Gluten Intolerance: How I Figured It Out

I had been dealing with low grade feelings of ickiness for years. One symptom built on another, and I thought it was all normal. Part of life. Something I had to deal with.
Not terrible, but not feeling great, either.

But then, I was literally doubled over with abdominal cramps when my boyfriend and I went skiing on New Year's Eve last year. I would ski a couple of feet, then stop because the pain was so bad. I would stand, doubled over, on the side of the slopes while I waited for the pain to pass. I watched everyone else flying down the slopes and wondered how I could possibly be in so much pain.

Later that week, after continuing life as normal, I fixed my coffee as usual. I fixed my normal breakfast – a toasted English muffin with butter. I felt pretty good – no cramps, no indigestion. I sat down and had my breakfast as usual, nibbling on my toast and sipping coffee while I read through the blogs I follow. I went back into the kitchen and put my dishes in the sink. And as I walked out of the kitchen to go brush my teeth, the indigestion hit me. Almost at the same time, I had an epiphany.

I thought, Could it be wheat?

I decided to go on an elimination diet. At first, my plan was to go without wheat for a week, then test it out.  But I felt so good, I didn’t want to test it. Another week went by without wheat – or rye, or barley, which are much easier to cut out. I still felt great. A third week. Awesome. No cramps, no more mental fog, no indigestion, and for the first time in almost three years, I was losing weight instead of gaining it. Something was definitely working.

I did have a few hiccups along the way. Regular soy sauce (which contains wheat) gave me indigestion. I made stew with just a tablespoon or two of Worcestershire sauce, and immediately felt so awful that I had to throw the whole stew out. But on the whole, I felt much better than I had in a long time.

Finally, I made myself eat something with wheat in it. My boss invited me to his house for cocktail hour with his wife and some coworkers. I figured this would be my chance. I had a plate of breaded chicken wings.

An hour or so later, the heartburn came back full force.  More than full force.  For three weeks, I hadn’t experienced any heartburn or indigestion at all, so having it again felt worse than it had before. My stomach cramps were so bad that I struggled to keep my composure while I talked to my boyfriend on the phone that evening. And at three in the morning, I woke up with the worst abdominal cramps I’d had in years. I raced to the bathroom, thinking I was going to throw up. I didn’t throw up, but the diarrhea kept me racing back and forth to the bathroom all night long. 
Gluten free, and feeling awesome!

My conclusion: gluten intolerance.

Now, here's where it gets tricky. If you're not eating gluten free, and think you may have celiac's disease or gluten intolerance, you should see a doctor first. Ask for the blood tests and endoscopy before you go gluten free. I didn't, and now I would have to eat wheat for five whole weeks to get a solid diagnosis of celiac's disease. For now, I've chosen not to go that route, but still live like a celiac - no more wheat, rye, or barley, ever. 

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