This week when I made chicken soup for my 95-year-old cousin (isn’t she cute!),
I cut the chicken up into bite size pieces. It was really more like chicken stew – thick and full of carrots, celery, potatoes, black eyed peas, and rice. Until I cut up the boneless, skinless chicken thighs I included, it was impossible to take a bite that contained vegetables, broth, AND chicken. In fact, the full size chicken thighs were an obstacle that made it difficult to even get s spoon down to the vegetables and broth. Breaking that obstacle up into small pieces resulted in a uniform consistency and full flavor in each and every bite!
When I started the soup, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what it would look like when I was done. I just knew I didn’t want to have to clean another cutting board right then, so I didn’t bother to cut up the chicken before it was cooked. Once I was ready to eat the first bowl, I felt frustrated by the large pieces of meat I had to deal with. Obviously, that was low level frustration. It was only soup and I knew exactly how to fix the problem in a matter of minutes.
But let’s say it hadn’t been soup. What if I were feeling frustrated by the idea that committing to a gluten-free diet means I’ll never have my favorite rolls again AND I’ll have to read labels or ask questions before ordering food. I won’t be able to drink my favorite beer. I may have to eat before parties or carry food with me. I’ll have to figure out a system for keeping my food separate from the rest of the family’s. I’ll have to explain to my grandmother why I can’t eat her scrumptious strudel. It will be harder to eat fast food for dinner or doughnuts at the office. It just seems like way too much trouble.
Most of the gluten-free community has walked down that road at one time or another. I managed to get my mind around the obstacles, make the commitment, and stick to the diet only to find myself a couple of years later on a business trip, really hungry and standing in the cracker aisle of a grocery store…pouting. Seriously, I was pouting like a small child. I eventually grabbed a banana and some nuts and was fine, but I had that moment of, “Do I really have to do this?” Of course, by the time I was pouting, I also knew how much better I feel when I’m gluten-free so I wasn’t really tempted to cheat.
If you suffer from any of the following symptoms, you could have gluten-intolerance or celiac disease and, after testing, your doctor may recommend a gluten-free diet. If the idea of making such a significant change feels overwhelming to you, perhaps you can take the chicken soup approach – figure out your biggest obstacle and break it down into easily digestible pieces then proceed with a plan. As you have success, it will build upon itself and the process will become easier and the routine more uniform.
Vague abdominal pain
Malabsorption (Abnormality in digestion or absorption of food nutrients in the GI tract.)
Steatorrhea (Formation of non-solid feces.)
Fatigue or malaise
Dermatitis Herpetiformis (Skin manifestation of celiac disease.)
Alopecia (Baldness – both universalis (from the entire skin) and areata (diffuse hair loss))
Aphthous ulcers (canker sores)
Abdominal or generalized swelling
Epistaxis (nose bleeds)
Cheilosis (Scaling at the corners of the mouth.)
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (Chronic dry eye.)
Stomatitis (Inflammation of the mucous tissue of the mouth.)
Scaly dermatitis (Inflammation of the skin.)
Non-specific bone pain
Osteopenia (Low bone mineral density. Possible precursor to osteoperosis.)
Tetany (A combination of signs and symptoms due to unusually low calcium levels.)
Hyperreflexia (Overactive neurological reflexes.)
Carpopedal spasm (Spasms of the hands and feet.)
Laryngospasm (Spasm of the larynx, the voice box.)
Ataxia (coordination problems)
Myelopathy (Damage to white matter that carries motor signals to and from the brain.)
Peripheral neuropathy (Numbness and pain in hands and feet described as tingling or burning.)
Anorexia (poor appetite)
Dyspepsia (Recurrent discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen.)
Foul-smelling or grayish stools that may be fatty or oily
Hepatic disease (liver disease)
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
Steatorrhea (Formation of non-solid feces.)
Bowel is less able to absorb nutrients, minerals, and the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K.
Anemia (Lack of healthy red blood cells.)
Bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine
Failure to thrive (Poor weight gain and physical growth failure over an extended period of time in infancy.)
Hyposplenism (small and under active spleen)
Hyperparathyroidism (Excessive production of parathyroid hormone because of low calcium levels.)
Iron deficiency anemia
Vitamin K deficiency
IgA deficiency (Means you’re 10 times more likely to develop celiac disease, AND gives a false negative on screening.)
Increased risk of infections
Diabetes mellitus type 1
Primary biliary cirrhosis
When you consider the time and energy you lose to pain, fatigue, doctor’s visits, and managing symptoms, it will soon become clear that removing those obstacles will result in plenty of time and energy to pursue lifestyle changes. And unlike using pharmaceuticals, removing gluten from your diet has no deleterious side effects or long-term health dangers. You can eat a healthy, balanced diet without the artificially fortified grain-based products that predominate our grocery stores and television ads.
If you feel you just can’t give up fast food, don’t. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to eat all of your favorites, but a quick review of the nutrition facts on convenient fast food restaurants’ websites will give you options that you can rely on when you’re pressed for time or want to join your kids in an occasional outing.
If you travel to rural areas for business, throw a Kind bar in your bag so you feel confident that you won’t get too hungry while searching for a local steak and potato restaurant. I sometimes carry a cooler bag with a couple of peeled & salted boiled eggs and some baby carrots along with a banana. That’s enough for a meal if I run out of restaurant options. And never assume that you won’t be able to find anything in a convenience store. I recently saw Glutino pretzels and gluten-free fruit snacks at the gas station in a small town.
While I failed to do this when making soup this week, the process is always easier when you visualize what things will look like in the end, so imagine what it will look like when you no longer feel sick, tired, and grumpy. Holding that vision in your head helps you break overwhelming ideas down into tiny, bite size momentary decisions that aren’t hard to make. And really, that’s all it takes.
I remain gluten-free with lots of very simple decisions every day: ordering grilled chicken rather than fried, no croutons on my salad, no gravy on my potatoes, befriending a waiter who will help me communicate with the kitchen, reading the labels on packaged food, hosting meetings at my house, and saying no when I need to say no. And I don’t think I’ve felt like pouting in the past 9 years!
It’s natural to feel some fear and temporary depression when making significant change. The good news is that these feelings soon dissipate just like the sore muscles you get when you start lifting weights and no matter how you feel right now, improvement will result from the small, gradual, and consistent positive steps you make over time. Perhaps we should call it a Gluten-Free Practice.