Nutrition

I lived with chronic pain for years until I stopped eating gluten

Susy WulfFebruary 9, 20227 mins read

Editor’s note: Although going gluten-free may help some people with fibromyalgia, this won’t work for everyone. Before you try any diet that claims to treat a medical condition, please consult a doctor.

I suffered from paralyzing fatigue and constant pain four years ago. Along with depression, stress, weight gain, and stress, In my 40s, I was diagnosed as having fibromyalgia. My doctor and I had each attributed my fatigue, aches and pains to having active children and working part-time. My aching muscles started to keep me awake at night. I would often return to bed after getting the children to school, and I would take naps almost every day.

My husband then took a new job. A different plan for health insurance meant that he had to change doctors. My new doctor used blood tests to rule out Lyme disease, cancer, or thyroid problems. The majority of fibromyalgia sufferers have “tender points” that can be painful even with gentle touch. My tender points were located at the back of me, my shoulders, elbows and hips. No wonder I cried “Owww!” When my husband hugged and kissed me.

The doctor prescribed Flexeril as a muscle relaxant, Tramadol to treat pain and Cymbalta at a low dose. Although the meds were helpful in sleeping at night, I still needed to have cortisone shots when I was experiencing pain in my right leg. Monthly talk therapy for a couple of years helped me manage my stress and to reframe the negative thoughts that I had been allowing to fester in my tired, achy state. I felt better, but never entirely pain-free.

My problems began to manifest when I moved to the west coast. My daughter, aged 13, had requested to see a holistic practitioner as therapy and prescription drugs didn’t help her paralyzing anxiety. I was so impressed by the naturopathic doctor and the way she treated me, I booked an appointment.

My head was filled with images of Belgian waffles, fettuccine Alfredo and crusty French bread.

The doctor reviewed my entire health history and asked me questions about my diet. Using an applied kinesiology technique, or muscle testing, she determined that my adrenal glands and thyroid were not working properly and that I was full of inflammation. My diet was the main cause of my symptoms, so she advised me to avoid coffee, sugar and dairy. However, wheat was the most prominent.

My head was filled with images of Belgian waffles, fettuccine Alfredo and crusty French bread. Friends from the past. Comfort food. Can I live without them? What about pizza? Did she really think I was being serious? My husband and two children, along with me, had eaten a lot of pizza over the years, when I was too tired to cook. I also found myself running my children through drive-thru burger joints. Like my mother, I also made sure to include bread and rolls with almost every meal.

I didn’t know that I had been aggravated by my gluten sensitivity for many years. It had severely affected my mood and health. Now, I was joining the untold number of people who cannot tolerate wheat. This would be a major lifestyle change.

It was easier than I expected to give up gluten. I had tried many diets, and was only moderately successful in losing weight. The problem was that I kept gaining it back, and was still plagued with sluggishness. It was a joy to find someone to point me in the right direction, and to tell me what I should do. I was motivated to succeed because giving up wheat was like getting a new job. I felt a connection with my new doctor immediately and trusted her when she said she would help me. I was tired of feeling sick and tired, and no other treatment had helped.

I was motivated to succeed by the fact that I had to give up wheat.

My husband, an Italian man, is a great cook and I love to experiment in the kitchen. Planning healthy and gluten-free meals was a challenge for me. I wanted to ensure that the quality and taste of my food was not compromised. I searched the internet and looked through cookbooks to find recipes and inspiration. I have a binder that contains delicious gluten-free versions old favourites like shrimp with pasta, stir fry, and even a wonderful lasagna that is both dairy- and gluten-free.

When I quit gluten, I discovered that I didn’t need to sacrifice much. When I go out to eat with friends, I do my research ahead of time so that I can find something on the menu. Los Angeles is a great place to live, as many restaurants are happy to accommodate special dietary needs. Yes, there are questions. I am often asked about my choices. Is it Celiac disease? Is it a wheat allergy? People may think that gluten-free living is a trendy trend, but I can accept the fact that my life has been transformed by giving up wheat.

Two years of gluten-free eating led to a loss of more than 40 pounds. I have maintained it for the past year. I have stopped taking pain medication and antidepressants and feel much healthier than I did after fibromyalgia for a dozen years. I actually consider myself to be cured.

Many people believe that gluten-free eating is a trendy trend. However, I can accept the cynics as I have experienced a profound change in my life since quitting wheat.

Surprised to discover how many options are available for traditional wheat products. Like most things, there are some that are better than others. Sometimes I crave a sandwich so I keep gluten free bread in the freezer. However, I have yet to find a brand that is comparable to loaves made from wheat flour. Toasting it is much more convenient than baking gluten-free bread. Otherwise, the bread crumbles easily and has a different texture and taste.

Although there are good gluten-free pizza crusts, it has been difficult to avoid dairy products. The high-inflammatory nature of milk products can lead to inflammation and are often filled with hormones as well as antibiotics. I followed the advice of the naturopath and removed them. However, I have struggled to find fake mozzarella that is similar to melty mozzarella. After much trial and error I finally found wheat-free pasta that had the same flavor and consistency as traditional pasta. My husband even gave it his approval. He now prefers gluten free waffles, and is rarely upset that he doesn’t get to eat his marinara with a slice of baguette.

I was surprised at how many common foods contain wheat. This included soy sauce (tamari can be used as a substitute), bullion cubes and hot dogs. Gluten-free has taught us to read labels carefully and to simply avoid certain foods.

Gluten-free options are, naturally, more expensive than those made from wheat, particularly breads, pastas and flours. Yes, my grocery bill is higher, but it’s money that was well spent. It’s worth it for my health, vitality and longevity. It’s hard to put a value on it.

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Susy Wulf
author

Susy Wulf is a journalist, copywriter, editor and journalist. She has a BA degree in English from Monmouth University, and a MA in Global Communications (American University of Paris).

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