Why I Don’t Eat Wheat January 5, 2013Posted by phoenixhopes in Allergies, food, GF, Gluten Free, Wheat.
Today is Saturday. On Monday I ate a fast food cheeseburger. It was delicious with a soft, fresh bun, just greasy enough to add flavor without detracting, nicely balanced with tomato, pickle and lettuce, individual condiments (mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard) rather than some sort of combined “secret sauce.” I enjoyed it immensely if a bit guiltily. I knew when I was eating it that I was making a mistake and this week has proved that I was right.
Two years ago I found out I was allergic to wheat. I’d been suffering with allergy problems for a long, long time — years and years, in fact — with no luck figuring them out. I couldn’t find a pattern with environmental exposure. Time of day or season of the year didn’t seem to have any impact. Over the counter allergy meds seemed to have no affect. I had constant post nasal drip causing constant coughing. And by constant, I really do mean constant. I was sucking on at least 10 cough drops a day and still both friends and strangers would ask if I was ok or if I needed help — a cough drop maybe, or a drink of water. At least twice a year I’d see the Doctor for a sinus infection and there were many more I was able to fend off before I needed antibiotics. A few times the sinus infection progressed on to bronchitis. If I went to Urgent Care and a new Doctor would look up my nose, they would always make a comment like “you definitely have some allergies going on here”. Overall, I was a mess.
Finally, at my annual physical, I told my Doctor I was tired of this and we needed to figure out just what was causing these problems. She ordered a blood test to look for allergies. Truthfully, I was expecting the results to show something environmental. Dust mites maybe, or cat dander. I figured once we identified the allergen, I would address it as I was able and also start taking a strong, focused anti-allergy medication. Let’s face it, I’m never going to get rid of dust in my house even if I was able to radically change my housecleaning habits. And I’m not giving away my cat (although at the time we were fostering a second cat and I definitely would have asked the owner to find a different home until she was able to take her back).
A few days later my Doctor called me, said my results were in and that I was allergic to wheat. Seriously? Wheat? I would need to stop eating wheat? But I like foods with wheat. No, honestly I love them. This was two weeks before Christmas, the most wheat filled season of the year. Cookies. Cardamom Rolls. Breads. More Cookies. Christmas is a wheat extravaganza. I had no idea that a food allergy could cause hay-fever like symptoms and I was not at all pleased with this news.
I coughed my way through Christmas and started eating Wheat Free January 1, 2011. Mostly I eat a very slightly relaxed Gluten Free diet. I can fudge the GF part in some areas — I seem to be able to tolerate barley, for instance, and that is not allowed on a strict GF diet. I’ve learned to read food labels before purchase, and again before eating. Some things surprised me. Soy Sauce for instance. I thought Soy Sauce was just soy. I had no idea wheat was an ingredient. And I had to learn the ways wheat can hide in foods — “modified food starch” is a big no-no for me, unless the label explicitly says it is made from corn. I cleaned up my diet (losing weight in the process!) and all those awful physical symptoms went away.
I slip once in a while. Sometimes it’s because I’m not paying attention and sometimes I’m fully aware of what I’m doing. I try not to cheat often but I’ve learned that if I pop a benadryl before ingesting wheat I can fend off some of the symptoms. Not all of them, and often it takes a few benadryl over a few days but it suppresses enough to make eating the “forbidden” food acceptable every once in a while. I still get the post nasal drip and annoying cough (and maybe the gut problems I describe below) but at least I don’t sound so bad that people edge away from me in the elevator, hoping to avoid whatever nasty germs I might carry.
In December I cheated a few times (hey, it was Christmas, the wheat extravaganza, it’s hard staying wheat free in December!), ending with the fast food cheeseburger on New Years Eve. Maybe it was a cumulative effect of a month’s worth of pushing the wheat envelope or maybe that cheeseburger was especially wheat-heavy but this week I’ve been pretty miserable. I decided to chronicle the effects on my body so when I’m tempted again I can remind myself that yes, it really is that bad to indulge.
Day 1: I was driving my son to Indiana and neither of us had eaten much before we started the trip. We were hungry and I was craving a cheeseburger. I was grumpy and tired enough to feel self-indulgent. When we stopped for food I popped a benadryl and didn’t even consider healthier options. Yes I did enjoy that burger, trying to eat slowly and savor the experience. I think I even closed my eyes with ecstasy at one point. I think I would have liked it more if we’d found a Wendy’s (how I loved their burgers) but it was delicious. Even with the benadryl, the post-nasal drip started down my throat by that afternoon, causing me to clear my throat and cough a bit. I took another benadryl before bed.
Day 2: New Years Day started with me congested and coughing and popping another benadryl. Throughout the day I also suffered a stomach-ache with cramps and loose bowels. Back before I was diagnosed with my wheat allergy, I didn’t pay much attention to my ‘gut issues.’ (This gets a little graphic, so you might want to skip on to Day 3.) I thought my frequently loose and occasionally explosive bowels was just how my body expelled waste. After all, I don’t know many adults who sit around and discuss their bowel habits so I didn’t have much to compare myself with. I never really had full-fledged diarrhea except when suffering from a true intestinal ailment, but for years and years, my bowels were loose and frequent. Once I eliminated wheat from my diet, my output was both more regular and solid. I can’t quite believe I’m putting that information out there for all to read but it’s all part of my wheat story. You now know more about me that you ever expected. Or wanted.
Day 3: The congestion is leading to sleep issues. I wake up coughing a few times each night and I’m breathing mostly through my mouth rather than my nose. I started my day with benadryl once again. I’m sure the cold weather added to my coughing — it was bad enough that one of my commuter buddies commented “I had that bug for two weeks without relief. You’d better take care of yourself.” I had to dig the bag of cough drops out of my desk drawer to stay socially acceptable at work and coughed my way through choir practice in the evening. Still suffering with mild cramping and bowel issues.
Day 4: In the office again fighting a horrid sinus headache. If I was at home, I would give in and sleep it off. Unfortunately, they aren’t so understanding about that at work so I took yet another benadryl and a couple ibuprofen. That knocked it out enough so I could function but didn’t quite get rid of it.
Day 5: Still slightly congested. My sinuses are “sticky” — you know how when you’re at the tail end of a cold and no longer constantly dripping but still dealing with ‘something’ up there. Your sinuses feel ‘thick’. Maybe it’s because there is still junk up there or maybe it’s because I’m still a bit swollen from the allergy attack. Whatever it is, it’s annoying and still affecting my sleep. I continue to breathe through my mouth more than my nose. My gut still doesn’t feel normal.
Day 6: Today. Saturday. I don’t think I’ve taken a benadryl since Thursday but maybe I forgot about one. I saw this lovely visage in the mirror this morning. Notice the still puffy eyes and dark circles. Ignore the lack of makeup. Before I eliminated wheat from my diet, my eyes always looked like this, or even worse. I think it’s safe to say this is from a combination of poor diet and poor sleep caused by that poor diet.
So, was that burger worth how I’ve felt this past week? No, not really. I loved the burger but that enjoyment was not worth a week (or more) of feeling crappy. I’m not posting this for sympathy because honestly, eliminating wheat from my diet has brought so much good into my life. I am so much healthier than I was two years ago. Yes I have to make choices and sometimes those choices make me feel deprived. Boo hoo. Poor me. I’m posting this so I remember the next time I’m tempted. I don’t want to spend another week popping benadryl to survive. In fact, I don’t want to simply survive, I want to enjoy my life. It’s hard to enjoy life when one feels like crap all the time. Eating wheat free is my freedom from constantly feeling like crap. That’s why I don’t eat wheat.