I Have Celiac Disease: Here's Why I Don't Eat Gluten-Free

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I have celiac disease and I don’t eat ʺgluten-free.ʺ

Yes, you read that right. I have celiac disease, but I don’t eat ʺgluten-free.ʺ Stick with me, folks! It’s not nearly as crazy as it sounds! You see, ʺgluten-freeʺ is a label. And generally speaking, I don’t eat foods that have labels—or ingredient lists for that matter. ʺGluten-freeʺ really means manufactured, less nutritious, foodlike substance.

For whatever reason you’re giving up gluten, whether you’ve just been diagnosed with celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or you’ve heard that, for whatever reason, gluten is bad for you and you want to be healthy, going ʺgluten-freeʺ isn’t going to do you any favors. Instead, I eat a whole-foods diet free of gluten. Why? Because a loaf of gluten-free bread costs two to three times more than regular bread—and is mostly devoid of nutrients, fiber, and flavor.

I went grain-free, and I felt amazing.

When I first discovered that I had celiac disease I was on the Atkins diet. If you know anything about the Atkins diet, the first few weeks are entirely grain-free to reduce your carbohydrate intake. And after just a couple of days, I felt a million times better than I ever had! I thought, "Wow, this is crazy! How is this even possible?" I’d never heard of celiac disease, which is crazy because at the time I was being treated for Grave’s disease—another autoimmune disease commonly associated with celiac. When I asked the Atkins nutritionist, she suggested that I go see my primary care doctor and ask for a celiac blood test because the symptoms I described to her sounded pretty textbook. Fast-forward a few months and I finally managed to convince my doctors that I needed to be tested for celiac. By that time, I’d been about 90 percent gluten-free for a year (I say 90 percent because it was a learning curve and I definitely made a few mistakes).

Finally, I got an official celiac disease diagnosis.

For my diagnosis I had to do the gluten challenge, meaning I had to eat gluten-containing foods three times per day for eight weeks before they could do the endoscopy and biopsy. Within 20 minutes of the first bite of toast, I was doubled over in pain. Only eight weeks to go! Over the course of the next few days the migraines, the bloating, the noxious farts, the incredibly painful menstrual cramps, the mood swings, the brain fog, the joint pain, the constipation and the bleeding, and the fibromyalgia all returned. After about five weeks I called the gastroenterologist’s office to ask if we could move up the date of my scope because I couldn’t handle the pain any longer. They said no; it had to be eight weeks; otherwise, you're more likely to get a false negative. I cried and had a tantrum. I think I even threw things. And I walked hunched over in pain for the next three weeks.

Finally, I had the procedure and the doctor gave me a copy of the pictures of my insides, which showed villous atrophy in my small intestine, inflammation in my esophagus, as well as a hiatal hernia. The GI specialist called me in a week or so later and agreed that I had celiac disease. I think this was difficult for her to say because when I first went to see her, she argued with me that I couldn’t possibly have celiac because it’s typically a childhood disease and patients usually get diarrhea, not constipation. After my diagnosis, I called the Celiac Disease Foundation and requested that they send her some information because she clearly didn’t understand the disease at all.

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I eat the way Mother Nature intended.

So how did I get from the Atkins diet to where I am today? Well, it all came down to those two things I mentioned. First, I couldn’t afford to eat gluten-free, and when I started reading labels I realized I wasn’t going to get healthy eating all of that manufactured food. I knew for a fact that vegetables, fruits, and all meats were free of gluten so I decided to eat real food, the way Mother Nature intended, and stick to the basics.

Now I follow the autoimmune protocol: a nutrient-dense diet of real, whole foods. The best rule I can give my health-coaching clients is that ʺif you can eat it raw, it's OK.ʺ You can’t eat grains raw and you can’t eat legumes raw. I’ve also discovered that when I eat legumes or pulses, I get vertigo, and I can’t see straight for a day or so—even if they’re cooked properly. If I eat anything that has the slightest bit of soy in it, even a little bit of soy lecithin in manufactured chocolate products, I get a headache and a stuffy nose. So, I avoid any foodlike substances that have soy in them, which means pretty much everything labeled ʺgluten-free.ʺ

Why I'd still be sick if I was eating gluten-free.

I was just at my doctor’s the other day to get results from some recent blood tests. He said it’s all normal. All of it. He said if I didn’t have so many autoimmune diseases, just looking at my blood results, I’m the healthiest person he knows. He also thought I was weird because I can do pushups. He said people just don’t do pushups anymore. And ʺYou’re a woman nearing 50 why would you be doing pushups?ʺ

And THAT is why I don’t eat ʺgluten-free.ʺ To confound my doctor and see the look on his face when I tell him I do pushups on my knuckles. If I had started to eat ʺgluten-free,ʺ as they told me to years ago, I’d still be sick and wouldn’t be able to do any exercise at all. I’d probably be diabetic, too, and maybe even walking with a cane. I’ll be 50 years old this summer, and people look at me and think I’m 40 at the most, and I’ll take that as a compliment and a testament to a whole-foods diet over a ʺgluten-freeʺ diet any day.

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