What is your reaction to the picture attached to this article? I can smell the fresh boule coming out of the oven, begging to be slathered with butter. I can feel its flaky crust and soft center as I begin to tear off a piece. The heat burns my fingers and I have to drop the boule for a moment before picking it up to continue ripping my portion away from the whole. I pick up a knife, cool in my hand, and spread a little butter on the steaming morsel of heaven. I take a small bite, careful not to burn my tongue, and let perfection incarnate roll around on my taste buds, enjoying the pleasure derived from such a simple act. I pick up my glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, inhale the aroma emanating from the glass, and take a single sip. One sip and my mouth further realizes the beauty of the flavors on my tongue.
That is what I experience when I think of bread. Needless to say, it was a rough journey to accepting I had a gluten intolerance. I’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship with gluten for the past 10 years. I first went gluten-free in an attempt to clear up the blemishes on my face, and although this did not help my skin at all, I lost a bunch of weight. So I thought, maybe I’ll keep this up.
I was mostly gluten-free for a few years, until I met my husband. His family would make the most amazing gluten-filled-goodies, such as pirozhki (which is basically fried dough with a variety of centers: peas, meat, potato, or even sweets like apple and cherry), and they made homemade cakes every time there was a birthday.
With 60 million relatives, we were feasting all of the time, and my gluten-free lifestyle pretty much disappeared. I was tired of having all of these dietary restrictions, and I just wanted to feel normal. Gluten-free had also become a fad by then, and I figured we’d find out in 10 years that this was all a bunch of nonsense anyway. So I enjoyed my cakes and chebureki (another glorious Russian invention of meat and fried dough).
A couple of years go by, and I’ve put on a significant amount of weight. I figured this is just a result of graduate school, work, marriage, and other life stressors. And I mean, who doesn’t gain weight in grad school, right? The problem was that I couldn’t lose the weight, even once my life calmed down. And then I became pregnant with the twins. Surprise!
My weight remained stable throughout my pregnancy; however, after I delivered, my weight jumped up again, and I developed chronic hives, accompanied by really horrible digestive issues. Don’t worry, I’ll just leave the details up to your imagination; no need to immortalize them with the written (online) word.
I went to a bunch of specialists who thought I might have an autoimmune disorder, and one told me that reducing or eliminating gluten and/or dairy can help alleviate autoimmune symptoms. What could it hurt to just give it a try?
ONE DAY of being gluten-free, and all of my symptoms went away. Wow. Could it really be that simple? For me it was, but I resisted it. I didn’t really take it seriously and just kind of reduced, instead of eliminated gluten.
During my second pregnancy, my gluten-intolerance intensified, and I had to be very strict about my diet. I was gaining weight really quickly, and this put me at risk for gestational diabetes and other pregnancy related complications. My stomach was also just a mess, and I never felt well. Once I committed to being gluten-free for the rest of my pregnancy, I stopped gaining weight, and I didn’t have digestive pain anymore.
This was not easy. I am horribly sick during my pregnancies, and the smell of many gluten-free foods made my nausea worse. And I find I am even more ravenous without gluten in my diet. Couple this with pregnancy and toddler twins, and I was just hangry all the time.
Despite all of the obstacles, maintaining a mostly gluten-free lifestyle has alleviated my digestive issues, chronic headaches, and persistent weight gain. I’m fitting into dresses I really missed wearing, and my wedding rings fit for the first time in two years. But most importantly, I feel balanced. My body feels good, and that is usually more important to me than the taste of hot, squishy, flaky bread.
The hardest part is missing out on some of my favorite foods. So I try to have a few bites of gluten yumminess here and there to not feel deprived. And on my rough days, I just remind myself that wine and chocolate are always gluten-free!