What It's Like To Be Gluten Intolerant

Gluten... it seems like one of those words that has just lost all meaning in amongst this crazy buzz that has engulfed the topic, in the media and across generations. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is "a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together." Essentially, gluten is a protein found in some foods that some people are intolerant or allergic to.

Fortunately, I don't actually suffer from full-blown celiac disease, however, my doctors have confirmed that I am intolerant to it after taking some blood tests (I always hate these). I always knew my stomach was sensitive, and I am 100% certain I also suffer from IBS, but I didn't have it confirmed by a doctor until last March. Ever since then, I have made the conscious effort to cut out all gluten from my diet, and I though I would write a post about what it's really like to live with a gluten intolerance.

I decided to visit the doctors about this issue when the symptoms started becoming too much to bear. I always found myself severely bloated after most meals, to the point where I would constantly be sucking my torso in, so as to give the illusion of a flat stomach. I used to get bad stomach cramps, often accompanied with slight nausea, but never any vomiting (sorry for this unappetising medical lingo!). I always used to wonder what on earth was wrong with me, as all of my friends and family would feel fine after having eaten the same meals. It was just bizarre. My symptoms made me feel embarrassed, unconfident and worst of all, uncomfortable. Simultaneously trying to navigate my first year at university, which was already stressful enough on my gut (your stress levels and gut health are interlinked!), I finally decided to go to the doctor for some advice. 

When I first found out I was intolerant, I was quite gutted, as I knew it meant I would have to cut out many of my favourite foods from my diet. As a very sweet-toothed individual (to put it modestly), baked goods, pastries and all those other tantalisingly tasty treats were an essential part of my satiety, but they all contain gluten, so I had to wave goodbye to those sweeties with a very sad face. It was a bad day to say the least. However, the positive side of me saw this as a potentially good thing, as I would now have a sincere reason to cut out these unhealthy treats from my diet. This positivity, I soon realised, was a little overstretched, as I am still able to eat a lot of naughty foods that are either not made from gluten to begin with, or I have found a gluten-free version which, if anything, is worse for the health as they're packed full of sugar. But let's not dwell on that.

When cooking for myself at home (haha I wish ... my mum cooks most of my meals #spoiltbrat), it's not difficult to avoid gluten, as we now as a household consciously prepare meals that are naturally gluten free. A large proportion of our diet is made up of meat and vegetables, being a greek family, so there isn't much to worry about there. Where certain ingredients are concerned, we now buy gluten free bread (the Genius seeded one is good!), gluten free gravy (for those all-important roast dinners) and gluten free cereal, as these are staple ingredients for every day. The only downside to these products is that they tend to be more on the expensive side compared to the usual versions. I once read that this is the case due to companies being legally able to charge more for items that have a "gluten free" symbol or label on the, the reason to which remains a mystery to me.

I personally think gluten free alternatives taste exactly the same, however, some of the more fussy eaters out there have tastebuds that are so sharpened, they can sense a GF alternative from a mile off. The only difference I would potentially observe is the difference in texture, mainly concerning pasta and scones (oh how British). GF pasta tends to be a bit harder (perfect if you like Al Dente) and GF scones are slightly on the crumbly side. If you can move past this however, you should be O.K.

The problem mainly lies with eating out. Unlike at home, you cannot control what will be on the menu at most restaurants, so there may be a limited choice, as I have found. Especially when eating in an international restaurant, such as chinese or thai cuisine, there aren't many dishes that cater for gluten-free. There have been more scenarios than I care to think about where I've been sat in a restaurant that has pretty much nothing on the menu that I could order, aside from a small green salad. These situations are when the intolerance is at it's most difficult and the red mist seems to rear it's ugly head. With that being said however, many restaurants are jumping on the bandwagon and offering menus for gluten free customers. Restaurants such as Zizzis, Wagamama, Côte, Chiquito and Beyond Bread all have gluten-free menus, which make people like me very satisfied indeed. To my delight, more and more independent eateries are adopting gluten free dishes, so eating out is now not as painful as it once was.

Another issue that presents itself is when people, or indeed situations, don't realise or forget that you're gluten intolerant and offer you gluten-filled treats. If you have a willpower of steel, this shouldn't be too much of a problem, however, there have been many occasions where I've been offered a slice of a friend's non gluten-free birthday cake and I just haven't been able to resist. The only silver lining is that I very soon afterwards learn my lesson by suffering the consequences of consuming gluten, which deters me from repeating this treachery once more. Maybe one more downside is the very sad fact that some vodkas are made with gluten, and those have also had to be removed from my diet.  I'm talking like this is truly an actual travesty to my life, and I'm well aware this is a very first world problem, however, it was genuinely interesting to learn that some vodkas are distilled from wheat.(Juts to clarify, vodka isn't a daily essential of my diet... I am NOT an alcoholic..).

I get the mickey taken out of me quite a lot for being gluten intolerant, mainly because people believe I'm faking it or just pretending in order to get attention, however, none of this matters to me because, since adopting a GF diet, I have felt so much better in my own skin than ever before, and can enjoy eating meals without that nauseating fear of feeling horrendously ill afterwards. I would happily encourage anybody to adopt a GF diet, especially with the increase in eateries who are accommodating these needs, because gluten can disturb anybody's gastrointestinal health, as it is a protein that is more difficult to digest than others.

So, all in all, living a gluten free life isn't all that bad, it just requires some positivity and some research into suitable alternatives so as to understand what other foods/brands you can buy instead of those containing gluten. Just be careful to check the ingredients in packaged/processed foods, as some may have gluten-containing ingredients hidden in the recipe somewhere!

If you think you suffer from gluten intolerance of celiac disease, schedule an appointment with your GP as soon as possible to get an accurate diagnosis.


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