What Happened After Being Diagnosed with Celiac Disease
I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in January of 2015. So I just had my 3 year anniversary, but, no, I did not gift myself anything in leather (FYI- Leather is the traditional 3rd wedding anniversary gift). A new handbag would have been nice though.
During these past 3 years, my diet has been completely overhauled. In the past, I never looked at food labels beyond calories, fat, and protein. Before celiac, my dietary goal was to consume the least amount of calories, least amount of fat, with the most grams of protein. My understanding of nutrition was pretty much nil. My knowledge consisted of three beliefs: fat was bad, you shouldn’t consume more calories than you burn, and protein was good for building muscle. I never thought of food as a source of nourishment for my body.
I was a mom of 4 kids under the age of 5. Besides dinner, I barely sat down for meals. Their needs never allowed me to sit and eat a meal without constant interruptions. So I gravitated towards eating things that were quick, easy, and on-the-go. The only time I could sit and eat was when they went to bed.
Before celiac, I was the girl who always had a diet coke (even if it was 6AM) or Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in hand. My car and diaper bag was filled with pretzels, goldfish, granola and protein bars, and maybe an occasional apple. It was not a balanced diet. Vegetables were rare. I did not eat for my health or wellbeing. And, I never considered the impact the foods I was eating could have on my digestive system.
But there I was, 3 years ago, being told I had Celiac Disease – a hereditary autoimmune disease involving intolerance to gluten affecting the digestive system. I had been looking for the reason to why I was not absorbing iron, why my hair was thinning, why my joints ached liked crazy, why I was suddenly getting migraines, why my mood was incredibly unstable, why my skin was completely freaking out, why I never felt satisfied after eating, and why I was so ridiculously exhausted. Finally, I had an answer.
But, being diagnosed with Celiac Disease was not an answer to all my problems. It was merely pointing me in the right direction. The complications that came with Celiac Disease have made (and continue to make) my journey towards a healthy gut and digestive system such a long road ahead.
The first year after being diagnosed, I went completely gluten free. I worked hard to remove all sources of gluten. There is a lot to learn, and I was not perfect. There are many places where gluten hides that I was unaware. Gluten could hide in shampoo, lotions, lip balm, alcohol, sweeteners, and flavored coffee. Overall, I did pretty well, but knew I still had so much to learn.
My body felt better. Less tired, a little less achy, my skin improved slightly, and my bathroom habits were more consistent and less problematic. But, it was not a dramatic change towards feeling better like I had read about from people who removed gluten and then felt 100 times better. I felt as though things were not improving the way they should have. My stomach would still bloat, my reflux was still happening, my joints still ached, recurring yeast infections, and I would still get migraines (less often, but they still happened). Something just felt wrong. I knew I should feel better than this, especially after a year of being gluten free.
My doctor simply just told me to go gluten free. Like that would be the answer to solving all my ailments. But, I just didn’t feel like it was enough. My body needed something more. I was missing something. I needed to learn more.
My cousin had suggested I read a book called Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health. I read the book, and completed a 3-week program that focused on alleviating illness through food. I ate clean and whole foods every meal. I ditched my coffee and my diet coke (Yes! That sucked!). While the first week was difficult, I felt ten times better after 3 weeks. My sleep improved, my reflux was gone, no migraines, my aches were nearly gone, and my mood was more stable.
I looked at food in an entirely new way. It was clear that food was going to be the medicine to get my health back on track. The foods I chose to eat were either going to directly help in healing my gut and ailments, or they were going to continue to cause damage. I was tired of being sick, and always having a problem with something. I maintained many aspects of the Clean Gut diet, but did allow for some old gluten free snacks to come back (such as chips, cereals, and candy). I was trying to live by the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the food I ate was clean, nourishing whole foods, and 20 percent was food that I enjoyed (of course, still gluten free). About 6 weeks after completing the program, I found my symptoms beginning to return.
I was completely frustrated. I had been eating cleaner and better than I had in my entire life, yet my health was not improving. I had read tons of stories online describing how other people have dealt with Celiac Disease and its complications. While their stories and symptoms were similar, it was not my story. I needed someone to look at my unique situation coping with Celiac Disease.
It’s easy to forget that Celiac Disease affects each person differently. My Celiac Disease is different from your Celiac Disease. Meaning the solution for one person, may or may not be a solution for another person trying to heal the damage of Celiac Disease. The digestive system is complicated and affects so many parts of the body. So when it becomes damaged, the range of symptoms and complications are vast.
I needed help. I needed a doctor that understood Celiac Disease and who could help me as an individual – and not view me as just another person who suffered from Celiac Disease.
Finding the Right Doctor
Inside the book “The Clean Gut”, Dr. Junger recommends finding a Functional Medicine Doctor. A what? Never heard of it before, but I wish I had. Functional Medicine doctors treat you as an individual, and they look for the root cause of disease. They do not just treat the symptoms and send you on your way. So, I plugged in the web address for the Institute for Functional Medicine (www.ifm.org), and it was here that I found the doctor I still see today.
My doctor has provided me with so much personal information about my health and situation. She helped me discover the true state of my gut, my low functioning thyroid, my food sensitivities, and helped me to create a plan of healing through diet and supplementation. She also told me that healing from Celiac Disease is a long process. For many it will take years. This was important for me to hear because I was expecting to feel differences overnight.
What I was most surprised to learn were all the foods I was sensitive to. It was pretty much everything I ate each and every day. So I removed them all for an entire year. My symptoms improved. I felt more like my old self. My skin felt better, my hair and nails became stronger and healthier, my migraines disappeared, my joint aches disappeared, my reflux was gone, bloating was significantly reduced, and my recurring yeast infections became less frequent.
I finally felt as though things were starting to heal.