The Girl with the Scarlet Letter

Have you ever had one of those moments where someone told you something and for a split second you had built it up to be so magnificent in your mind, only to drop down about 14 levels of joy once you figured out what it really was?  I had one of those moments yesterday.

I have come to accept the fact that I probably won’t be able to eat (with any confidence anyway) at most places. I no longer throw the early-diagnosis-esque tantrums like I once did if the menu doesn’t have a gluten-free option.

Yesterday was no different…I was going to a cornhole tournament/football watching function at a local bar…where yes, everyone does know your name.  I had confirmed that there would in fact be Woodchuck Cider available (my favorite GF beer!) but since I hadn’t been there since my diagnosis, I already expected that there would be nothing ‘safe’ for me to eat.  My pre-diagnosis trips had included quick glances at the menu to find the greasiest menu item available in an attempt to soak up a portion of the beer that I was undoubtedly ingesting, of course none of the items being gluten-free.

Right before I walked into the door after setting up cornhole boards, the girl that was in charge of the function said something to me about being gluten-free. Then she said, ‘I have something for you to eat.”  What?! I about wet my pants. Had I hallucinated that I’d have a safe food? Could it be that I wouldn’t have to sit there for hours without something to snack on (i.e. something to soak up the alcohol)?!  I was in disbelief.  I felt like Charlie Bucket discovering his golden ticket!

I wondered what it was…a GF dip of some sort…a burger without the bun…a delicious salad with GF dressing. It was a bar after all, so the food running through my mind was not exactly all diet friendly.  What could it be?! What was in store?!

She turned to reach in her bag to pull out my GF surprise…my mind was running like a slot machine….Chips…Fries…Chips…Jackpot!!!!  She reached in….oh I can’t handle the suspense anymore…hand in her bag…I’m salivating…she grabbed the bag…stop the madness already, I’m starving…and she pulled out my treat…

A perfect peach.

Trust me…I am more than grateful and so incredibly humbled that she thought of me and thought enough to even offer me something to eat.  Her kindness to someone she had only just met meant a great deal to me.  And trust me, I know that a peach was a far, far better choice than what I might have previously ordered. And for that, my waistline thanks you, Tricia.

But amongst the smell of burning grease, beer, and hot dogs…I was momentarily deflated.  This is what my ‘cheat days’ have turned into: GF beer and fruit.

I didn’t eat it there because I tend to end up looking like the child below when I eat peaches…half my makeup dripping off the bottom half of my face but sticky and smelling like summer.  I did absolutely destroy it when I got home and it was delicious!!!

I do want to mention that it is not a requirement for me to eat when I go out. However, being able to have a little snack while the rest of my friends are indulging on Eat This Not That’s worst offenders does allow me to feel a slight sense of normalcy…something I haven’t felt since I was diagnosed.   I can’t hide in my own kitchen forever.  I know I need to suck it up and deal with it.

I’ve become that girl that restaurants hate.  I’m the one that walks in and the kitchen staff instantly starts whispering “There’s the girl with all the demands…There’s the girl that is adamant about salt and pepper only on her salmon and absolutely no other bulk seasoning…There’s the girl that requests that we change our gloves and utensils so we don’t contaminate her food…There’s the girl that proclaims that if we accidentally give her something with gluten that she will get violently ill on the spot and run off all the other customers.” (Ok so I won’t exactly get violently ill the second it hits my tongue but I do say that if I feel like the waiter/waitress isn’t listening to me. You’d be surprised how well they pay attention if they feel like they might to have to clean up vomit if they don’t comply.)

I feel at times I need to wear a t-shirt with my demands. I need a nametag with my requirements.  I should be sporting a scarlet letter of my own.  There’s THAT girl….the marked girl…the different girl…the girl with the scarlet G.

But, THAT girl lost weight this week….

