So I often get confused looks when people who know me somewhat will see or hear me order gluten-free items off the menu one time, and at the next outing I’m chugging beers like I’m in a fraternity.
I like to keep people guessing.
No, I don’t have Celiac Disease. No, I’m not just jumping on the gluten-free bus because it’s so trendy right now (although it is super trendy..)
Really, what it boils down to is this:
About four years ago I was diagnosed with something called Eosinophilic Esophagitis.
Eosinophilic Esophagitis is an allergic inflammatory disorder that is just a really fancy way of saying that my body is actively attacking the food I am feeding it.
This is caused by numerous food allergies/intolerances (unbeknownst to me), where the body starts building up an immune response to the constant introduction of those foods/food products over time, attacking the food and subsequently releasing too many WBCs and chemicals that also attack the tissue of the esophagus.
This ultimately causes scaring in the esophagus, and leads to narrowing of the tube, nausea/vomiting, bloating, stomach pain, and indigestion/heart burn.
If you think about the way our bodies are built, it makes sense to think of how that narrowing affects our digestion; it makes it that much harder to swallow foods.
I was told initially after my diagnosis that one of the major goals would be to prevent me from having to make an ER trip in my future to have food physically removed from my esophagus.
That day almost happened at my son’s fourth birthday party. I swallowed a piece of chicken that decided to not go anywhere. I remember having an anxiety attack in my bathroom praying to God that I wouldn’t die, and reminding myself over and over again that luckily I could still breathe.
Long (and somewhat disgusting) story short, the chicken finally moved and I didn’t have to go in. But I think of that day every single time I eat. Every. Single. Time.
The crazy thing about EE, is that everyone who suffers from the disorder could have different triggers. Typically, most people living with EE have about 10-20 different foods or products that result in a response.
For me, one of those triggers is gluten.
For most people living with EE, they follow one of three main diet categories:
- Six-Food Elimination Diet: The removal of six allergenic foods; milk, eggs, wheat, soy, nuts, and seafood (some people are fine with seafood and eliminate beef or chicken instead).
- Specific-Food Elimination Diet: Foods are removed based on results from allergy testing or symptoms.
- Elemental Diet: AKA “No Food.” People who follow this diet only receive a hypoallergenic amino-acid based formula to avoid all foods that could trigger a response.
Because food allergy testing isn’t always the most accurate since EE often shows a delayed response, my doctor didn’t want to go down that road. Instead, I tried various forms of an elimination diet over the span of several months, trying to pinpoint which types of foods gave me the worst symptoms.
Gluten, dairy, and red meat are just three things that I try and avoid. Various beans and some nuts from time to time are another (especially almonds).
Sometimes, ALL food in a given day makes me feel terrible. It honestly depends on the day.
One thing it never does, though, is deter me from eating.
So what I try and do is follow a gluten-free diet 95% of the time. My normal day-to-day pattern involves staying as far away from gluten, red meat, almonds, and dairy as much as possible (although lately I’ve been trying to experiment with introducing dairy back in slightly).
The other 5%? I live a little.
I have been fortunate to find some amazing gluten-free brands and modifications that make my favorite recipes still amazing. But let me be honest. Sometimes I just really want a slice (or 6) of my favorite pizza. Or the breaded cheese curds at Rams. Or an iced-cold beer.
So I have them.
Because I know exactly what will happen to my body, and how I will feel, and I judge the level of “worth it” and make my decision from there.
I know there are so many other people out there who have to follow a gluten-free diet, so a goal of mine is to compile a list of my favorite gluten-free products, brands, recipes, etc. and post here as a resource. It’s taken me a LOT of trial and error to find the best substitutes that help me not miss my daily dose of wheat.
While I’m working on my list, I want to hear from you! Is there a certain type of food you have to avoid? Are you also following a gluten-free or dairy-free lifestyle?
What are some of your favorite go-to foods? Leave me a comment below and I’ll check them out and maybe add them to the next post!
Natasha Funderburk is a wife, #boymom, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Consultant, and ACE-Behavior Change Specialist. When not watching her son play baseball, she can be found on various writing platforms, coaching her clients to live their best lives, drinking all the coffee, and conducting living-room dance parties.