Today starts a series of Austin gluten-free bloggers that I asked to contribute their gluten-free story. Living gluten-free can be a challenge for some. I want their stories to be an inspiration for you. There is support out there (plenty in Austin!), and that we can come together and help each other. It is all about support and raising awareness! Speaking of raising awareness, have you signed up for the Got Guts 5k yet? It is this Sunday, September 12th.
Sarah Graham loves all things gluten-free. She also loves local & organically grown food. She also loves dessert. That can be difficult for someone with a gluten intolerance, yet she perseveres. Sarah’s blog is Gluten Girl in Austin where she shares weekly posts of her gluten-free meals at local restaurants, proving dietary restrictions does not have to mean never eating out. She is also the Austin Gluten Free Food Examiner and interns at a local organic food company helping plan events. She works a “boring” job in real estate to support her love of food and gluten-free dessert. She is excited for her forthcoming gluten-free wedding this fall. Contact her at email@example.com.
“It is not normal to be sick this often.”
I thought this to myself repeatedly during my college years. I knew something was wrong inside me, but I couldn’t figure out what. My University’s doctor was clueless, so I simply popped stomach pills on a weekly basis and lived with it, if you call that living. I graduated, moved to Austin, and tried to not eat “exciting” foods I thought might upset my stomach like anything greasy or spicy. Instead I ate carbs like pasta & pizza. What a mistake that would end up being. And I tried to adjust to the idea that stomach problems were just a part of my life and always would be.
Yet the thought remained: “This is not normal. I don’t want this life.” So I made an appointment to see a gastroenterologist in town.
Diagnosis # 1: “IBS.” Whatever that is. Whenever I tried to research the syndrome, I only found that it was an umbrella diagnosis, meaning a collection of symptoms that cannot be diagnosed as other known illnesses. The doctor gave me IBS drugs, but they didn’t help. I knew this was not the answer.
Diagnosis # 2: Depression. The doctor didn’t tell me he thought I was depressed. He simply prescribed me some anti-depressants and told me a side effect is helping to settle the gut. I got home, researched the drug he’d given me, and never took more than a handful. I wasn’t depressed. This wasn’t in my head. It was real, and I wasn’t going to stop searching for the mystery enemy inside of me until I found it.
Diagnosis # 3: Finally after months of persistence on my part, the doctor said, “Well you might be intolerant to gluten.” Huh? Intolerant? Gluten? Whatever, I didn’t care. I just said, “How do you test for that?” Next thing I knew, the needle was in my arm & my blood was tested for gluten antibodies. They came back elevated but not so high that a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity was clear. He told me I could continue with an upper endoscopy to confirm a diagnosis, but that sounded both scary & expensive. Then he said the wisest words I’d heard in years. “It really doesn’t matter. If a gluten free diet relieves 100% of your symptoms, that is all the answer you need.” A celiac test performed a year later when the blood test was available came back negative. But I’ve never doubted it that I’m gluten sensitive nonetheless. I got sick one day from drinking rice milk labeled “gluten free” with less than 20 ppm of barley malt flavoring. And so after some trial & error, I commenced a gluten free diet from which I have never looked back.
Is eating gluten free a challenge? Yes. Does it take discipline? Yes. Does it get annoying to interrogate every waiter, to burden your family & friends with your illness, to pack your own meals at events, to be glutened by well-meaning but misinformed people, and to dearly miss some of your favorite foods for which there is just no substitute? The answer to all of these questions is yes. But did I want to be better? Yes. And so I don’t eat gluten, and the result is a life I never thought I would have, one where I can go to dinner and a movie, one where I can leave the house without pepto bismol, one where I don’t get a side of anxiety with every meal waiting to see if it will make me sick.
To anyone wondering if they can live gluten-free, I want to say this. A normal life is out there. The path to it is often not easy or short, but since healing, I have never doubted taking a single step in my gluten-free journey. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself that I can’t eat any desserts at a party or a sandwich at the office lunch, I remember there are many things in life so profoundly more difficult than living with a disease that can be treated with a dietary restriction. How truly lucky I am to have the only thing standing in the way of my normal life be just a little protein called gluten.
Sarah’s top 3 favorite gluten-free food products:
3. Udi’s bread
Sarah’s top 3 restaurants to eat gluten-free/gluten-free friendly at in Austin:
1. La Condesa
Thank you Sarah for stopping by ATX Gluten-Free to share your story!
Stay tuned for more Austin gluten-free bloggers, every Wednesday of September.