 

I’m slowly learning not to sweat what I can’t control.  And that my body is much happier in the long run. I may have had beer and fruit at the bar…but by God my stomach didn’t hurt afterwards!  And for that I did truly hit the jackpot.

And you better believe I’ve got peaches on my grocery list…

“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”

~ Chinese Proverb

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The Gluten-Free Kid

Ugly part out of the way first…I can’t seem to get out of this 211-213 range…am I destined to be bulky forever?!

 

 

 My motivation has started to wane. I’m eating wrong – I’m eating too much…and by god I have to say that my digestive system has never felt better… Not that it’s any excuse to blow any semblance of a diet.

My old feelings of failure are starting to rise back up in my throat.  That awful horrid voice in the back of my head saying “Here you go again…you know you’ll never be skinny.” I can’t seem to get the nutrition part squared away right now. I love food far too much and am actually enjoying eating it and feeling pain free.  Dammit I love cooking!!! I cannot possibly explain the joy and ecstasy I feel when I’m standing in the kitchen creating an amazing gluten-free meal for myself. I lay awake at night thinking about all the ways I can reinvent dishes that I used to have in a way that won’t hurt my tummy.  If only I’d find a love for cooking cabbage and tofu instead of amazing variations of risottos and beurre blancs.   Here’s an example of both…one of the best dishes I’ve ever made! 

Pan seared scallops over risotto and roasted asparagus with a grapefruit beurre blanc - not low-cal, but it was delicious!

 

And speaking of cooking…I had an amazingly eye-opening experience this weekend.  I was in Charlotte for a housewarming party at my sister’s house.  Chili was on the menu, and to save her some time in getting all the other things together, I offered to make it.  For two reasons…1) I make a mean chili.  Wow…that was conceited. Let’s just say I know my way around the kitchen.  2) I wanted to control what’s in it so I knew it was ‘safe’. 

I’ve gone through a very distinct up and down with regards to food confidence.  I had such tremendous fear of cross-contamination and accidental glutening when I was first diagnosed.  Then I transitioned into a period of ease…comfort…I knew what I could have and didn’t question like I should have.  Then we come to my current state…distrust.  I don’t care if the menu states it’s gluten-free…or if I’m convinced that all that the dish contains is lettuce and red bell peppers…I don’t trust it if I didn’t make it.  The longer I go, the more I’m convinced that there are truly very few people that understand exactly what gluten is and how severe a reaction from even the slightest cross-contamination can be. I’ve gotten lazy about demanding to know every ingredient and I’m paying the price. At the end of the day, I’d rather do it all myself. I’d rather know that it wasn’t vegetable broth in a sauce or that someone didn’t grab a hamburger bun before plating my dinner.  I’d rather know that the mayonnaise is safe and that the prep surfaces were cleaned thoroughly. 

‘Chefing’ it up for the party was a success, and little did I know what a poignant experience my pot of chili would turn out to be….

One of the people that attended the party at my sister’s was a 10-year old named Marc.  Amazing kid…great sense of humor. And Marc has Celiac Disease.  

The look on his face when he knew he could eat the chili without fear, and the look on his face as he enjoyed his bowl is one that sticks with me now.  It makes me feel amazing.  I feel so blessed that I could help create that moment…that moment of trust in what you’re eating…that moment without fear of the unknown…That moment that I’ve lost when I’ve gone out to eat.

I can’t imagine coping with all of this as a 10 year old. How difficult it might be to prepare for unexpected birthday parties and food-oriented activities at school, church, and elsewhere.  How to deal with grandparents, babysitters, and “helpful” friends who offer gluten-containing foods…All without making them feel different. 

Marc handled the party much better than I’ve handled ones with unknown menus.  I saw him when he arrived and he didn’t have a look of shear panic like I’ve had when I’ve been unsure what was being served. He didn’t look like he was on the verge of throwing a temper tantrum like I’ve been if I find out there might not be anything ‘safe’ for me to eat. And for that, I admire him. 

