Breaking Up with Gluten
It’s been said that breaking up is hard to do. In my relationship with gluten, that was certainly the case. And I don’t use the word “relationship” lightly. For I most certainly had a “relationship” with gluten.
I will be the first to admit it: I loved gluten! Gluten was the thing I turned to in times of joy (cake) as well as in times of woe (pasta). Gluten was part of my everyday life. I started and ended each day with gluten.
It seems that my best memories featured gluten in one form or another: rolling out crusts with my mother for holiday pies, my dad and I sharing bowls of warm and sugary cinnamon milk toast on chilly mornings, summer cookouts with squishy white hamburger and hot dog buns, devouring my grandmother’s angel food cake while she plied me with fascinating stories of our family, eating an almond croissant while strolling the streets of Paris – the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately for me, my relationship with gluten was not a healthy one. As much as I loved it, it was not kind to me. Gluten gave me weekly migraine headaches that would last for three days. Gluten made my 20-year-old joints ache like an arthritic 90-year-old. Gluten crashed my adrenal glands, causing me to walk around in extreme exhaustion throughout the day and making it almost impossible for me to sleep at night. In one way or another, gluten affected every moment of every day of my life for years.
I once had a roller coaster relationship with a man that was all bright lights, balloons, and carnival rides when he lavished his attention on me, and misery, pain, and yearning when he decided to withdraw his attention (which he liked to do randomly and for no apparent reason). There was an addictive quality to that relationship. Despite the frequent pain, all I seemed to focus on was the pleasure and I desperately wanted the pleasure back when it was gone. It was a toxic relationship. And my relationship with gluten was just the same. Despite the feeling of discomfort, I desperately craved the supposed “comfort” it gave me. I loved gluten but it didn’t love me back the way I deserve to be loved. I realized I had no choice but to break up with gluten.
When I finally had to confront the fact that I would have to end my toxic relationship with gluten once and for all, it was not something I easily accepted. Logically, I knew that a relationship with anything – be it a person or food – that ultimately hurts you is something that needs to be terminated immediately and forever. My head accepted the facts but my heart was resistant.
My breakup with gluten was oddly similar to my other toxic relationship breakup. I had no interest in anything, was listless, and was mildly depressed. All I wanted to do was lounge in bed and watch reruns of old television shows. I had to force myself to eat. I cried at commercials, especially commercials that involved any type of food. My body ached, I felt nauseous, and I had a mild headache for a few days. My throat was sore and I was sure I was coming down with the flu. It was difficult to care about anything. And worst of all, I could not contemplate how I could possibly live without gluten. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I was mourning a loss and I felt the grief mentally, emotionally, and physically.
My doctor assured me that I would survive. She told me it was normal to feel worse before feeling better and that my body was detoxifying. After a weekend-long pity party, I dragged myself out of bed, dusted myself off, and got on with the business of living. Week two of my new gluten-free life was my first migraine-free week in almost two decades. By week six I felt better than I could ever remember. I bounced out of bed in the morning, had great energy throughout the day, and was sleeping like a baby at night (not one of my babies, mind you, but one of those imaginary babies that sleeps soundly all night long).
After grieving the breakup from gluten, it was time to learn to love again. I had always loved food – preparing it, eating it, and sharing it. Just as I had come to realize that a healthy relationship with another person was far more fulfilling than a toxic one, I realized that I could have a healthy and fulfilling relationship with food. I decided to stop looking at the world of food in terms of what I could not eat and instead focus on the abundance of what I could eat. There was a whole big glorious world of gluten-free food out there ready for me to explore, enticing me to fall in love again.
Back when I went gluten-free, the options available simply did not exist as they do today. If I could find gluten-free bread, it was not worth eating. Early gluten-free pastas turned instantly into bowls of mush. A gluten-free pie crust or doughnut? Unheard of! I learned to embrace whole, naturally gluten-free foods. I got busy in the kitchen and I got creative. And through it all, I got healthy.
I wish I could tell you this was the happy ending to the story and that I willingly remained faithful to my gluten-free life. Sadly, that’s not the case. Gluten flirted with me and I flirted back – more than once. Despite how great I felt since our breakup, gluten seduced me on a few occasions. There was that sinfully steamy hot Krispy Kreme doughnut in Nashville. A seductively sexy bowl of handmade pasta and freshly baked bread in Rome. And that roguishly charming, delectably decadent individual Beef Wellington at a swanky soiree on the west coast of Florida. The last time I strayed from my gluten-free life was in a posh hotel in Beijing. Despite my best efforts, I had been gluten poisoned during my three week visit to China. I walked downstairs to the dining room and came face to face with acres of gorgeous, golden brown, gluten-filled baked goods. My resistance already weakened, I indulged in a veritable orgy of bagels, muffins, French toast, and waffles.
For me, gluten was like that disarming bad boy I found so hard to resist. And giving into temptation always ended exactly the same – with me heartbroken, miserable, and writhing in pain. It simply is not possible to be friends with something (or someone) that is not truly your friend, does not have your best interests at heart, and takes much more than it gives.
After that fateful morning in Beijing, I resolved to remain true to my gluten-free lifestyle. I resolved never to cheat again. And I haven’t.
Today I am healthier than I was thirty years ago. I can accomplish more in a day than many people half my age. My body is free of aches and pains. I rarely get sick. Weekly migraines are thankfully a thing of the past. The food I eat fulfills me and doesn’t hurt me. And I have found true joy in sharing my gluten-free life with others.
Food, like love, does not have to hurt and it should never, ever be toxic. Breaking up with gluten may have been hard to do, but living (and eating) well is the best revenge!