[Editor’s Note: I’ve asked a few folks to share their gluten-free journey with our readers. Mike’s post is the first in an occasional series on this topic. Enjoy!]
Following a gluten-free lifestyle can be a polarizing thing these days. Some folks believe it’s the only way to go if you want to avoid some of the chemicals used in our food supply (I’m looking at you, Glyphosate). Others know it’s the only way to go if they have a serious health condition, like Celiac disease. Still others think it’s just plain silly. My parents:
“We’ve been eating this way for centuries, right?
And, “My grandma ate gluten until she was 93.”
A Simple Choice
For me, the choice was simple. And my inspiration was very close to home.
My daughter has an autoimmune disease called Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). As you may know, an autoimmune condition (that’s what I like to call it, a condition…sounds so much more manageable than a disease, doesn’t it?) is where the body’s own immune system, which normally fights off viruses and other bad guys, turns on itself.
There’s not a lot of data about why this happens and it may happen for several reasons, depending on the condition. When we first found out our daughter, who was 10 at the time, had JIA, all we could picture was a debilitating disease that would mangle her joints and leave her in a wheelchair.
Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. But you can imagine we were in a try-anything kind of mood when it came to treatments so that didn’t happen. And that’s when we started to learn more about our friend gluten.
Gluten and JIA
As you may know, gluten is a protein found in many grains, like wheat, rye and barley. Some folks believe the body’s immune system is confused by this protein, which can look an awful lot like a human body’s joints when it finds its way into the bloodstream. So, the good guys over in the immune system get rid of the gluten, because it’s not supposed to be in the bloodstream, then attack the joints thinking they’re also an intruder. The thought is, if we remove that protein, maybe the immune system good guys will leave the body’s joints alone.
The alternative was using chemotherapy drugs to suppress the immune system, so we were all about trying a whole food diet, which included this gluten-free thing. It’s important to note here that my daughter has given up more than gluten. She also gave up dairy and has very little of other foods that can cause inflammation (potatoes, peppers and other so-called nightshades).
In case you haven’t already figured this out, she’s the hero of this story for me.
The Upsides of a Gluten-free Lifestyle
An up-side of a gluten-free lifestyle is that it helps you avoid consuming the chemicals used in growing and harvesting these grains today (like our friend Glyphosate, AKA Roundup). And many people also end up eating a healthier, whole food diet because most of the pre-packaged foods in the supermarket contain gluten. Turns out wheat and flour are used all over the place as an inexpensive and readily available thickener or binding agent. Even in candy. (Sad personal note: I miss you Twizzlers.)
Of course, the down-side is no bread. At least not white and wheat bread. And no to a lot of other things, too. And, while the gluten-free options are growing every day, be wary: many food companies replace that wheat/flour with something else–sugar. So, there’s that.
On a more superficial level, it’s kind of hard not being a stick-in-the-mud when you’re headed out to eat with a group. Oh, we can’t go there because Mike doesn’t eat that. So, yeah, I have guilt.
But when the weekly shots came, I got over my guilt pretty quickly.
Watching my wife administer even a small dose of that chemo drug into my 10-year- old every Saturday night makes giving up some of my favorite foods much easier. I understand not everyone has this kind of motivation and for that I’m truly grateful.
How Going Gluten-free Changed Our Lives
Fast forward to today. We’ve been doing both the medication and continue with a whole-foods lifestyle, which includes being gluten-free, for about three years now and I’m happy to report that something’s working! Our daughter has been in what’s called medicated remission for a year now and they recently told us we can stop the meds altogether.
Of course, we don’t know what’s working for sure, whether the medication has been able to gently rock her immune system to sleep or whether the changes in what we’re putting into her body has helped…or both. But the changes we’ve made are helping us eat healthier and have changed the way we think about how we eat. We hope all of that will be enough to keep our daughter in remission.
And, while we dearly miss fresh-baked bread and decent pizza crust, we think it’s the right thing for us.
It may not be the best thing for everyone, of course, but I believe everything happens for a reason.
I share this story in hopes that it will help those who are on the GF journey or may be considering it. I know it’s not always easy – whether you may be trying to find good-for- you GF options, looking for more whole foods to prepare at home, or just dealing with the not-so-subtle joshing from friends and family.
But hang in there–you’re doing something to improve your health.
And that’s always a good thing.