It’s Celiac Awareness Month! Did you know that? Up until a few months ago, I did not. In fact, I didn’t know much about celiac disease other than my grandpa had it and my mom grew up eating rice cakes with peanut butter and banana and still eats them to this day. I actually made fun of the gluten free lifestyle. Okay, so I still do that. People who have cut out gluten because they heard it was “bad for you” or that it causes about 1,000 symptoms in your body are nutty. I mean, if you have a normal gut and a normal autoimmune system, there is nothing wrong with gluten and overpaying for a loaf of bread is silly.
However, for the 1 in 100 people worldwide who are diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten is a very big deal. Celiac disease is not a food allergy. Yes, consuming gluten can cause adverse reactions in your body that will send you straight to the potty (sorry, could not resist that rhyme) but it also does so much more and I can end up sick for weeks just because I ate a bite of something with gluten in it. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which means when I eat something with gluten in it, my body’s immune system starts attacking itself, more specifically the villi in my small intestine. Unregulated celiac disease can lead to poor nutrient absorption, Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers. (source) And unfortunately for me, the later you are in life at diagnosis, the more likely you are to develop additional autoimmune disorders.
But there is a good note! I have started living a strict gluten free diet and over time, my small intestine should start to heal itself. But that will probably take years, my doctor said around 2-5 before the inflammation of a lifetime of gluten goes away and even then, the damage could be permanent, we won’t know for sure until many years down the road. The gluten free diet is difficult to follow if I leave my house. Gluten is a sneaky bitch who hides in things you would not think about. It is not just in bread and baked goods. It’s in Werther’s Original, it’s in soy sauce, it’s in french onion dip, it’s in the seasoning for the meat at Taco Bell. Eating out is now a hassle, I have to research the menu for things to eat before we even decide on a restaurant. I can’t sneak french fries from my kid’s Happy Meals because the oil they fry their fries in has gluten in it. WHY MCDONALD’S WHY??
The gluten free diet that I loved to mock has done one thing though, it has brought gluten free products to the mainstream. I can find a lot of gluten free products at the commissary so making a trip downtown to Whole Foods (which is a hassle and Whole Foods always smell weird to me) isn’t necessary. I can still eat rice, my favorite food, because it’s naturally gluten free. But I can’t eat desserts anymore without planning ahead and making them myself. There are no gluten free bakeries in Oahu so that kind of sucks but hey, it’s better than getting cancer!
Living a gluten free lifestyle is a definitely a different one from the life I imagined it would be but I am making it work. Thankfully, a lot of companies are making moves to create products that everyone can enjoy and restaurants are even providing more than just a salad as their “gluten free options.” If you know someone who has celiac disease and seems slightly “difficult” when at a restaurant or even at your house, please be understanding. I am not just some hipster who is trying to make your life harder, I just want to eat a meal with you and not get sick from it later.