The Answer is: Celiac Disease

For years I thought the gluten-free diet was a fad and did not expect it to last long. I can remember saying, “Not everything needs to have a gluten-free option.”

Then earlier this year I was diagnosed with celiac disease. For those of you not familiar with celiac disease, it is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten. According to celiac.org eating gluten causes my body to mount an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage to the villi, the small finger-like projections that line the small intestine and absorb nutrients. When the villi are damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly.

People can have severe symptoms or appear to be symptom free. I thought I was symptom free and had just an inkling that wheat might be an issue. After doing a Whole 30, I noticed I felt a little better not eating bread and pasta or drinking beer, but I didn’t think I felt “bad” after consuming any of those items. In fact, the way food affected me, I thought I had an ulcer.

When testing showed no ulcer, but I had celiac disease, I was surprised! And apparently I have had the condition for a long time. I love pasta and bread. I make fantastic lasagna. I enjoy beer — especially German wheat beer. And I didn’t think I had symptoms. I’ll be able to just do the big stuff, I thought. A little gluten here and there wouldn’t hurt me. (FYI At the same time I was diagnosed with GERD, which did explain the ulcer-like symptoms.)

Once I started to be gluten free, I could feel when I mistakenly consumed gluten. Stomachaches and painful bloating within an hour! (Why had I not noticed this before?) I quickly realized I was going to have to be serious and live my life entirely without gluten.

I downloaded an app to my smartphone that scans bar codes and searches the ingredients for gluten (The Gluten Free Scanner). I scanned most of the food in our house, and got rid of all flours, pastas, and any food that had gluten. I found foods with hidden gluten like some soy sauces, cream soups, a cheese dip, canned foods …Wooden spoons and any utensils that could not be put in the dishwasher were given away. I bought a new toaster and a separate butter dish just for me. I bought condiments in squeeze bottles. (You would be amazed at how many bread crumbs get in butter, mustard and mayonnaise when you re-insert your knife in the jar.)

At first I was pretty positive. “I can do this,” I kept thinking. I reminded myself that I didn’t eat any gluten during Whole30, and I was fine. Then I remembered that was for only 30 days, NOT the rest of my life.

I thought, if I can’t eat gluten, what can I eat? No more lasagna, no more Skyline 3-ways, no more peanut butter sandwiches, no more brownies, no more burritos, no more beer…. Even a simple fast-food hamburger and French fries was out. Everywhere I looked was something I loved that I could no longer eat.

There is a grieving process. I started with denial (thinking I could eat a little gluten) and progressed through anger, depression and finally acceptance. (For some reason I skipped bargaining.)

I can do this,” I thought again. But then we decided to go out for dinner. We went to a Mexican restaurant that stated it had a gluten-free menu. The server steered me away from items I could not eat. Everything seemed to be going fine. I thought I had it all figured out only to feel sick once we got to the car. Not only did depression hit again, now I was a little scared. If people who claimed they knew what to do screwed this up, what about all of the restaurants that don’t care?

And the longer I am gluten free, the worse I feel when I do accidentally have gluten. So these are the symptoms my body had been fighting for so long!

Well, it’s been six months since my diagnosis. I feel pretty good most of the time. I’m trying a variety of gluten-free foods and drinks, and some are pretty good! Others … well, there is a reason I typically only buy one package of a new food until I try it.

Fueling for training and races has been a challenge. Because my pre-race meal has always been peanut butter toast, I’ve experimented with bread the most. And some aren’t bad.

I’ve done several races this year since my diagnosis. The after-race foods are a challenge since I can no longer grab a bagel and go, but sometimes there are bananas and I always have something in my car I can eat.

Though many things are challenging, so far I’m doing fine and I even PR’d at the Columbus Marathon Half.

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