Five years ago, if I had heard someone say, “I’m gluten-free,” I would have honestly thought that person had either removed an organ or had overcome some rare form of cancer. I would’ve smiled and unknowingly thought to myself, “Thank God that person was able to get rid of all that gluten in their body.”
That’s exactly how clueless I would’ve been, which makes the fact that I am now that very person going around proclaiming, “I’m gluten-free,” so crazy.
And the even crazier thing is how so many people are the same way now. You literally see it everywhere – from more restaurants providing gluten-free menu options to more grocery stores having a complete section catering to gluten-free diets. It literally came out of nowhere. It’s almost like multiple people simultaneously developed this random sensitivity to a substance they never even knew existed, and then all the cool, trend-setting hipsters decided to hop on the gluten-free bandwagon and make it a “thing”. Gluten-free people are the new vegans.
For those of you who may still be stuck on what the heck gluten even is, this is what my friend Google told me the first time I asked:
“(Gluten is) a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. A mixture of two proteins, it causes illness in people with celiac disease (and other inflammatory diseases).”
I didn’t become gluten-free because I think it’s cool. It’s not cool to me. For me, it’s more of a life or death situation. OK, so maybe not death per se, but consuming gluten certainly won’t prolong my life either.
When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called dermatomyositis three years ago, I had no clue where it came from, why it happened to me, or how I was going to live with it. I was on two different medications that I was determined to not have to take for the rest of my life. So I started paying attention to the things I was eating.
I noticed that every time I would eat pasta or anything with bread, I would feel extremely tired, heavy, sore and itchy. After hitting up my girl Google, I discovered that certain foods containing gluten – your everyday breads, cereals and pasta noodles – elevate inflammation. So after doing a trial run of no gluten, I immediately noticed a huge difference in how I felt. Eventually, I developed this diet into a lifestyle.
A lot of people who know I’m gluten-free are still extremely confused about what I can and can’t eat. Like if someone is with me as I’m eating a beloved platter of tater skins (for which I have a rather unhealthy obsession), they’ll be like, “Don’t those have gluten in them?” No, potatoes don’t have gluten in them. Or if someone is eating a large, delicious-looking chocolate chip cookie, they’ll be like, “You want a piece?” And after I somberly lower my head and shake it no, they reply, “Oh dang, cookies got gluten in them too?” Yes… Yes, they do.
Now I know there is a list of other foods/beverages that are made with gluten, like battered foods (chicken fingers, cheese sticks, etc.), different kinds of condiments and processed foods, vodka, etc. Thankfully I don’t like vodka and an occasional cheese stick dipped in some ranch dressing won’t hurt me. Again, it’s all about how something I eat makes me feel. But even with these few occasional exceptions, I still try to avoid gluten as much as I can.
I’ll share more about how I miraculously manage to survive without gluten (it’s honestly not that hard), but in the mean time, try your best to not to offer me a piece of cake, a bite of your sandwich or a shot of Ciroc – unless it’s gluten-free, of course.