Sunday, May 19, 2013

How I Ditched Grains to Reclaim My Health

Going grain-free is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but it is the ONLY thing that has made a difference in my health.  I'm telling you my story in detail so hopefully someone out there doesn't have to waste seven years of their life feeling trapped in their body. 

My Health Goes Downhill

I've never hidden the fact that my physical and mental health has been a problem the last seven years.  Once I hit grad school in 2006, my weight started climbing.  I was stressed, didn't exercise, and ate out too much - I just didn't have time to take care of myself and thought I was reaping the consequences of a poor lifestyle.  

In 2008, I started experiencing digestive issues.  I determined that I had an oat intolerance, but it never occurred to me to see if other grains might be an issue.  Avoiding oats was pretty easy once you got in the habit of religiously reading all labels, but it didn't stop the weight gain, vicious mood swings, joint and muscle pain, reoccurring UTIs, ear aches, sinus infections, acne, depression, or poor sleep.  I was unhappy, sickly, and most of all, overwhelmed with frustration.  Exercising and eating healthy did nothing to boost my health.   I didn't know what I was doing wrong.

So I spent a few years without insurance living in misery and a few years with it but feeling too poor to use it.  Once our finances evened out two years into my current job, I started on a campaign of health tests in 2011 and 2012.  The first change was to eliminate birth control, which stopped the weight gain, UTIs, poor sleep, and the majority of feeling crazy on a daily basis.   It was the first time I felt like I had some control over my body.  Getting that little bit of relief empowered me to keep hunting.    

No Answers from Medical Testing 

I listened, eavesdropped, messaged, and asked questions of anyone I knew who also struggled with their health, hoping that if someone listed off symptoms like mine, I would have my next clue.  I learned about fibromyalgia, lupus, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid conditions, allergies, endocrine syndromes (one of which could have been a possible tumor on the pituitary gland and had me terrified while waiting for test results), Celiac's, and sleep disorders.  I got tested for a variety of medical conditions, but each one was a frustrating dead end.  

During my quest, I also stumbled across a few folks who had a gluten intolerance.  They swore up and down that eliminating wheat was the best decision they ever made, all of their health concerns vanished, and they were living a pain-free existence. But the people who had become vegetarians, ate exclusively organic, or were vegans all said the same thing.  

I was skeptical.  Particularly with wheat, it sounded like a magic fix, a radical move borrowed from supermodels to stay thin, and medically defiant in the worst kind of way.  It doesn't help that people can be very pushy, sometimes aggressive, about their diet advice.  But despite my reservations, I listened, considered, and researched. 

A Stomach Ache Every Day 

By the time I started medical testing, my digestive distress was full blown.  I was alternating between constipation and diarrhea, cramping and bloating from gas that would never resolve, little energy, lingering skin problems, and a growing dread of eating anything.  I was convinced my body had conspired against me.  There was no peace to be had from my GI system.  I was convinced the chest-bursting creature from Alien had decided to call my stomach home.  

I exercised and would be excessively sore for days on end.  I couldn't lose an ounce of weight to save my soul.  I was embarrassed and uncomfortable with my body in every way possible.  No matter how many feminist pep talks I gave myself about body confidence, I couldn't shake the self consciousness of being almost 200 pounds when I had been 60 pounds less in college.  I got rid of clothes that I had lost hope I would ever fit into again.  The aches and pains did nothing but draw attention to how my body was imprisoning me.    

Celiac's was the closest condition that fit my list of aliments, yet my test came back free and clear.  I had exhausted all other options for medical testing.  There was nothing left to do but go through my diet one food source at a time and see if anything was making me sick.  No doctor could help me with this task.  It was up to me and years of reading mystery novels to go sleuthing into my diet.  I was not looking forward to it, but by then, I was desperate to try anything that would leave my stomach and bowels with some peace and quiet.   

Click here to keep reading where my health journey took me.    

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