May 23, 2013

Dr. BadAdvice or How I Learned to Stop Eating Gluten and Love my Life

Several years ago, I joined legions of fad dieters, hippies, and conspiracy theorists by going gluten free. Yes, I did lose about 40lbs, and yes, I will be eating this way for the rest of my life, but no, I do not yet believe that gluten has been genetically modified to mollify the masses into subservience. I do it because it makes my body feel good. Digestive issues, depression, and constant pain are (mostly) a thing of the past for me and it's all because I gave up that jerk-faced little protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and malt.

When I think about the things that have forever changed me, would you be surprised to know that going gluten free was one of them? Doing study abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, and joining roller derby round out the top 3 "bestest, most life-changing-est experiences EVAR" list for me. But it is the lack of gluten in my life that makes everything possible. Being that May is "Celiac Awareness Month," I thought it would nice for me to actually talk about the mysterious illness that I have alluded to plaguing my pre-derby years. So here is my gluten free story.

When I was 8 years old I experienced heartburn for the first time. I was camping with my family and couldn't fall asleep because my stomach was upset but it was too... high. It was upset in my esophagus but being 8 years old, I didn't know how to say that. Many years, and many minty Rolaids later, I discovered Priolosec and things we're looking up. Soon, I knew I couldn't even think about drinking the amounts of beer that I wanted to without them. When I told the doctor at my college health center (the provider of my student health insurance) that I had taken Prilosec every day for more than 5 years, she didn't blink and said "Well, if that is working for you, then great!" Which it was and it wasn't. It was fixing a symptom but not the problem. Also, Prilosec is only meant to be taken in 2 week increments not for 5+ years at a time.

Fast forward to my very first adult style job with real health insurance and everything. I got a real doctor and when I told her that I was taking that much Prilosec, she suggested that might be an issue. She asked me to try going gluten free. I thought "NO BEER?! What is this evil sorcery you speak of?" but I went along with it. I did it for a whole month and I didn't really notice a change. When the month was up, it was cake day at my work AND they had ordered pizza. I ate these things and smirked that the world didn't end and went happily about my day, confident that "The Great Gluten Experiment of 2010" had failed.

This might as well be a self portrait
of how I feel when I "get glutined"
About 8 hours later, I was rocking myself in the fetal position sitting on the bathroom floor with heartburn so bad I couldn't lay down. Over the next days I continued to try and prove my doctor wrong by eating a festival of gluten and the situation continued to escalate. My energy levels plummeted. My joints got all achy. The hideous smells came back. I thought that everything was in my head and I would ALWAYS feel like that. When I finally came to terms with the fact that these were the same things that my body had been dealing with for 27 years, minus the last month, I was elated. It had taken me a few days to accept that ALL OF THIS was gluten's fault. I felt so happy that life didn't have to be like that anymore. I didn't have to be "the gassy girl who made her bestie dry heave in the car" (much to everyone's relief). Once I realized that life didn't have to be like that, giving up gluten was easy.

Fast forward again to present day and I can't believe that I lived that way for as long as I did. I can't believe that when I was 14 and the doctor pulled my father aside saying that he thought I was depressed and making up illnesses (à la hypochondria) they didn't think anything else was going on. I can't believe that I missed out on so many things because I learned not to trust my body when all the medical professionals told me that I was wrong about about my symptoms. I can't believe that my life is different because of gluten. All because of a single protein that feels like a war raging in my body. The next time you meet someone who doesn't eat gluten, know that it might not be a cute diet they're doing for bikini season.

I have mourned over not eating strawberry rhubarb pie at summer BBQs and even now (3 years later) I still look wistfully at my friend's pizza slices. Sometimes, I even make people hand me their delicious gluten treats just so I can smell them. And, I am not kidding, I POKED the beautiful angel food cake we had at our family's mother's day picnic this year. However, I know everyday that it was the right choice for me. Why? Because today is another day that I get to live without pain. I don't have face the feeling of slow decay in my body; of my joints betraying me every time reach for a water glass from the top shelf, or knees wanting to give out if I walk to heavily down the stairs, or, dare I say, wildly inappropriate flatulence in social situations. That's not me anymore. Moral of the story? Trust your body. Derby reminds me every week that I know what my body can do and I make smart decisions about how to deal with it. And I lived happily ever after. Let's get on the track!

 Derby Love,
Mollytov Maguire


  1. Being Mollytov's bestie, I can absolutely attest that she's not making this stuff up--she really DID make me dry heave in the car on a hot summer day (and rolled up the windows!!!!). Her giving up the glutens (gruutennss) has had a rather positive effect on my oral factory senses and it's made her a much happier person.
    I love you Molly!!

  2. I just found out. I have suffered so many things due to gluten for 64 years. I have had so many tests and so many diagnosis and it was all gluten related. so glad you found out earlier..

    1. Me too. It changed my life as I am sure it changed yours. I feel younger everyday! I am glad you found out no matter when you did, I am sure sooner would have been better than later, but you have to believe you've added YEARS to your life!