Thursday, August 15, 2013

5 Things I've Learned in 3 Years

As some of you may know, August is my "anniversary" month of being gluten-free. This August it has been 3 years. Being gluten-free is such a big part of my life, and a normality now, that I hardly think to reflect on how much has changed. For 18 years of my life, I was constantly sick and trying to figure out what it could be. Celiac disease hasn't been around that long, or at least not the word. Plenty of people have been misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for years now. After constantly being told its just this, or just that, or even nothing at all, I gave up knowing for a while.

Finally, in 2010, my body gave up. I was in Charlottesville for a writing camp and I was eating cafeteria food for every single meal for 3 weeks (i.e. highly processed food). In my 18 years of being sick, not a single person ever suggested to me that I was Celiac. I myself didn't even think that could be it. But while in Virginia, I ended up going to the emergency room. My stomach pain got so bad that the doctors were ready to remove my appendicitis, thinking it was inflamed. I was so scared being away from my parents and about to get this big procedure with out them. I finally said to my doctor that I've had stomach problems since I was a baby, and that I basically can't even digest my food. I was amazed at what my doctor said next: "Have you ever been tested for Celiac disease?"

I replied: "No", thinking about my friends at UVa who were gluten intolerant. My doctor told me to think about it and I went back to camp. I returned home to recover, which took a few weeks, and then I gathered my courage and decided: "Why not? I might as well try." So I stopped eating all wheat, gluten, and dairy products. It's crazy to think this was only three years ago, because I haven't looked back since. My body did a complete 360. I looked different, felt different, I just couldn't believe it. It's like searching for an answer for so long that you try to give up, and suddenly, it just falls in your lap. I can honestly say it was worth being in the ER even if it was just to find out what was wrong. In these three years, I have learned so much about my body, food, and how important your stomach is to your overall well-being. I am sharing them here for anyone who is interested (note: these are just my personal opinions). 

1. Processed foods may be convenient, but they are not worth it.
In my first few months of being gluten-free, I clung to GF products they sold at health food stores. I wasn't cooking much because I still lived with my parents, so I was constantly eating processed GF products. After an incredibly intense episode after eating a frozen GF dinner, I realized that processed foods were just as harsh on my stomach as gluten or dairy. Processed/convenience products are almost always more expensive than cooking yourself too. So after this realization, I started to cook more and my stomach was much happier (and my wallet, too). 

2. Water is a vital component to digestion.
This was something I learned quite recently actually. I am really bad about drinking water. Which is stupid because I am pretty healthy otherwise, right? I have been feeling like crap for the past few months when I realized, oh yeah, I never drink water. I'm an idiot. We all make mistakes, however, and I am now drinking at least 80 oz a day, if not more. I feel so much better and my stomach is very pleased. Water is incredibly important for digestion and your body overall. 

3. Healing takes time.
Even though it has been 3 years since I've eaten wheat, my stomach is still healing. After an intestinal biopsy in 2010, my intestines looked better but still slightly damaged. Avoiding wheat didn't heal my intestines immediately, and they are still healing now. I do have episodes every now and then, but they are 1-2 a year instead of 1-2 a week, which is an incredible difference. I have to remind myself that my body is still catching up to the changes I've made. I cut meat completely out of my diet (except eggs and fish) about a year ago, and my body is still (happily) adjusting to it. Listening to your body is the best way to know what you should and shouldn't do.

4. Cooking is worth your time, effort, and money.
Eating out when I first went GF was nothing short of a nightmare. People (sometimes) don't care or understand gluten intolerance. This is not true of all restaurants, but I have been sick many times just from a careless restaurant. I am now trying to avoid eating out at all costs, unless it is an emergency and I'm 100% certain I won't be sick. What's the best way to avoid someone contaminating your food? Don't eat out. I promise you will be happier. It will save you money and you are guaranteed a safe, delicious meal at home. People ask me all the time how I even have time to cook all of my meals. It's not about having time, but I make time. I plan everything a week in advance and cook/shop accordingly. I am so happy cooking in my kitchen every day, and I am saving a lot of money by doing so. My friends like it when I cook for them too :)

5. A happy stomach is a happy body. 
What I didn't realize 3 years ago, or know, is that my damaged stomach was wreaking havoc on my entire body. I didn't even think that was possible, but it is. I have done quite a bit of reading on Celiac disease and the facts are there. It can affect your brain, your joints, your stomach, your immune system, etc. I had things that were unexplained in all of these areas. When I went GF, my stomach didn't just get better, but my whole body changed. I wasn't anxious, I wasn't constantly catching colds, or having creaky knees. And the fact that I wasn't constantly missing out on my life because I was sick made me happier. I never thought I would be doing the things I am today because being how I was, was so debilitating. I am happier and more confident than I ever have been. I look forward to many more years of eating happily and healthily! 

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