I would love to get to know Marc better…I was diagnosed at 29…but I want to know what it’s like from his perspective. From that of a 10-year old.  Does he feel jipped? Does it make him sad? Does he feel different? I know kids can be disgustingly cruel to others that they perceive as different…and wonder if there’s any ‘dietary bullying’ that he’s ever had to deal with.  And I want to help. 

It’s situations like his, and the bliss on his face while he sat with his bowl of chili, that make me want to do so much more.  Thank you, Marc, for your incredible inspiration.  

I’ve decided that I’m blessed to have celiac disease…it has provided me with an opportunity to reach out and help others.  I want to do more than be an advocate for Celiac Disease. I want to do more than just be an encyclopedia of knowledge on the condition.

I want to seek a way of serving that corresponds to my unique abilities and propensities, a way that engages all of me. I want to help others directly. I want to cook safe meals for the CD masses.  I want to help give everyone with CD that look I saw on Marc’s face Saturday night.  

I believe that God really does have a plan for every single one of us…I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease for a reason…perhaps I am finally discovering my life’s purpose…

 

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” ~ Douglas Adams

 

Box Office Flop

Happy first week of June! My favorite month of the year…official start of summer. My birthday month. End of the fiscal year. Beach weather. My birthday month. 🙂

I had the displeasure of making a video of myself this week. Ugh…talk about a buzz kill. Video may have killed the radio star but it also killed my confidence.  (Hope to be able to share the reason for the video with you soon…don’t want to jinx myself.)

I have always had this weird quirk about my personality when it comes to people embarrassing themselves…often when they don’t mean to – but I cannot muster up enough courage to watch it…especially if I don’t know the person.  (I know – that’s so backwards.)  During American Idol I have to turn my head away from the television when someone sings – good or bad. During talent shows I have to hide my face I’m so anxious for the person auditioning. I don’t know what it is…it’s like I can feel their nerves. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more nervous than the person standing up there belting out a horrendous rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly”!

With that being said – when I have to watch myself on film, like I did this weekend, then forget it. I wanted to bury my head in the sand. I thought I had issues with myself in still shots…haha – you have no idea how bad it is in motion.  Voice doesn’t sound normal…and my appearance….Well – camera is not currently doing me any favors! Certainly wasn’t sitting there watching it play back thinking: “Damn, I’d shag me.”

Oh well…that’s what I’m here for, right?! To make baby steps to get to the point where I look amazing on screen…should I have the opportunity to get back on camera that is. Keep your fingers crossed!!! (Wink wink.)

So the scale….oh the scale. Four months in….and apparently we’re carrying the “baby step” theme right on through to the scale numbers. Down just a skosh…

Sorry – looks like I took this picture in dense fog…216.4 is the official number.

So glad that I picked the hottest week of my life to decide to set a goal to “start” working out….went for a walk a few days. No, wait…I didn’t walk for a few days – I went for a few walks….whatever – you get the point!  But this heat is craziness. I was sweating just thinking about walking outside and standing in the sun.

I did decide to bust out a little Shakeweight action this week….I can only imagine what that would have looked like on camera. I’m sure it would have been America’s Funniest Home Videos worthy. While it does look like the stupidest, most ignorant piece of exercise equipment on the market (2nd only to the Thighmaster of course) – I’m baffled to report that it actually works. (There’s a great how-to video on YouTube if you need it. Although the motion is pretty self explanatory.) And my torso is extremely sore.

Hold on…I just said my torso is sore…this is for arms…Ok, so very clearly I am doing it wrong. But it’s moving something around in there. Or just twisting it weird. Wow…I’ve always known I was uncoordinated…but too uncoordinated for a dumbbell you jiggle?! Only me!! 🙂

Week was relatively uneventful otherwise…Gluten is staying where it belongs…OUT of my digestive system. And I’ve had some great recipes again since the last post.  Alex at Natty’s outdid himself again…Fried Green Tomato (coated in cornstarch for a GF girl like me), topped with jalapeño pimento cheese, black eyed pea relish and a shrimp.  Delicious! This tasty morsel, ladies and gentleman, warranted a bigger mama slap than the pork belly!!

