Welcome to the first post of this gluten-free, vegetarian blog and thank you for stopping by!
This post is on the subject of being diagnosed and letting go off gluten. When I was first told that I may have celiac disease and would no longer be able to eat gluten, I thought the doctor was speaking of glutamate, that powder you find in all processed foods and which supposedly a majority of Chinese and Thai restaurants put into their dishes to make them tastier and which you are not supposed to eat a lot of, because it for one makes all other dishes seem dull in comparison and because it is also unhealthy.
When the doctor mentioned wheat, spelt and rye as being on the list of foods to avoid, I began to wonder whether all these were contained in glutamate. I walked home through the wintery spring and pondered no longer being able to eat bread and noodles. I was thankful that I never liked these foods anyway, usually preferring rice, potatoes, corn and quinoa. I did pity the people who had to eat the funny, yelloow noodles which were not made out of wheat. I mean why would you do that, no? Little did I know that gluten is not only contained in baked goods and noodles, but in all sorts of unlikely places such as ice tea, yoghurt, soy sauce and in the majority of meat substitutes, for example Quorn Bratwurst. But I would not find out about my diagnosis until a few weeks later.
See, the diagnosis for celiac disease usually rests on two pillars: antibodies and a biopsy, usually taken during a gastroscopy. I had been a regular visitor of my General practitioner’s office since the beginning of the year, in the attempt to find a reason for what had been ailing me. My General practitioner is also a vegetarian and when my iron levels came back very low and I told her that they had been so for years, she suggested that we take a look at my intestines to determine whether a part of them was bleeding, because a vegetarian diet and low iron-levels do not have to go hand in hand. I mean I was eating a lot of lentils, beans and other foods with relatively high iron levels. It seemed inexplicable to me that I should be doing such a terrible job at eating healthy. Frightened at the prospect of long mechanical arms and a camera being shoved both up my anus and down my throat, I suggested a stool test. She said, we could try, but that it was not very reliable. So, after postponing the task for a couple of weeks and speaking to friends who had already been through the experience, I finally made an appointment. I then moaned to my husband, who took the day off the accompany me, about nothing other than being scared and how about simply not going?
The day of my coloscopy/gastroscopy arrived and I was very unhappy. I was also a bit excited and even considered asking the doctor for a vide of my intestines. I mean, you never get to see that side of you, right? I didn’t dare do this (for fear the doctor might think that I was pulling her leg and not taking her profession seriously – it’s the last thing you want to do someone who is about to stick things into your body and prod around your intestines while you lie unconscious) and have almost no recollection of the event other than changing into blue hospital pants, with a hole in the back, lying down on a table, the nurse placing a cannula into my vein and injecting something into it upon which I thought they had turned off the light in the room. The doctor put another injection into the cannula and told me to go to a happy place and I awoke after everything was over to the noise of a heart monitor. I wonkily got dressed, wobbled toward my husband and happily said “I’ll gladly do this again anytime”.
A few weeks later the results arrived, saying a part of my duodenum looked like it would for someone who has untreated celiac disease. My general practitioner suggested testing for antibodies the next time we take blood anyway, but I insisted we do it right away (even though I had no idea what the implications were), so we did. The bloodwork confirmed what the gastroenterologist had suspected. It also gave an explanation for a lot of things that had been going on with me for a while, including the ridiculous low iron levels and insatiable need to sleep and rest as well as my inability to do much more with my life other than go work.
I had to let go off gluten, but how could I do it?
The more I read about my new gluten-free life, for example that eating a food I truly cherished – oats – were also forbidden, the more I felt the floor beneath my feet being tugged away. Little by little, dish by dish, product by product, cereal isle, pastry bakery and restaurant at a time, my former vegetarian life suddenly seemed stripped of content and eerily empty. I felt exasperated, anxious and lost all at the same time, but not for a split second did I consider giving up my vegetarian and sometimes vegan life-style in exchange for a larger variety and the option of being able to eat a piece of meat and a baked potato practically anywhere. But also, while I continued to research and learn about my new gluten-free life, unfamiliar items and brightly-coloured landscapes began to fill the void created not so long ago and a feeling of giddiness and adventure wrapped itself around me.
I could do this! Yes, I totally could. It would not be easy at first, but it would be do-able and successfully so.
I began by taking out every single item in my kitchen drawers and fridge and separated into three piles: what could stay, that which would have to leave and items that I was unsure about and would have to research. I packed several bags with the gluten-containing products and gave them to friends. After wiping all drawers thoroughly, I placed what was remaining of my pre-diagnosis supplies back into the drawers. It was not much and I enjoyed the tidiness.
I examined all my kitchen tools and threw out whatever was contaminated with gluten (e.g. wooden spoons, muffin tins) and was incredibly greatful for not having bought that noodle machine on my last vacation in Italy.
For breakfast the next day I ate my first gluten-free toastie and thought it was delicious. Due to business in my life at the time, I went for one last gluten-containing meal for lunch: a small mushroom pizza at Domino’s. They’d opened franchises here a while ago and since I always enjoyed them while living in countries where they had franchises as well, I had been craving one of their pizzas for a while. With a colleague, whose niece is also celiac and who was thus incredibly helpful in preventing a mental breakdown during the first days after the diagnosis, I ate my last gluten-containing meal while sitting in the warmish sun in the park across the street. The pizza was a bit dry, and not very good and my rumbling stomach helped me understand very well why I would have to quit eating gluten sooner than later. I really paid for that last glutenous pizza.
After lunch, I folded the empty pizza box into the trash can in our office’s kitchen, whispered “goodbye, gluten, goodbye!”, closed the door behind me on my way out and left my gluten-filled life behind.