Archive | December, 2012

Gluten Free New Year’s Resolution 2013

30 Dec

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This is my second, and now annual, Celiac/gluten-free New Year’s Resolution post on CC Gluten Freed. The gluten free diet is so much more than a diet. In fact, I usually describe myself as “being gluten free” as opposed to following a gluten free diet. Semantics, yes, but an important point none-the-less. Being gluten free means adapting a whole new relationship to food, something that shapes our every day lives, holidays and traditions. Considering how complicated and challenging being gluten free can be, it seems appropriate to make our New Year’s Resolutions at least related to improving our health and gluten free lifestyle.

Last year I had a slue of NYRs all about improving my gluten free lifestyle. You can check out last year’s list here but in summary, I decided to:

1. Be (even more) gluten free – this means making smart, safe choices at restaurants like getting a salad instead of french fries due to risk of cross contamination.

2. Become informed — I vowed to start following GF blogs so that I can stay current on what other GF advocates are up to.

3. Get techy — there are many phone apps out there that make being gluten free much simpler. I decided to start using those applications including, my favorite, Find Me Gluten Free, an app that takes your GPS location and gives you a list of GFF (gluten free friendly) places nearby.

I wrote a follow-up last June about how I was doing with my NYRs and, I swear this to be true, I was pretty good about staying committed. In years past my new year convictions have always been more like token resolutions. “I will go to the gym every day!” or “I will eat salad at every single meal!” Though enthused, I never seemed to follow through with my generic resolutions. The problem? Conviction. I did not take the time to hash out the reasons why the resolutions were meaningful to me and, not surprisingly, they fell to the way side as the year started getting busy and hectic. I am proud to announce that for 2012 I successfully adopted all of my GF-NYRs and improved my gluten free life as a result.

My resolution this year is much simpler than my complex list of 2012 gluten free NYRs. This year has to do with defense and preparedness. The ability to absorb nutrients is often more limited in someone with Celiac Disease compared to the average Joe. Here’s why: the gluten free diet only works by completly eliminating gluten, not by merely limiting it. Many newly diagnosed believe that a low gluten diet will have close to the same benefits as being exclusively gluten free and that, my friends, is a misconception. When people think of a “diet’ they typically think of weight loss and we all know that if we limit our caloric intake we will lose weight. The more calories we restrict, the more weight that will be lost. Disclaimer: this is an over simplification of metabolism and weight loss but, in simplest terms, the relationship between caloric intake and weight loss is directly proportional whereas the relationship between nutrient absorption and gluten intake is more complicated and convoluted. Even trace amounts of gluten can trigger the production of counterproductive antibodies that will damage your small intestine. My point is that if you kind of diet, you will kind of lose weight whereas if you are kind of gluten free you will not be kind of symptom free, you will remain in the pain and state of malnutrition that originally provided hints for your diagnosis.

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Even compulsive Celiacs like myself (I say that in the most endearing way possible) cannot completely avoid gluten due to cross-contamination and accidents that will inevitably occur despite your best efforts. How can we prepare our bodies for such encounters? What can we do to compensate for the fact that we may not be absorbing nutrients as efficiently as a none Celiac?

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My NYR for 2013 is to take a daily vitamin, religiously, strictly and obligatorily. We have all heard doctors, moms and the like push us to take a daily vitamin but how many of you actually do it every day? I am super health conscious and still happily skip swallowing the disgusting smelling pellet of nutrients frequently. As a Celiac, I need all the nutrition I can get. If I don’t pay close attention to my diet, I cannot guarantee that I am getting all of the vitamins and minerals I need on a daily basis, deplting my body’s supplies and holding myself back from better health.

This year, starting January 1,2013 I will be taking my daily vitamin every morning, even if it is an unpleasant way to start the day. I have decided on taking Multi Vites Gummies. The benefit is that it is labeled as gluten free and the taste and texture of the vitamin but it does not have iron which means I will need to go the extra mile and buy an iron supplement as well. I advise not skipping out on the iron. Iron is essential to your body running properly, it is found in every cell of your body, helps with oxygenation and, if you don’t have enough iron in your body, you may experience fatigue.