Love how this has started to turn into a GF food blog…oh well – at least I’m not gaining! So, Alex…and any other chef/cook that wants to make me their GF guinea pig – I welcome the challenge!!!  Bon appetit!

“A diet is the penalty we pay for exceeding the feed limit.”  ~Author Unknown

A Lesson Learned…

First off…I want to thank all of you for your continued support. As of this morning, I’ve had over 3,020 visitors to my site and the number keeps growing! All the support, comments and encouragement I’ve received have me incredibly humbled. I feel like I’ve got over 3000 therapists out there waiting for me to spill my guts.  I may not always reply to each message I receive – but trust me, I read and reread them often. Thank you again for making this journey so worthwhile.

And now…a few mistakes I’ve made and lessons learned…

  • For some reason, almost all overweight African-American women get upset when you call them “Precious”
  • Only one person to a treadmill at the gym
  • It doesn’t help to get salad dressing on the side if you get three cups of it and use it all
  • All your clothes didn’t suddenly shrink in the wash
  • Brushing your teeth with Dr. Pepper isn’t such a good idea
  • A caramel apple a day doesn’t necessarily keep the doctor away
  • If you eat a meal replacement bar, you need to NOT eat a meal
  • There is no such thing as one bite of movie theater popcorn
  • Wheatgrass is a superfood; Peanut M&M’s are not
  • Personal trainers generally don’t like to be paid with a bucket of loose change
  • Playing on Facebook for eight hours is not the same as sleeping for eight hours
  • You’re probably supposed to eat 2,000 calories per day, not 20,000
  • Free samples aren’t necessarily free
  • Most employers don’t recognize a “Vitamin D break,” so I guess you need to take up smoking in order to get a little sunlight during the day
  • Despite the word Diet in its name – the Hot Dog Diet is not effective
  • Standing up while eating does not make your food digest faster – it makes you look stupid at dinner parties
  • Even though hemorrhoid/hydrocortisone cream is often used by body builders and fitness models to tighten up their abs before a photo shoot – it does not work if there are no abs to rub it on…But it does relieve itching
  • Fun-size candy bars = No-fun-size thighs

I did lose weight this week…a little bit anyway. So close to the 30 pound mark!

But this week was extremely tough for me. I am in the midst of severe meltdowns. Yes, I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m so pissed off that I my convenient life is gone. I’m ticked off that I have to be so OCD about everywhere I go – questioning what idiot line cook might have touched my food immediately after grabbing a hamburger bun. I’m feeling like I’m going to have to be a hermit. Feeling like family functions are going to be impossible unless I’ve sat every family member down for a 2-week seminar on what I can and can’t eat and ways to avoid cross-contamination. So yes, I am pouting. I just want a freaking Ritz cracker!!!

In the back of my mind, I know I need to get over it. I know this could be much worse. (Thank you Wx DA for reminding me of that this weekend.) I can still live my life with relative ease. There are soldiers back from Afghanistan who have lost limbs. Their lives will never be the same. I can eat rice crackers to get over my poutiness about gluten…they don’t have an alternative option. Cutting gluten out of a diet has not killed anyone (that I know of anyway). Time to put my big girl panties (ugh – can’t believe I just used that word) on and keep going. Bitching about it night and day is certainly not going to change the diagnosis. And thus…another lesson learned.

Despite being accidentally gluten’d on Friday night – I have found that going places where I’ve got a personal relationship with the cooking staff makes a huge difference. I’d like to give props to one chef in particular, who despite thinking I was doing this gluten-free diet for fun at first (not sure who the hell does this for fun), has since made me some amazing gluten-free treats.  If you’re ever in Greensboro – Alex at Natty Greene’s makes some amazing dishes on the fly. Favorite so far: Greek chicken, homemade cucumber sauce (best I’ve ever had), and sliced cherry tomatoes on top of a cucumber slice…you will seriously want to slap your momma!

