Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Gluten Free Gal
When I was 22, I did a study abroad in Costa Rica. My bestest best and I were roommates at a home-stay that had, how shall we say, "strict" rules about meals in the house.
Some of these rules included: No lunches served, coffee was brewed at 5:00am and not another pot until the next calendar day, no beans, and absolutely NO sweets. Well, not NO sweets, they were just locked away in a cabinet in the dining room that could be opened with the proper key or ingeniously bent bobby pin.
We thought we were just being exposed to "normal" Tico (that's how Costa Ricans refer to themselves) eating habits and we should be gracious guests. (And we absolutely should have been and were.) But a few weeks into the trip we realized all of our classmates were complaining of their pants not fitting and their muffin-tops a-rising...Stories of Costa Rican delicacies being served at everyone's home-stay was a favorite topic of conversation...except ours.
Bestest best and I took solace in the form of refined carbs that could be purchased on our route to school each day, mostly from a local bakery chain called Mus-Mani...i.e. the BEST bread and pastries in Central America! Some days we would find ourselves a few loaves deep for a single lunch...
Oddly enough, while my classmates were searching for new trousers a few sizes up, I was wasting away. I kept my complaints of nausea and bathroom carnage to myself. I thought I may have picked up a special Costa Rican form of Montezuma's Revenge and that's just a normal part of traveling. I told myself to buck up and get over my sour stomach.
When I returned to the states I was given an arsenal of anti-parasitic medicines and a prescription to eat as much of the foods I craved as I wanted. These foods, many of them "last meal" status, included: french baguettes dipped in Nutella, homemade mac and cheese with breadcrumbs on top, blueberry muffins, and chocolate cake.
And I was still losing weight. Now, before you point out how this is the BEST diet ever and I am soooooo lucky and shouldn't be complaining, let me illuminate you as to how sick I was. My hair was falling out, I had absolutely NO energy, I wasn't sleeping, and my skin, when it wasn't splotched with rashes, was a pale greenish-yellow hue. I was clearly really sick.
After a few more weeks and quite a few more pounds, panic started to set in. My doctor was saying the "c" word and hepatitis in a hushed tone to the nurses and that's when I decided to get a second opinion. I went to a new doctor who only asked me tons of questions about my diet. Twenty minutes later I had my blood drawn again and the next day I was called back into the office.
I was a little more than panicked, since the first doctor had been uttering some serious stuff that could be wrong with me, but when I sat down at the new doc's desk I was met with a diagnosis I'd never heard of before: Celiac's disease.
"Wha? Does that mean I'm screwed?" I asked. The doc replied, "Well, no...and yes..." We went on to discuss all of the things that I couldn't eat anymore: wheat, barley, any thing with wheat or wheat derivatives, etc, etc, etc. I also worked in a bakery and needed to find another place of employment where inhaling the flour wasn't an occupational hazard.
I was so relieved that I didn't have a giant tape worm dwelling in my gut or a hollow leg. I had Celiac's and this was manageable...I hoped.
And it was. Trust me, figuring out how to order a meal at a restaurant was excruciating and family get-togethers can be harrowing, but now that I know what the deal is, life is soooo much nicer....and puke-free!
Photo via Happy Home Baking.