Make sure the vitamin you pick is labeled gluten free!! I read through the ingredients on a gummy vitamin made by One-A-Day and concluded it was GF only to find that the allergen label said Contains Wheat! There are so many odd ingredients in vitamins that we may not recognize a potentially gluten containing ingredient so go for something with a GF label!

You may think I am being too picky, I mean come on, it is just a vitamin! Keep in mind that this is something that will start off my day for the next 365 days. The decision is not a small one! What I decide to take will impact my year and potentially my health. I want to make sure I make an informed decision.

If you are really interested in supplements and daily vitamins, another great choice for a Celiac is Fish Oil/omega 3s. The fish oil supplements work to combat inflammation in the body. Celiacs is an inflammatory condition: the antibodies we generate in response to consuming gluten cause a lot of inflammation in the body (thus the arthritis many experience prior to diagnose).

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I know it may not be enjoyable to have a regime of pills every morning but think of it this way: we have a disease where the treatment is not a pill cocktail but rather a diet. Even though being gluten free is challenging we are very lucky not to have to deal with side effects and financial expenses associated with prescription medications like the price of seeing the doctor to get your prescription followed by the actual price of the medication. As far as excuses go, we don’t have many with merit to not take a daily vitamin especially considering the nature of Celiac Disease in relation to absorption and nutrition.
Like last year, you can expect a follow up from me in June 2013! In the spirit of no-secrets-blogging, I will even post a copy of my blood work from 2012 compared to 2013 to see if the daily vitamin is making a difference!

Cheers to a new year and to preventative care and newly improved health!

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-CC

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Tweaking Tradition: Holidays

19 Dec


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It is that time of year again! We have shining lights on all the streets, the fire light of Menorahs shimmering through windows and stars twinkling atop 6-foot tall trees.  The winter holidays are by far my favorite despite the accompanied stress they tend to bring.  Personally, I love when the whole family gets together for the holidays. We don’t have any of the often satirized family drama you see on TV and in the movies about family gatherings during the holidays.  The holidays usually bring around a different type of stress for me: how to avoid gluten during all of the holiday dinner parties.  This year, however, this won’t be an issue because my family has figured out how we can tweak our Italian traditions to be totally gluten free.

If you have followed CC Gluten Freed since the beginning then you already know that my big Italian family has a big Italian Christmas Eve feast every year.  A couple days before the big dinner party a few of us would get together to make ravioli.  This isn’t any old ravioli either.  This is our family recipe that has been made for Christmas Eve dinner more Christmas Eves than I can count.  Growing up, it was fun. We would make the dough and fold each little bundle of goodness by hand, spilling flour all over the kitchen in the process (this was before my diagnosis with Celiac Disease).  After being diagnosed, we weren’t really sure what to do with our ravioli tradition. The first year we made our ravioli as usual but also tried making GF gnocchi which really did not work out. Our gnocchi tasted like mashed potatoes and egg!  My second Christmas as a Celiac we discovered the wonder of GF lasagna made with De Boles GF lasagna sheets. We could use the same meat mixture and sauce that we use for the ravioli just with a different starch-medium for it!  Instead of pining for the ravioli on everyone else’s plates, I was perfectly content with my personal lasagna. Year three and year four worked out the same way: ravioli for the gluten-eaters and lasagna for the gluten free guests.

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Close to five years after my diagnosis one very important thing in my family has changed: a good portion of us are now gluten free. My dad, brother, uncle, aunt and grandma. In fact, the only people who would be eating the ravioli would be our family friends at our Christmas Eve dinner party! So what do to? It seemed odd to spend 12 hours cooking a meal that not a single Bonaduce would eat.  How can we tweak this tradition to be gluten free but still please out guests who wait all year for Bonaduce ravioli?

