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100 Days Without Gluten - Day #1: Gluten Rehab

Posted Jun 23 2009 6:55pm
I've been hungry for 27 years. No matter how much I eat or what I eat, I'm always hungry. I've learned to eat really big meals because it's the only way to keep the hunger at bay. I can't focus when I'm hungry and I've got a lot on my plate right now. Baltimore Pride is rapidly approaching and I don't want to end up like I did last year, vomiting blood the night before the festivities. I made it through the 34 hour weekend on Redbull and sheer determination. It took such a toll on my body that I slept for 20 hours when it was all over. I can't go through that again.

It's been getting worse these last couple months. The ulcers are back. My stomach burns whenever I drink alcohol but I feel like I'm always at a bar or a fundraiser or a house party. I have a lot of friends and a very demanding career and social life. When I'm not working into the early morning hours, I'm drinking into them. I just got back to my desk from the bathroom. Lately, I've been throwing up a lot after lunch. That's curious, it's usually after I eat pizza. I do eat pizza a lot. It's easy and delicious. Maybe I'm lactose intolerant? I've got some time before my volunteers get here, let me do a little Googling...

That was one year ago. My Google research led me to and finally to 27 years of doctors, blood tests, medications, pills, dietary supplements and I finally stumbled upon the answer myself... I have Celiac disease. I decided to cut out wheat from my diet and within mere days, the majority of the symptoms that I had endured for nearly three decades: the hunger, the cramping, the migraines, the sickness, the fatigue, the vomiting, all faded away like waking up from a bad dream.

It's an interesting life living with constant pain. You learn to accept it. You learn to tune it out. You learn to indulge in the moments of no pain. Hell, I created them. Booze was a great escape from the miriad of aches I endured all day. The worst was the joint pain. You see, Celiacs who eat even a minimal amount of gluten don't absorb most of the nutrients in the food they eat. No matter how much we eat, we are always malnourished. Over the years, this meant weakened joints and slower muscle regeneration, a horrible price to pay since I was a competitive runner/volleyball player for many years.

It wasn't until a year ago that I could actually put on some weight. A blessing for a kid who grew up too thin to look anything less than awkward but it's scary at the same time. I come from a family that struggles with weight. My whole life I thought I was blessed with a high metabolism but that might not be the case. You'd think I'd know by now, a year after I unofficially diagnosed myself in my office at the community center in Baltimore, but I don't know... because I cheat on my diet, a lot.

Gluten destroys the villi in the small intestine, the hair-like material that absorbs the majority of what you eat. To completely heal, you have to keep to a very strict gluten-free diet. My semi-gluten-free diet cured most of the symptoms but it's still slowly destroying my body. I was so excited to live without the worst of the symptoms that I really didn't do my homework. I won't burden you with the details of what Celiac disease will do to me in the long run if I don't take care of myself but I will tell you, it's not how I want to spend the rest of my life.

This brings me to the point of this blog. 100 Days Without Gluten. 100 days to train my mind to know where gluten is lurking. 100 days to adjust my tastebuds to not having bread, pizza, pasta, cheese, beer, salad dressing, ketchup... and a thousand other things. 100 days to see what being healthy feels like because the baby Jesus knows, I've never really been at my best.

I cheated a lot over this past holiday weekend but I'm pretty sure the gluten bonanza I ate has worked it's way out of my body so I'm going to call today, Day #1 - Gluten Rehab. I'm going to need help. When I'm drunk and I try to convince you that two little double cheeseburgers aren't going to hurt me, now you know better. When I'm looking a little sad because I'm eating a salad when we go to eat at an italian restaurant, now you know why. When I get bitter before I get better, that's when I'll need my family and friends the most.
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