I shifted nervously in my seat as the man sitting across the desk separating us looked at me with a serious expression on his face. “You need to go on a restricted diet,” he told me. “This means no caffeine, processed foods or sugar, red meat, dairy… and no gluten, either.”
“No… gluten?” I said weakly.
“Nope,” replied my naturopath.
“Oh, OK” I managed to say, but in my mind I was screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”
If this was a sitcom, the camera would now zoom out to a bird’s eye view of the city, then a satellite view of the country and finally into space looking down at Earth as my anguished cry echoed around the globe.
For the past year, I’ve been struggling with exhaustion and fatigue, partially due to burn-out from two years of intense studying for my Chartered Accountant qualification.
I’d sleep for ten hours and still wake up feeling like I’d been flattened by a steam roller. I needed three or four coffees a day just to function.
This year, I noticed I was falling sick more often than usual. It seemed I’d get a cold or flu every month, and meanwhile the allergies I’ve had since childhood were getting worse. Despite my best efforts (eating well and using multivitamins), I just wasn’t getting any better.
Finally, I made an appointment with a naturopath who ran a few tests and determined the main cause of my complaints to be a leaky gut. And I needed to go off dairy (permanently) and gluten (at least for the short-term).
Going gluten-free (or as close as I could get) was tough. Very tough. My body went into detox mode in the first week. It was not a pleasant experience. Besides the physical discomfort, all I could think of was my favourite foods that I could no longer eat.
Bread. Oatmeal. Udon noodles. Pizza. Cake. Pasta.
Meanwhile I was extremely cranky from going off caffeine cold-turkey. And not only was I now gluten-free, but dairy free. This meant I couldn’t have chocolate to comfort myself.
So I sulked, and bitched and moaned to anyone who would listen (ie, on Twitter) about how awful this was. Then, a Twitter friend reminded me that I could see this as an opportunity to explore gluten-free cuisine and pointed me to Shauna Ahern’s excellent resource Gluten Free Girl.
No, going gluten-free is not the end of the world. As as my naturopath pointed out, my native Asian cuisine is already mostly gluten-free. So I switched my soy sauce for tamari, and cut out wheat, oats and other gluten-containing foods from my diet. Meanwhile I began getting used to the taste of buckwheat- it’s actually quite tasty although it lacks the refined flavour of wheat.
Two weeks later, my energy started coming back, and I was surprised to discover I could make it through the day without any coffee. I noticed that my body began shedding fat, as well as some of the abdominal bloat that didn’t seem to shift with exercise. Hey, I thought to myself. This gluten-free thing isn’t so bad after all.
I still have some way to go before I get my health to an optimal level, but I believe going gluten-free has allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully I can re-introduce some occasional gluten back into my diet later on, but I know that my diet will have to be mostly gluten-free from now on.
And I’m OK with that.