Initially I thought I'd talk about the first week or so after diagnosis, but a month into this I have to admit the adjustments are on-going. I told Ivan it feels a bit like the first time I opened "501 Spanish Verbs" and saw just how many different conjugations there are for each verb -- I was completely overwhelmed.
It's not like I can say "Oh, I can't eat bread or pasta or cookies...[or whatever wheat product]" because we're learning that gluten is just about everywhere. It's in a lot of the condiments I had in my fridge, from soy sauce to some brands of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. It's used as filler in a lot of medicines. It's in most candy. It's in a lot of cheese and most lunch meats.
And even if something doesn't have it as an ingredient, that doesn't mean it's gluten free. Products that are processed in the same place as things that have wheat and barley are often cross contaminated. Which covers everything from sugar to dried beans to canned beans to oatmeal to...
Are you getting the picture? It's really hard to avoid gluten.
Remember that first batch of figs I turned into jam and whole figs in syrup? Turns out the sugar I used is not on the approved list with the national celiac organization. Which means we have a whole lot of jam to give away. Between the first and second batch of figs, we found out I have celiac and bought a brand of sugar that's safe.
We sort of have a handle on what's okay and what's not, and eating at home really isn't a problem. It's eating elsewhere that we run into complications. With friends I simply find it too awkward to ask "Ummm, do you happen to know what brand of sugar you used when you canned those pears?" so I just say "I'm sorry, that's not something I can eat now." And of course that merits an odd look because can't I see it doesn't have wheat?
As for restaurants, that's a huge challenge here in Argentina. In the U.S. there are many restaurants offering gluten free options or even entire menus. Not so here. We did an online search in Cordoba and there is one restaurant in the entire city with a gluten free menu. One! This is the second largest city in Argentina.
Most restaurants here have a typical menu of beef, maybe pork or chicken, empanadas, pastas and milanesas. Variety, not so much. I'll need to order plain grilled meat without any sauce and hope they also have some kind of side that's okay. Most places serve salad and either fries or mashed potatoes and there are rarely any other options. I can't eat the fries in most places, because they fry empanadas in the same oil. I can't eat the mashed potatoes because they're usually instant and might have ingredients with gluten. So that leaves me with the salad -- unless they only have vinegar and vegetable oil (of an unknown variety) for the dressing, in which case I'll have to pass on the salad too.
Are you beginning to see how tricky it is to navigate the social setting with celiac?
Thankfully I've always preferred to make almost everything from scratch. There are a few things we used to buy ready-made that I'll have to learn how to make (empanada dough and tortillas come to mind) and I'm just starting to experiment with baked products using gluten free flour. I've found several gluten free baking mixes but didn't buy them because I've read that those are high in starches. Sadly, there aren't a lot of flours available. Mostly it's white rice or brown rice flours, although one health food store in town also carries a corn flour and another made from peas.
It looks like I'll be able to find more options in Uruguay when we go to conference at the end of this month. I even found one place in Montevideo that looks like it sells Bob's Red Mill products! We are going to be several hours from Montevideo, but one of the other missionary wives there is going to look for me and if she finds anything on my list, she'll buy it and bring it to conference. I gave her a list of four types of flour I'd really like to have, after finding a number of gluten free recipes I want to try.
I've had to change my anti-vertigo medication, buy a brand of aspirin that's processed in a "safe" lab, and stop taking my multivitamins and iron supplement.
At the very beginning I also tried a very restrictive diet, because I'd read several articles about how healing the gut required more than going gluten free. But after a week I felt way worse and was constantly hungry, so I stopped. Although one of the benefits is that I discovered I really like homemade grape jello.
About ten days into being gluten free, the migraines disappeared. Hallelujah! I've had a few low-grade headaches since then (mostly due to the heat, I think) but I cannot tell you what a relief it is to be migraine free. Migraines have plagued me for years, but it had gotten really bad in the past year or so, to the point I was having them almost daily.
Another cause for celebration: I've not had any fresh outbreaks of psoriasis on my feet. I've suffered with psoriasis for two decades, and rarely went a month without blisters popping up on the soles of my feet (not the official name, but they resemble blisters so that's what I call them). Sometimes it would just be one, other times I'd get clusters of them. Made walking a little difficult, let me tell you.
My energy level is also gradually improving. I won't be running any marathons soon (or ever!) but it just feels good to get through a day without being completely exhausted.
I've been told it will take at least three months to get rid of all the gluten in my body. I've also been told I'll feel like a new woman. I'm really looking forward to that. Can the new me have long, thick hair and not have to wear glasses any more?
[You think I kid?]
I'm excited about the progress we've already seen, and look forward to feeling better and better as I embrace the new 'normal' of being gluten free.