I struggled with health issues for several years. The five or six doctors I consulted performed a plethora of tests and procedures. Those diagnostics revealed very little as to why I was sick or even that I was sick. In fact one doctor’s office dictation even intimated my problems were psychological in nature. In an effort to regain my life, I set off on a journey to see what I could find. In the end, I found a lot more than I ever expected.
At the beginning of my journey, I remember feeling alone and scared. I was in constant pain and I was desperately seeking answers. During my knowledge quest, I was fortunate enough to connect with many people like myself. They too, were hurting and seeking answers. Together, we were able to sort out the health puzzles we had on our hands. Many late nights were spent scouring medical journals looking for clues, trying to make sense of it.
In 2001 and 2002, information on gluten was not readily available as it is today. Whenever a nugget was found, it was brought back and shared with the group. We gathered around the collection of findings to discuss, analyze and question what was found. Picture the monkeys checking out the monolith in the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think you get the idea.
Like those primates, we slowly learned and evolved.
After researching and months of dietary trials, I joined the gluten-zero community in May 2003. Since that time, I have not looked back.
All the new learning meant unlearning many of the lifelong behaviors and habits I had acquired. Ditching gluten goes far beyond a “simple” diet change. I realized just how deeply food permeates every aspect of our lives. Two and half million years ago, our unibrowed Paleolithic ancestors lived in small groups where food was communally hunted, gathered and shared. Their food was gluten-free and primarily grain-free until 10,000 years ago when they discovered agriculture. To this day our social interactions rely heavily on food as catalyst or gathering agent.
I remember being so lost, confused and frustrated trying to find safe food in the grocery stores. If I didn’t read and research each ingredient and the manufacturing process of a product, it could put me right back into the shards of glass, reflux churning, brain fog past I had just escaped.
Someone once told me "...it's great to talk to someone who not struggles, but maneuvers through the processed food mine field."
As with real mine fields, it’s best not to enter them in the first place. Like mines, processed foods are best left untouched.
Help and support comes in many different ways. As I mentioned before, it may not come from family and friends. This fact elevates the importance of a support group; it can be the difference between success and failure. For many, that is no small measure.
In 2008, I started Gluten Intolerance Group of East Central Wisconsin
. If I could pull one person out of the darkness into the light, it’d all be worth it.
The process of making a difficult lifestyle change comes from within; it’s all about the attitude. As a leader, I try to help others focus on the many benefits of their new life. Positive mental attitude, knowledge, and commitment are the keys to success. Through my own research and through my experience with the group, I have discovered that the more one knows about their condition and their food, the healthier they will be.
I am eternally thankful for what nutritionist and author, Melissa Diane Smith calls “the gift of gluten-free”. All those years ago when I was lying on the living room floor in the fetal position, I could not have imagined what was in store for me [besides death].
I gave up gluten, but what I have received in return is beyond measure.
I realized that I was given an opportunity to use my skills and talents to help others. I discovered talents I didn't know I had! The biggest gem unearthed in me was a passion and a purpose - something that was lacking in my life previously.
I was given a gift, and I was shown how to help others with it. It was a profound awakening. I know in my heart of hearts, the path that I have traveled is not one I would have chosen. That being said, I cannot imagine doing anything different with my life.
It is my calling to educate, motivate, and advocate.
The Gluten-Free Navigator