my story

Ever have something you want to share with the world, but you realize that when you do, you're going to come off looking kind of stupid? That's how I feel about my journey to a 100% gluten-free lifestyle.

di·ag·no·sis [dahy-uh g-noh-sis]
Unlike most celiacs, I was diagnosed as a newborn, way back in '83--you know, when all gluten-free products tasted like cardboard and had the consistency of old, crumbling sponges? From birth to first grade, my mom went to considerable lengths to keep me healthy, especially since I was simultaneously diagnosed with severe lactose intolerance. I was gluten-free and healthy, but I had no idea what that meant.

de·ni·al [dih-nahy-uh l]
Unfortunately, times changed. When I started school, the options of my school cafeteria were limited, and my mother wasn't sure how to teach me what to eat and what to avoid. As a result, I ate more and more gluten, and eventually, stopped the gluten-free lifestyle entirely. I mistakenly thought I had "grown out of it," since eating gluten didn't lead to the same noticeable side-effects caused by my lactose intolerance and my often willful consumption of all things dairy. Sadly, I had no idea that celiac disease was just that--a disease--not an allergy, not a phase, not something I could ever "grow out of," so I ate what I wanted--wheat and dairy included--and I ignored any symptoms that this might be a problem.

re·dis·cov·er·y [ree-dih-skuhv-uh-ree]
Fast forward roughly a decade to the spring I turned twenty, when my father became seriously ill. As I tried to take care of him, work part-time, and attend school full-time, more and more stress piled on my shoulders. As the stress piled on, so did the symptoms. Fatigue. Cramps. Diarrhea. Flatulence. Weight loss. I went off dairy--no change. I took Beano by the handful at every meal--no change. I stopped eating gluten most of the time--no change. I have never been so sick in my life, and I had no idea how to get better. Finally, I had to accept that it was time for a change, starting with my ignorance about celiac disease.

To (re)start my gluten-free journey, I turned to a friend. Julia had also been diagnosed with celiac disease in her youth, but not as early as I was, and not until after many tests and several hospital stays. She was able to teach me about the affects of celiac disease--both the noticed and the unnoticed ones--and its true nature. Consuming gluten when you have celiac disease always damages your body--whether you know it or not. Consuming gluten "once in a while" is as destructive as consuming it every day. And, most importantly, being diagnosed with celiac disease is a lifelong sentence--a genetic disorder, not something you "grow out of." If I wanted to be healthy, I needed to make a 100% commitment to a true gluten-free diet.

rev·o·lu·tion [rev-uh-loo-shuh n]
Once I understood the disease--and, consequently, my own body-- a little better, I took her advice, and I started making changes. BIG changes. It didn't happen all at once--it actually took a few months, in fact--years, for some items. Slowly, however, I cut all gluten out of my diet. The last thing to go was my church's sacrament bread. Here, again, I turned to Julia. Years after we first met, we wound up back in the same ward (i.e. religious congregation). Together, we approached our bishop and asked him to provide gluten-free crackers in place of the traditional wheat bread, just for Julia and I.

The first time I partook of a gluten-free sacrament, I finally knew what I had been doing to my body for over a decade. It was a watershed moment. Previously, church meetings could often feel like torture. I would arrive feeling upbeat, energetic, and focused. However, within thirty minutes of the sacrament being passed, I was exhausted, distracted, and sometimes even in pain. I had always thought this change was caused by boredom or skipping breakfast. In reality, it was one tiny, bite-sized portion of bread. My eyes were open, and I have been spent the years following that experience fully committed to a 100% gluten-free diet. Physically speaking, nothing has brought a more positive change to my health. Mentally speaking, the best gift I can give to newly-diagnosed celiacs--and they often seem to find a way to me--is the strength and reassurance to make the same commitment.

wis·dom [wiz-duh m]
My gluten-free motto? Not even once.

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