Ok…so after reading that last paragraph…maybe this isn’t so bad after all. Despite my occasional Dorthea Dix worthy tantrums, I’m being forced to eat better…my weight is dropping…I’m at the receiving end of a few amazing test dishes at a restaurant…and I still feel more amazing than I have in a long time. So Celiac…Bring. It. On.

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” ~Unknown

Diagnosis and the 5 Little Stages

I’m grieving. Yes, I am grieving the loss of bread…pizza crust…everything bagels…beer.  I’m grieving stress-free trips to restaurants…grieving easy family get-togethers and stress free events.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease last week.  So thankful (to the point of tears) that I finally have a firm diagnosis for what has perhaps been plaguing me for over a decade. It’s likely that issues I’ve been fighting since I was a child could be the result of CD.

As this is my first post about it…I’m going to go ahead and nerd it out for a paragraph or two and give you a few ins and outs of the disease (afterall, it’s helpful to be educational every once in a while)…

Celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disease affecting mainly the small intestine that affects nearly 1 in 132 individuals in the US. Those suffering from the disease are unable to ingest gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and malt. Eating gluten acts as a poison (always exciting), damaging the hair-like projections called villi that line the small intestine, leading the intestines to stop absorbing nutrients. (See picture below.)

The pictures show the difference between healthy villi (left) and damaged villi (right). The damaged villi gets brittle and flat. The efficiency to abosorb nutrients to our body has reduced tremendously.

If CD goes untreated, it can damage the small bowel and lead to an increased risk of certain long-term conditions and cancers.

The cause of celiac disease is unknown, although according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, it may be linked to a group of genes on Chromosome 6. Some experts believe that stressful events such as surgery, severe emotional stress or childbirth may trigger symptoms for the first time.

What are the symptoms?  Well…there are many. Celiacs may experience some, all or none of these:  abdominal cramping, distention and bloating, chronic diarrhea or constipation – or both, fatty stools, anemia, malabsorption, nausea and vomiting, depression, mouth ulcers, bone or joint pain, fatigue, infertility, and osteoporosis.  I experienced most of these (although to preserve any dignity I still have I will not specify which ones)…and there are also additional things my doctor believes may be the result of CD.

Now that you’re edumacated on the what and the why…you may be wondering how you cure it.

Well (frown) – there is not currently a cure for celiac disease. There’s no medicine to fight the effects of gluten should it be ingested. However, (happy face) the relief from the disease is 100% in my control (and some of you know how I am about control).  I am in charge of my “treatment” – no pill to take, no shots, no weird concoctions to drink every morning…100% Hannah E. Hayes regulated.

Eliminating all gluten from the diet is the only way to combat CD. It is the only proven treatment for healing the gut and promoting regrowth of intestinal villi. (Three cheers for happy villi!) The time it takes to fully recover depends on how long the intestinal damage has been occurring.

According to my doctor, my insides look like a war-zone…but after being on a completely gluten free diet for the last few days…I feel like I’ve been reborn.  Distention has been alleviated…stabbing pain in my side is gone. I feel incredible.

However, as a self-proclaimed carbohydrate addict, this has not been an easy last few days…I am currently in the midst of what I would like to call: My Gluten Free Journey through the 5 Stages of Grief

1)      Denial – My doctor had suspected that this is what had been plaguing me…but prior to the results, and even a while after, I was in a serious state of denial – As bad as I was feeling, I was sure there was no way some stupid bread protein was causing all my distress…afterall, how stupid does it sound? “Sorry…that pasta you just ate is making your villi lay down.”  Someone at work was eating pizza in front of  me and all I wanted to do was lick it. Certainly licking it wouldn’t hurt me (although it turns out, it may have), but he probably would have hurt me for licking his lunch. I was convinced that I’d never be able to live or follow this new diet…I of course was wrong.

