My Story as a Gluten-Free Foodie

I am amazed at all the gluten-free options that suddenly exist out there in the once cruelly wheat-excessive world! I discovered that I was intolerant to gluten back in 2001, when most people had never even heard of the word. I was given skeptical glances by more than one friend, relative and even doctor, when I told them of the problems that I had associated with digesting wheat. Making this discovery, however, began a new journey toward health and recovery for me, as I had experienced digestive problems and disorders for as long as I remember. I once had a colonoscopy at the ripe old age of 20, and the doctor interpreted the results of negative findings to my father, saying (in so many words) that it was all in my head. Fast forward eight years, to a lovely Easter brunch of eggs Benedict, strawberries, coffee cake and piping hot coffee… and a gnawing, burning pain that I assumed was just bad gas turn into an emergency appendectomy. Before and in between these two incidents, I had chronic digestive issues that were diagnosed on several occasions by different doctors as “irritable bowel syndrome”. Well, duh! I could have told anyone that! But what was making it so irritable? I experimented with my diet, removing specific ingredients for a couple of weeks to see if it relieved the symptoms, and then adding them back in when it didn’t change anything. Meanwhile, the internet started to become a greater resource for anything and everything that you ever wanted to know about, and finally, I found the source of my problem. The first doctor that I explained this to told me I was crazy! She told me I didn’t have a gluten problem but that if I wanted an antibiotic for my symptoms, she would be happy to write a prescription for me! Falling victim to the power that doctors seem to exude over their patients, I walked away believing her, crestfallen at the news that I still hadn’t figured out my problem, but a little excited that maybe I wouldn’t have to take gluten out of my diet after all. I told my (future) husband that we should celebrate with beer and pizza at our favorite Italian restaurant. Oooh pizza! I had hadn’t any in soooo long! And then wham, bam! It hit me again. I couldn’t digest the meal, I was sick for a couple of weeks… and I confirmed that gluten was the problem. To this day, I have never been diagnosed 100%. This is because in order to determine if there are gluten antibodies in your system, you need to be eating gluten – a lot – for some time. I have been gluten-free for years before I learned of this test and had health insurance to pay for it. But I have finally gotten to a healthy point in my life, and in no way want to eat gluten again just for a piece of paper that confirms my condition to me or to certain friends, relatives or doctors. The cilia that are damaged in the digestive track can take from 3 to 6 months to repair themselves after being exposed to gluten. I don’t need to feel sick for that long again – ever! While taking gluten out of my diet has significantly increased my health overall, it obviously has presented challenges when trying to figure out what to eat. Back in the days when airlines still gave you in-flight meals free of charge, I actually got to ask for a gluten-free option. I received a dry rice cake (the kind that people used to diet with in the 80′s), an apple, and a banana. Gluten free, it was! But taste…? Of course, who am I to expect anything tasty on an airplane anyway. I was actually impressed that they gave it a shot, but it was then that I realized that no one really knew what gluten was. Luckily, I enjoy cooking and have spent the last decade developing tasty gluten-free recipes that I can cook without effort. After a number of years, I did find a decent alternative to durum wheat pasta, so that I could once again enjoy ‘spaghetti’ night at home. But eating out at restaurants was difficult and I usually opted for just a salad. Also, seeing all the other yummy meals on the menu, which I couldn’t eat, was just a big tease. So eating out was not as wonderful an experience for me as it had once been. Now here we are in present day and suddenly, everywhere I go I see gluten-free products abounding in regular grocery stores, I see gluten-free bakeries popping up all over the country, and every other person I meet knows someone who has a problem with gluten. Even more amazing, I can walk into many a restaurant now and find either specific gluten-free items on the menu, or at the very least the chef and my server are often sensitive to gluten intolerant diets and will be happy to help me determine what things on the menu will be safe for me to eat. This is an exciting time for me, as I am a foodie at heart and have lamented the loss of delectable wheat-free choices, until now. This is why I started a blog called Gluten-Free Foodie. I wish to share my adventure with tasty, healthy and yet still gluten-free foods as I begin to explore all the new options out there. I want to guide other gluten-free-ers to local restaurants that provide gluten-free selections, as well as review gluten-free products and share gluten-free recipe ideas. Of course there are still some things that I sorely miss: New York-style pizza – greasy, drippy, cheesy – yum!; buttery, flakey croissants; and extra hoppy micro-brews, are all at the top of the list. In the meantime, we’ve come a long way from the dry rice cake on my in-flight meal. Things can only get better from here. (I posted this story on my blog a couple of weeks ago before I knew you were having this contest. You can see it published at http://gluten-free-foodie.net/my-story) Thanks for listening to my story!

Name: Heather J.
City: Houston
State: TX

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