person. Headaches were gone, cramps and bloating gone, fatigue gone and I’d lost 10 pounds to boot. After another complete examination, re-evaluation and blood tests, we found out it was indeed Celiac that I had.

Life without gluten

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a lot of things in your cupboards that have gluten in them and you don’t even realize it. Yup. I didn’t know what I was going to do with all that food. I grew up learning never to waste food, finish your plate, etc. I hated the idea of throwing food away. To me, it really was like throwing $100 in the garbage, so I gave the food to the local food bank. After all, there are people out there who don’t have this disorder.

I’m happy to say that for the past two years, I’ve enjoyed a gluten-free lifestyle and I’ve never felt better.

I urge anyone who is experiencing unexplained symptoms similar to mine to get tested for Celiac. Variations of Celiac Disease include gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance.

If you’re not affected by any of this gluten mumbo jumbo, then congratulations! But promise me you won’t make fun of the gluten-free “dieters” out there. They really are doing it for their health!

«RELATED READ» GLUTEN-FREE GOODNESS: Three tasty recipes that call for alternative grains»

image: GFAF Expo 2013 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
by Kerry Bell

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