2)      Anger – The day of the diagnosis – as I was trying to figure out what to pick up for lunch on the way to work, I became extremely upset. I felt like gluten was in EVERYTHING. And in all honesty…it’s in a lot of things: Soy sauce, vegetable broth, bread (obviously), beer, lunch meat, salad dressing, soup…even Communion wafers (how will I explain that at the pearly gates?!).  I was angry that even going to a family function where food would be served would be such an ordeal. I was pissed off about having to stand and wait for the pharmacist today so I could ask her whether or not my Adderall has gluten in it. (Side note : Some pharmacists need to get it together – not you of course, Betsy.  Pharmacist said, “well I don’t really know what gluten is so I don’t know what to tell you.” I can’t be the only one that has a gluten restriction in Greensboro…certainly I’m not the only one who has ever said anything to this Pharmacist about it. As cross-contamination is one of the most detrimental issues with a gluten-free lifestyle, I found myself quite frustrated with the lack of concern.)

3)      Bargaining – Maybe, just maybe, I’ll start to feel better…then a little bread won’t hurt…soup won’t hurt…a sip or two of beer won’t kill me.  Despite my doctor’s warning (that I needed to treat this like I would a severe peanut allergy) – I was contemplating whether or not I’d be ok with a cheat day…or a cheat meal at least.  Well, without really trying to “cheat”, I had a flavored vodka drink the other night. While plain vodka should be free of gluten, most manufactures make no gluten-free claims when it comes to flavored liquors as there is significant cross-contamination normally. Well – that one little drink, fought back. While it wasn’t severe, I could certainly tell that I had made my insides extremely angry…so despite my original theory…there is no cheating or slipping up. I can’t take feeling that poorly anymore…it’s not worth it.

4)      Depression – Am I sad about no more gluten? Hell yes I’m sad. I’ve always wanted to travel to Italy…for the food of course. The pasta, the pizza, the meatballs (why can’t I have meatballs? Breadcrumbs are used as a filler)…wine is ok…so I can enjoy that. But I can spend a lot less money and fly over a lot less ocean and enjoy wine here…I’m sad that I won’t be able to enjoy wedding cake at my sister’s wedding…I feel like such a burden with my family, especially in the event of a get together…I’ve got a cousin with a severe peanut allergy and no one has ever yelled at him for being special, so I don’t know why I feel like it will be different with me…I guess there’s just a lot more involved in determining whether something has gluten vs. whether or not it’s got nuts.  I’m sad that I’ve been diagnosed with a disease that I’ll never be able to get rid of. I’m sad that my future children will have to be tested for CD and may have the same limitations.

5)      Acceptance – While I may be sad at what can no longer be – I feel fantastic. All of my symtoms went away. All of them! I haven’t thrown up in 3.5 days (which is a record lately). I don’t hurt after eating. I have energy again! ENERGY!!!! I haven’t know what that was like for months!  I started researching the heck out of being gluten-free…I’ve read other blogs on the subject…downloaded recipes…even found an amazing Gluten-free bakery that just opened in the area (www.lindysgoodiesbakery.com).  Corn tortillas are my new BFF.  The vast array of gluten-free options coupled with the fact that I have never felt better or healthier in my life is why I have happily reached the point of acceptance with my celiac disease. 

And…the icing on the cake…I lost weight this week!!!

Can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am that I’ve got some direction. It hasn’t been an easy road, and to those of you that have suffered along with me, I apologize for the roller coaster…but get ready.  A new and improved Hannah is emerging…and she is going to let nothing stand in her way! Except maybe a biscuit…

“The most significant change in a person’s life is a change of attitude. Right attitudes produce right actions.” ~Willam J. Johnston