Coeliac disease is becoming more and more mainstream. My mum was diagnosed over ten years ago after many years suffering with chronic tiredness and anaemia. Back when mum received her diagnoses of Coeliac disease and it’s various spellings, it was relatively unheard of. Fast forward a decade and seems like everyone has or knows someone who is Coeliac.
To understand what Coeliac disease is and how it affects a person, you first have to understand the gut. In every person’s gut we have tiny hairs that line the gut wall creating a vast surface area to allow the gut to absorb nutrients broken down for digestion. Gluten, a protein found in wheat makes those hairs sticky and they eventually end up lying flat against the wall of the gut. Gluten can then pass through the cell wall of the gut between the hairs and into the blood stream. Gluten causes an inflammatory response in the body essentially putting it into red alert. People that have been diagnosed as Coeliac have an extreme reaction to the presence of gluten in their blood stream. As we are all different, we invariably can have different reactions to ingesting gluten but all side effects are not pleasant to say the least. To add confusion to the mix, some people are not Coeliac but are gluten sensitive or intolerant which means that they do not suffer with the explosive reactions of gluten but do suffer with discomfort to some degree.
I’m not Coeliac but I do avoid gluten where I can but not entirely. I don’t suffer with an explosive reaction if I eat a sandwich but I am aware that I just feel rubbish after eating wheat or gluten, so I avoid the big players like bread and pasta. As a result I dropped a couple of pounds in weight and feel less bloated and sleepy. I do have the occasional cake but can always tell the after affects are uncomfortable so sometimes the trade-off is just not worth it. My mum on the other hand is extremely allergic to gluten, to the point where she has to be careful not to use the same knife or chopping board as the one she’s prepped my dad’s sandwich on. I’ve seen her literally not be able to choose anything off of a restaurant menu because every option either had gluten in it or the restaurant couldn’t guarantee the prep area was not contaminated. This is getting better as more and more people being diagnosed is raising awareness of Coeliac disease so eateries have had to keep up. What a gamble that must be, for you to put your trust in the places you eat and hope to the gods that you don’t get “glutened.”
I’ve been studying Nutritional Therapy for the last two and half years and all the pieces of the holistic puzzle are falling into place for me now. As therapists one of the very first protocols that we may ask a client to do is remove gluten from their diet for a period of time, usually 4 weeks. This is like “woods for trees” just to see if the client feels any improvement in their health without the presence of gluten fogging things up. An improvement is usually inevitable and can look like a drop in weight, clothes feel less tight, concentration improves and generally they report feeling lighter and more energy to do things. Once they’ve done the hard bit of eliminating gluten they usually are happy to carry on being gluten free.
On my own journey of eliminating gluten I’ve become aware of the connection between gluten containing foods and my emotional state. All gluten containing foods lack nutrition and usually taste damn good i.e. doughnuts, bread, pasta, biscuits etc. and come combined with fats and sugar making for a comforting friend. When my mood dips or I’ve had a bad day I reach for the biscuits invariably taking a seat on the blood sugar roller coaster that is incredibly difficult to get off of. Your body gets a temporary hit off the sugar, gluten and fat combo, you feel invincible for about 15 minutes and then you crash to the depths of the deepest sea, have another biscuit and then off again on the roller coaster. Do that for a period of time and you’re on your way to diabetes and a belly that you can’t shift! This link of emotions and poor food choices is crucial to bringing balance back into play and gluten is a major player in the suppression of emotions. Did you know that gluten hits the same receptors in the brain as cocaine!? Awareness is crucial here as most folk have been on that roller coaster all their life and are clueless as to why when they are eating “low fat, low sugar, gluten free” they still put on weight and don’t feel any healthier…..whatever health means for them.
So, back to what I think is the hardest part, eliminating gluten in the first place.
Being armed with options and knowledge is what helped me step off the gluten wagon. It was hard at first as I mostly lived off toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta for dinner and then toast for supper. I didn’t realise just how much gluten I was eating and how that was affecting me. I was in denial and blindly professing to be “into health” and all that. It wasn’t until I became a little more body aware and made the connection between headaches every day and my bread feast that I was able to begin to gradually wean myself off of the bread. I visited a Nutritional Therapist and gained more awareness of what gluten was and how it was not good for my health. More importantly, for me, I got my hands on some recipes and alternative meal options that weren’t based on bread. I think this is what helps me listen carefully to what my clients are saying. They understand that gluten isn’t great to eat every day and see the reasoning for eliminating it from their diet but they are left feeling like “well, what the hell can I eat then?!” The crutch has been taken away and they are wobbling about looking for something else to lean on. Some people really go for it and eliminate gluten really easily and others feel as though they are being punished for some unknown crime against their loaf of Hovis.
Fast forward about 4 weeks and they have transformed, even if it’s just a tiny shift, a transformation none the less. They see and feel the difference and so that can be the catalyst for them to keep going with being gluten free. But, what is most amazing for me to see is that the gluten free lifestyle is freeing their mind up to new opportunities. They are no longer suffering with brainfog or falling asleep at their desk after lunch. They bound into clinic with huge energy, inspiring me to keep going too. This shift in the everyday habits of people causes a ripple effect and so people no longer need to feel as though they are victims suffering in isolation and so ultimately form a support mechanism for those people struggling through Coeliac disease. It doesn’t need to mean the end of your life, it just means a re- evaluation of what you put in your mouth. It’s about taking responsibility for your own wellbeing and that to me feels like the most empowering thing we can do for ourselves, Coeliac or not.
*All of my views are my own and based on my own experience. Clients are not named so as to protect their confidentiality.
I enjoy writing what I’m passionate about so in my excitement I may overlook some typos or my grammar may suck