I love gluten but it doesn’t love me

Content warning:

  • TMI
  • Kinda gross Very gross

When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad in Spain. It was awesome. And also very lucky and privileged. I will forever be grateful for this time of learning a new language, about another culture and basically doing nothing but have fun for almost five months. Seriously, I am one very fortunate (read: privileged, white) lady.

When I returned from my magical semester, I noticed tummy troubles. Well I returned to the US in late May and the summer I was still pretty good. I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and not only did my metabolism magically deplete calories so I was perpetually thin, I also was able to eat and digest pretty much anything. Then September rolled around. It was the first semester of my senior year and I suddenly started having an often upset stomach. I noticed I would get uncomfortably full during a meal and may need to leave to take a dump mid-meal. I also would no longer want what I was eating but would still be hungry. My ummmm… bowel movements also became less regular. And I started gaining weight – a new phenomenon for me. And my hair got frizzy and curly – which was probably unrelated but for the first time in my life, I was unhappy with my physical appearance… I know, poor me…

I talked with one of my BFFs who had been in Spain with me and she was having the same troubles. So had something changed for us while in Spain? Did we drink our GI/kidney/livers into total dysfunction? Were we both just hitting that point in our lives when our bodies could no longer process food the way it once had? Or was it something totally different for each of us and just a coincidence that the two college girls just returned from Spain were suddenly having stomach issues? I know for me, I was pretty overwhelmed by the prospect of graduating from college. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do. I wanted to get a graduate degree but I wasn’t sure in what. So I was going to take my bachelor’s degree in a foreign language and do… I didn’t know. The uncertainty kept me up at night. Where would I live? Who would I live with? What would I do? Would I be stuck at home with my parents FOREVER?! So stress, for me, could have been a contributing factor.

Over time, it got worse. While I figured out my post-grad plans, moved to a city to live with friends, got a steady job and lost a lot of weight (which years later, I gained back but that’s another story), my stomach issues got worse. Of course, my stress also increased. I worked in human services, and eventually got a master’s degree and then began a long stint in the Domestic Violence field. I sometimes felt isolated and unsafe. Things got better over time in terms of my well-being. But it was a stressful decade. So for a long time, I assumed the source of my GI issues was stress and maybe I’d developed IBS. I tried to take better care of myself but nothing changed.

Eventually one of my friends told me he’d stopped eating wheat and felt so much better. I looked into it more and noticed that many Celiac/gluten-sensitive symptoms were the same ones I was experiencing. Granted many of these symptoms are similar to IBS with a few exceptions – like Celiac causes brain fog and floating stools, symptoms I unfortunately had (yup, I told you this post is gross! and it’s only going to get grosser). So I figured what the heck? Let me try this out. I’m not at all a picky eater so cutting out gluten wasn’t too hard for me. I missed Belgian blond beers but felt like I could substitute wheat-free products for most other foods I enjoy. The cost and inconvenience was another story.

But I felt so much better! For three weeks, I consumed zero gluten and many of stomach issues went away, as did my issues with brain fog. Then I tested my progress by incorporating gluten back into my diet and wham! The majority of symptoms came back instantly. It does happen to be the case that I was unusually not stressed out during those three gluten-free weeks and then the stress resumed about the same time I re-introduced symptoms. I also noticed that when I cut the gluten out again, the symptom reduction wasn’t nearly as great. And I took a blood test for Celiac at my doc’s and it came back negative – though they told me the test is pretty inaccurate. Still. Still there was a difference in how my stomach felt and any change for the better felt worth it to me.

So I stopped eating gluten. Like I said, I was happy with my food options. I didn’t like that our grocery bill was $10-$20 higher each week. And busy days and/or travel days were a challenge. It’s hard for someone who doesn’t eat gluten to grab something on the go. So it was more costly and time-consuming. I was always planning out my meals for days in advance and feeling self-conscious when I went places where I knew there would be no options for me and pulling my own food out of my bag. Are any of these tasks the end of the world? NO! Would I rather not have to do them? YES!

This past spring, my husband and I traveled to Belgium and France. I decided I would drink beer and eat bread there. I didn’t give a shit (pun intended) if I didn’t feel well. How often does one get to eat delicious food in Europe? If I had to run to a bathroom after eating, so be it. It would be worth it. By this point, I had not eaten gluten in over a year so I was expecting a shit show (again, pun intended).

But then the strangest thing happened. I ate and drank gluten and I felt okay. In fact, there were so few differences that I didn’t stop eating gluten when I got back from Europe. I figured maybe it had been IBS all along and the IBS was slightly aggravated by gluten but not aggravated enough for me to legitimize changing my diet. I mean, as much as I didn’t mind eating gluten-free, it was preferable to eat gluten. I got to have Allagash and Blue Moon again! And I did not have to spend extra money on pastas and breads made from rice. It was definitely better.

Then as time went on, I noticed my tummy troubles worsening again… I had frequent waves of nausea and my bowel movements became significantly more irregular. I had lots of diarrhea. Like lots of it. And suddenly, eating wheat didn’t feel quite so worth it anymore. Not that I’ve cut it out… yet. I mean I want to get through the holidays first because baked goods. I make mean gluten-free desserts and all but it’s tough when you’re eating at other people’s houses, you can’t expect them to cater to your needs. But I do plan to stop eating gluten again come January. I don’t quite know what to make of my symptoms. It seems like I can very, very occasionally eat gluten (like maybe one every month or two?). But eating it on the reg – yeah, it’s not pretty.

So I’ve been pretty annoyed recently by all the people and marketing against the gluten-free diet. I mean, I guess it’s against people making a fad of not eating gluten but also not really educating themselves on the matter. I’ve read all sorts of info on the gluten subject, like that there is no such thing as gluten intolerance or that many people who cut out gluten replace it with foods that are not any better. Still another article said that people really can’t digest gluten and gluten sensitivity is a thing and in fact, some people with gluten sensitivity can eat some gluten. So it’s understandable that some people might jump on the gluten-free bandwagon without entirely researching the issue. And maybe some of them are being naive but why do other people care?

Recently, I’ve seen shirts and bumper stickers that say “I love gluten.” And it just feels like it’s rubbing it in my face. I love gluten too – but it doesn’t love me. Instead, it gives me frequent nausea and worst of all, frequent and explosive diarrhea. Like really explosive, like all over the toilet diarrhea and I feel like I need to shower afterwards (again, I told you this post is disgusting). I don’t have that experience when I largely cut gluten out of my diet. Is it psychosomatic? I don’t know. Is it a even a real thing to be able to tolerate gluten on occasion? I don’t know. But I also don’t really care. If I can not have explosive diarrhea, I’m going to do what it takes (or seems to take) to not have it.

So fuck your “gluten pride”. You are so lucky to not have symptoms like I do. You are so lucky to not have Celiac. You’re lucky you don’t have to pay extra for your food and not think so darn much about what you’re doing every week and then how you need to prepare your meals. If your stomach lets you eat just about anything, you’re lucky. Even luckier if your metabolism lets you eat just about anything. So why do you care if I choose not to eat gluten, even if I never was diagnosed with Celiac? And if you do care that much, maybe you’d like to hear more about my explosive diarrhea and other strange bowel phenomenons. Believe me, I have plenty of stories and your anti-gluten-free propaganda is about as welcome to me as I’d guess my yucky poop stories are to you.

If you love gluten and it loves you back, enjoy it. It is much better that way.

Me and my unrequited love for baguettes - one food that is tough to find in GF form

Me and my unrequited love for baguettes – one food that is tough to find in GF form

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