Maybe That Belly isn't Fat: Celiac Disease Awareness
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Maybe That Belly isn't Fat: Celiac Disease Awareness

Those of you who know me read in some of my past blog posts that I have celiac disease. For those of you who don't, come on in to my world without gluten. Oh, by the way, food allergies are a part of the package. I don't center my social calendar or travel itinerary around food, which is a double bonus for me. Note: This blog post should not be construed as medical advice and should be used for informational purposes only.

My Story

I remember being so bloated I looked about 4 months pregnant when I wasn’t. My stomach burned like I took aspirin on an empty stomach. Stretchy pants were my friend because they didn’t cut in to my painful belly. I had problems losing the last ten pounds. One day, I noticed that when I ate anything bready like a bagel the pain set in. This was not fun for me. I tried to find out why I had this issue with bowel problems, brain fog, and odd bluish nails. The doctors really couldn’t figure it out. Instead they said I had IBS and fibromyalgia.  That was it.

There were plenty of frustrations and embarrassments because of my declining health. I joked about buying stock in Gas-X because of the putrid gas I had that could easily clear the room. I wanted to hide! I also had some weird quirky issues from undiagnosed celiac disease. One day, when I was teaching step aerobics at a local health club, my left foot refused to join the right foot on the step. It was as if that foot was glued to the floor. I cued the class to continue as I stood there in frustration. In a few beats I was able to rejoin the class in the routine. Later that day, I discovered I made yet another mistake scheduling a personal training client. As I apologized for the confusion to the kind woman, my names and nouns disappeared into oblivion. What was wrong with me?

My older daughter called to talk to me on the phone. “Mom, I went gluten-free after researching my symptoms online. It’s been a month and I feel so much better. You sound like you have some of the same problems I was having. Why don’t you try it and see what happens?” I was skeptical, but gave it a try. Sure enough, I felt considerably better. Not only did my belly stop hurting, it flattened out. My names and nouns miraculously re-appeared. At my doctor's appointment following my experiment, I shared my experience with the doctor. She was convinced that I did indeed have celiac disease. I’ve been gluten-free since 2009 and never regretted it.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that attacks the small intestine when gluten, a protein from wheat, barley, and rye, is ingested. It only takes a miniscule amount to trigger a reaction. So, taking the croutons off a salad is NOT good enough. The damage to the small intestine interferes with nutrient absorption so the affected person suffers from nutritional deficiencies. If left to continue, it could eventually lead to colon cancer and other serious health problems. Miscarriages are common in women with celiac. It’s also not unusual for the person to lose hair, have brittle thin nails, and lesions on the skin. It can affect the brain causing fatigue, dizziness, confusion, and forgetfulness, among other problems. This disease is serious. In order for the person affected to become healthy again, a lifelong gluten-free diet is a must.

What to Do?

First, if you believe you have celiac go to your doctor and ask to be tested. It's the only way for a true diagnosis. If you've gone gluten-free, you will have to consume gluten for a month for the test to be most accurate. Next, look for foods which are naturally gluten-free. Since carbohydrates are important to consume, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and other higher carb vegetables and fruits are great subs for your carb faves. Now, if you miss bread and pasta, look for gluten-free varieties. Then you will need to look for hidden gluten in other foods and personal products. Maltodextrin, MSG, and other additives are often made from wheat, barley, and rye. It is important to scrutinize sauces, spices, seasonings, and condiments. Even vinegar can be made from wheat. The most overlooked change is to use separate pans that only gluten-free foods are cooked.The toaster should be dedicated gluten-free. It isn’t easy, but it is worth the trouble and the extra expense for your health.

Even personal care products will need to change because it can get into your mouth. I got mouth sores and a painful tummy from hand sanitizer, for Pete's sake. Some people with celiac have breakouts with their skin when products like shampoo or lotion contain Vitamin E, aka tocopherol acetate. All make-up, sunscreen, body wash, etc. should be gluten-free. Don’t forget your toothpaste and mouthwash, either. This may be overwhelming, but quite often going gluten-free is a process. You won't be well until you've eliminated all gluten, though. OH, by the way, don't kiss your sweetheart if he or she indulged in that tasty bread at your favorite restaurant! They should brush their teeth well and give about 24 hours before you smooch. It seems like it's everywhere, doesn't it?

Gluten can appear in Playdough, chalk, drywall, spackling, among other things. If you feel like you’ve ingested gluten, but your diet is strictly gluten-free, scrutinize your environment. When our building was under renovations, I was so sick! My daughter pointed me to info about offending building materials.You would be surprised where gluten may lurk!

When I travel, I carry Larabars, rice cakes, nuts, raw almonds, and dried fruit with me. At my destination, I go to the grocery store. I have other food allergies, too, so it’s not uncommon for me to go to a natural foods store for what I need. I have a grocery store app on my phone “Is That Gluten-free?” to help me find foods that are safe. I am one of those crazy people who smuggles food in my luggage.

There are also apps to help find restaurants, but you can also do a search for gluten-free restaurants on your map app or Google search. If you have allergies with celiac, check the menus of eateries to make sure you can safely dine there. Just because they have gluten-free, doesn’t mean what you want won’t have the food allergens. It can be quite tricky!

You can successfully go gluten-free to improve your health. Although the gluten-free diet is not a weight loss plan, if you have celiac your belly will be smaller because the offender will be eliminated. You may even lose weight, as long as you don’t binge on gluten-free junk food. One of the worst things many people do is substitute regular unhealthy foods with gluten-free unhealthy foods.You can find some great whole grain gluten-free products so you get your fiber. Eat healthy, and eat gluten-free. Your belly will be happy and smaller!
For more information, check out VeryWell. I am not being paid by VeryWell, but agreed with them to help people find this great resource by health professionals.

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