Got a new co-worker and like any normal person trying to make friends, he started bringing donuts to work. Not just any donuts, but the highly coveted Top Pot Doughnuts many Seattleites munch on to take the edge off Monday mornings.
When I politely refused, he whined, “Everybody’s on a diet.”
“Gluten-sensitive,” I told him, wondering in hindsight if he’d just said I was fat.
“Everybody’s gluten-sensitive now,” he spun like it was trending, a luxury for those with iron stomachs.
“Nope. Less than 10% of Americans are super sensitive to gluten, a substance in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. It beats up the small intestines, creating a melting pot of digestive issues,” I relayed with my best librarian voice because this is my world now so I know these things.
I popped some gum. The sight of the still-in-my-face glazed, old-fashioned and sprinkled donuts was making me salivate and I needed something to chew on.
He shrugged, but lingered, wondering out loud what the specific consequences were of me having a donut. Part of me wanted to mess with him and fib that if a molecule of gluten passed my lips my eyes would swell shut as ugly, red hives spread over my arms. Part of me wanted to ask why he thought he needed to know.
With a sigh, I turned my back on the donuts, and therefore him. Talking about why I don’t eat donuts only makes me want to eat them, so I don’t usually mention my gluten-free status unless someone shoves donuts in my face. Why would I? It’s not as worth the words as something interesting or glamorous as, say, miraculously tracing my lineage back to Cleopatra or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (outrageous examples, not facts folks.)
Newbie co-worker wasn’t the first to link my avoidance of pastries to a diet. After I went gluten-free following some food-allergy testing twelve years ago, I shed twenty pounds without the gluten-loaded grains, and every other woman drilled me for my diet “secret.”
Call it a low-carb “diet” if you want to, but once the pasta, bread, donuts and cookies were nixed, so went the recurring walking-through-quicksand brain-fog, fatigue, upset stomach and a series of digestive events that were neither pleasant nor sexy.
My doctor congratulated me on my willpower, yet after two months of basically eating seafood, white meat, veggies, brown rice and fruit, I wanted to scream. “Yeah, I feel better, but I’ve gone from a size 8 to a size 4 and I’m 5’7” so I look like a walking stick!?
It was scary for me. Having weighed ninety-nine pounds soaking wet before I became a mother, I didn’t want to be a twig again or become a weight-loss role model when all I was trying to do was feel better.
And, I felt deprived.
So, after LOTS of sampling, I finally found a gluten-free brown-rice bread that didn’t taste like it had been made from tree bark, or have the dense heft of a brick. Then came brown-rice cereal and some pasta. No tasty doughnut yet, but with the gluten-free product industry booming, maybe 2014.
While I’m thankful not to have full-blown celiac disease (where symptoms multiply and even trace elements of gluten are more bothersome), it still takes a little planning to eat out and travel. I still sometimes resent people who ravage bread baskets or birthday cake, and the special trips to Whole Foods or PCC Natural Markets to pick up $4-a-loaf gluten-free bread and $3-a-package pasta wear on me. I sometimes resent Living Without period, which is also the name of a great gluten-free lifestyle magazine. Still, the inescapable reality is that Gluten + Me = Hot Mess.
I could also say that a lot of the stuff I can’t have is mostly crap-food anyway—donuts, cookies, cake, pizza—or carb-filled delights eaten on the path to obesity. I could say I’ve upped my health profile, but none of that logic in anyway stops me from wanting donuts. I just want to feel good MORE.
Hopefully next life I can have a donut for breakfast, but for now I’m a gluten-free girl.
- Are you gluten-sensitive or have celiac disease and how has this changed your life?
- What health challenges have you had and how have you adapted (or not?)