Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy (NCBI). It is an autoimmune disorder whereby your body sees gluten and wheat products as poison. The villi, small hair like projections in the intestines, lie flat and don’t function normally to absorb nutrients as they are suppose to. This causes the body to go into a form of starvation, no matter how much food you eat. Sometimes the disease is triggered by events such as surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, a viral infection, or severe stress. In my case, I believe I have been fighting a mild case of celiac disease all of my life, but it became severe when my last pregnancy ended up in an emergency c-section.
In May 2012, after suffering for months with intense stomach pain, uncharacteristic vomiting and loose bowel movements, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. This diagnosis was s discovered through an endoscope procedure where samples of the villi in my intestine were biopsied. When I first found I had celiac disease, I was ecstatic! After feeling ill for so long, I was happy to finally have a diagnosis. Once the joy of finding out I wasn’t going crazy wore off, I realized the drastic life style changes that I had to under go.
3 Steps to going Gluten Free:
STEP 1: Remove wheat from your diet
WHEAT is EVERYWHERE!! I thought this would be a simple procedure, just stop eating bread, buns, cakes and muffins right? WRONG! Its every where! Wheat is often used as a thickening agent, its hidden in yogurts, its used on prepared cooked meats, cold cuts, breakfast drinks, coffee substitutes, beer etc. You really have to be aware what you put in your mouth. I use to be one of the mom’s who cleaned up after their children by eating their leftovers. If they didn’t want the last bite of their granola bar, I’d pop it in my mouth. This was the biggest challenge to overcome. Luckily, my children are very sensitive to my gluten allergy and they often remind me or question me when I am just about to eat something that might contain gluten.
STEP 2: Avoid Cross Contamination
When I first read this I thought it was a joke. How can 1 little bread crumb cause the vast complexity of my digestion system to completely cease to function? After a couple of weeks of being gluten free but not cross contamination free, I was still showing symptoms (mostly abdominal pain and bloating) and couldn’t understand why. I had a meeting schedule with a dietician who reinforced my worst fear; I react to simple cross contamination. This means I suffer from all the standard celiac symptoms via one single bread crumb. This has been an interesting change in my household. I have my own toaster, my own butter, I NEVER use a pasta spoon in my gluten free pasta bowl, etc. Its challenging and I’m not going to lie that I occasionally forget, but my stomach will tell me within minutes when I have made a mistake
STEP 3: Read all labels before you eat
Since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I spend a lot of time reading labels. Its amazing what you can find on them! Not only does it allow me to avoid gluten, but it allows me to choose foods wisely. Reading the labels provide a snapshot about the amount of one specific nutrient in a food as well as hidden ingredients, you wouldn’t expect. Last year, I was given an amazing birthday present! On August 4, 2012, Canada’s new food allergen labeling regulations came into effect. Prior to this date, prepackaged food required labeling, however, ingredients such as components of margarine, seasoning and flour, where exempt from declaration. Now, all prepackaged food must specify all priority allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites in every piece of prepackaged foods sold in Canada (Health Canada). With this new regulation, it is easier to identify hidden allergy sources. I find this most convenient when I go to restaurants. Many restaurants, such as Kelsey’s and Montana, provide allergen menus, which breaks down all the potential allergen and show whether or not they are contained in a particular entree, appetizer or dessert. Although options are still limited and cross contamination is not taken into account, its nice to know what you are eating.
I am 8 months in to learning to live a gluten free lifestyle. Although I am challenged on a daily basis with temptations from the ‘dark side (aka gluten!)’, I try to remain gluten free or suffer the consequences. This may not be a serious allergy, like a peanut allergy where you could die from anaphylactic shock, but the severity of the symptoms that I experience when eating gluten causes me to take this very serious.