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My Aunt came up with the answer: a modified ravioli-lasagna. Traditionally, lasagna is made with sheet-noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese (people add all sorts of other ingredients though to keep things interesting).  Also, traditionally, our ravioli is our secret-meat-mixture wrapped in dough. My Aunt realized that we could break down our lasagna until it is basically the exact same ingredients as the ravioli: noodles and meat mixture. We will serve it with the same sauce we serve with the ravioli.

This year we will have (1) GF traditional lasagna, (1) GF vegan lasagna, (1) ravioli-lasagna and a host of side dishes ranging from caprese salad to Italian brijole (all GF).

It is sometimes hard not to feel like the Gluten Free Grinch who stole christmas.  I mean, this was a family tradition for years and years and, I will be honest, I do feel like I ruined it (just a bit). But let me remind you of something very important: the Grinch ultimately saved Christmas and was invited by the Whos the dig in for the holiday festivities.  So yes, maybe I stole this tradition from my family but now we have an even more meaningful tradition. We came up with our own recipe for a hybrid ravioli-lasagna. We have all heard the saying “change for the sake of change is no good.” Well, along those lines tradition for the sake of tradition is also no good.

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I’m very lucky to have a family that is so supportive but I know there are a lot of people out there with Celiac Disease whose families have not yet realized what a fundamental life change the diagnosis represents.  All I can tell you is to hold on, advocate for yourself relentlessly and it will get better.  My first christmas after my diagnosis I didn’t even know how big of a deal being diagnosed with Celiacs was. I even helped my the ravioli that year and wound up feeling ill from all the air-borne gluten.  It takes time for people, yourself included, to get a hold of what it means to be truly gluten free.

My advice? Start the conversation about tweaking traditions now.  Maybe you can’t change things for this christmas but at least you can dialogue with your holiday guests about what to expect next year!

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-CC

FAQ: “So…what happens to you when you eat gluten?”

6 Dec

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One of the most frequently asked questions has got to be “What happens to you when you eat gluten?” This is a pretty reasonable question considering how serious and dire I sound when talking about being GF.  When I order, I double and sometimes triple check that the server understands my needs, I always bring a side dish to dinner parties just in case and many of my friends have seen the blood drain from my cheeks when I suspect I have just been cross-contaminated.  So what is all the fuss about? I mean, what happens to a Celiac who eats gluten?

For years I have given a textbook-perfect answer to this question. You know, the whole “the lining of my small intestines flattens and I can no longer absorb nutrients” speech. I do this partially because it makes it less personal but mostly because I have not had a significant amount of gluten sneak into my diet since becoming gluten free. I know what it was like before being gluten free.  I know how to describe what living with untreated Celiac Disease is like but I did not know what would happen to me if I, say…decided to eat a bowl of spaghetti out of the blue.

In short, I really didn’t know what would happen if I ate a significant amount of gluten, as opposed to the trace amounts I have been exposed to since my diagnosis.  

Unfortunately, I am now able to answer this question with more accuracy and detail than I’d like.  The memory of this Thanksgiving break is still very fresh in my mind. If you are wondering what happens to a highly compliant Celiac after eating a bowl of gluten, you are about to find out.

On Wednesday, November 21, I boarded a flight heading from Washington DC, my new home, to Los Angeles, California.  I had a plan: I wasn’t going to eat breakfast so that I could save room for my favorite food in Los Angeles: GF Spaghetti from Rosti in Encino.  The second I got off the plane I sent a text-message to my dad that read: “Landed! Can we go to Rosti????”

Once I got to the restaurant I ordered GF Spaghetti with Pink Sauce.  When the server brought me the bowl I noticed that the pasta looked different from the last time I was there, about three months ago. Rosti is pretty good about being gluten free. They know all about using fresh water to cook the pasta and designated-gluten free utensils to serve the dishes.  I was pretty confident in their GF protocol but, as an ever-vigiliant Celiac, I decided to double check anyways. I told the waiter that the pasta looked different to me and said “Are you sure this is the GF spaghetti?” He confirmed that it was and I dug in!

After the meal my stomach kind of hurt, nothing major.  As I got to the car, it started to really hurt. I pulled my mom aside and told her that my stomach was hurting and felt kind of crampy.  We decided that I probably upset my stomach by eating so and so much fast after not eating for almost 10 hours (what can I say? I’m Italian and I love my spaghetti!).

On Thanksgiving morning I sang at a tri-lingual Catholic mass with my family.  Halfway through the service I started to feel really woozy, then hot and then really nauseas.  My vision started to blur and black around the edges of my eyes.  I stumbled out of the church to get some air. I made sure I got some water since I thought I must be very dehydrated.

In the evening, while eating my turkey and mashed potatoes, I felt a weird pain in my chest. You know that sharp pain you get when you swallow wrong and it feels like you have gulped air?  I had a persistent pain at the top of my ribs between my chest and my back.  I thought I must have swallowed wrong and that the pain would go away.  When I got home, the exhaustion finally hit me and I collapsed into my bed.  I woke up at around 2:00am because of extreme nausea.  I got up and drank some water, once again, chalking my discomfort up to dehydration.  I woke up again at 4:00am nauseas again but this time frothing at the mouth (gross, I’m sorry but I got to keep it real).  I drank more water and went back to sleep.

The next day that weird pain in my chest had gotten even worse. I couldn’t eat, drink or breathe deeply without writhing in pain.  I had no idea what was wrong with me and had to make a tough decision: spend time with my family or spend the rest of my Thanksgiving holiday at the ER.  I decided to stay with my family. I figured that if something was really wrong with me I would have passed out by now.  At this point, I still do not know what is wrong with me. I definitely was not suspecting gluten.  I had never felt this way before!

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The only thing I wanted to do was get more spaghetti since I was leaving LA the next day. When we went back to Rosti the spaghetti that was put in front of me looked suspiciously different from the bowl I had eaten on Wednesday.  This is the moment when my mother and I started putting all the pieces together.  It wasn’t until the next day that I got my final clue and confirming evidence.

Three days after that first bowl of spaghetti at Rosti a blister, my final clue, appeared on my forearm.  It was the one symptom I could recognize as being from Celiac Disease.  The next thing I did was call Rosti to confirm my suspicions.  When I called I explained the situation which culminated in asking them “Do you have two brands of GF spaghetti?” The answer was no.  I had eaten an entire bowl of straight-up gluten.  I hate having to share this story about my favorite GF restaurant. They are the only place i have found that has GF spaghetti and I am definitely going back even though they really hurt me.

In the future, when people ask what happens to me when I eat gluten, I think I will stick with the short and sweet textbook answer.  The physical consequences I experienced after eating gluten were pretty terrifying and painful! The experience reminded me why I created this blog.  Living with Celiacs is so much more than just following a diet.  The stakes are really high.

When I don’t get contaminated for a while I sometimes lose focus, especially about the purpose of CC Gluten Freed. Sometimes I doubt myself and wonder why I thought it was necessary to start a blog that focuses on helping people comply with the gluten free diet. What’s a little gluten here and there?  It is at these moments that I slip up and wind up hurting myself. After truly finding out what happens to me when I eat gluten, I am even more committed to my charge: help the gluten free community stay happy and healthy by writing about how to deal with the inevitable social aspects of being gluten free.

The take away from my experience? 9 times out of 10 you will be the expert of gluten while dining at a restaurant. It does not matter if the chef went to the best Culinary school in the word or if your waiter’s cousin has Celiacs. You will be the expert and, consequently, you need to act that way. I had a gut feeling that something was wrong with the spaghetti.  I should have sent the waiter back to actually show the chef the pasta dish instead of just taking his word for it.

It has been a week since the glutening and I am still not fully well. I have been experiencing really extreme fatigue but my spirits are high and I know things will get better very soon! You can expect a How-To GF Holiday guide in the next week.  We have go to stick together during the Holidays, readers!  I will have some words of advice  on how to tweak traditions to make them gluten free and how to deal with Holiday dinner parties.

 

 

 

Happy December!

 

-CC

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