Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Gluten Free Me in 2014

2013. What a year. I graduated high school and transformed into an utterly confused, lost college freshman thrust into the buzz of my first semester. I took up running instead of soccer, stayed overnight in a hospital for the first time, and learned the art of going to bed and waking up late. And, of course, my body jumped from a normal teenage female to a girl with celiac disease.

Celiac disease has changed me in more ways than one. Sure, physically I'm different. I'm still a 90 lb rail (body-building, here I come!), my hair is thinner and my bones get a little more sun than I'm used to. Mentally, though, I've also changed. People rarely mention the psychological effects of celiac disease. The fear of food because of the pain it causes. The grief, denial, hatred, and gradual acceptance that wheat-filled pizzas, pasta, and soy sauces have disappeared from the menu. The envy that boils up in your stomach at the sight of a friend inhaling your old favorite food after tasting a "gluten free" alternative and spitting it out.

Sometimes gluten free tastes like this...

As crazy as it sounds, I even think my taste buds have even jumped on a different train. I used to be a self-proclaimed chocoholic. After soccer practice, I'd savor every bite of my favorite treat: ice cream with a brownie or chocolate sauce, piled high enough to mimic the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A mouthful of heaven without expensive airfare. Win win for me!

That's no longer the case. Even now that my stomach has calmed down and my doctor is nearly prescribing chocolate to bulk me up, though, I take a bite of the M&M's Santa tucked under the Christmas tree and I can't finish my handful. My taste buds tingle at first, but soon it becomes too much - too sweet, too strong, too…chocolately. If it could, my old self would slap some sense into me. Other past favorites now transferred to the naughty list?

Beef. I had my first hamburger in six months at Legoland earlier this week, and while I liked the first bite, an aftertaste I never used to catch coated my tongue. Not exactly appetizing.

The fries though…to die for! Thanks Burger Stop!

Bread. Unlike the rest of my family, bread was never an oral obsession. Sure, I wouldn't turn down a croissant or a freshly baked French loaf, but I didn't live off of carbs. Now, though, I can't remember the last time I nibbled on a loaf. With the gluten free limits on good tasting bread (my friend tried a corner of my sandwich bread and promptly gagged), I guess this isn't too surprising.

Even crazier, vegetables have transformed from a necessity to a treat. For the first time in my life, I had to go on a separate grocery run for my own food - asparagus, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, spaghetti squash, fish. For the first time, my taste buds had veered off the genetic path and established their own likes and dislikes. Rather than cookies, I salivate at the idea of a really good chicken salad.

I'm not going to lie. As you all have seen and supported me through, adjusting to my new life as a celiac hasn't been easy. For me, 2013 was peppered with unexplained stomach pains, continual weight loss, hospital stays, and a feeding tube. Change is painful. And when change involves the face lift of an entire identity - physical, mental, emotional, and even physiological - there are bound to be bumps in the road.

Not my favorite part of 2013

I know because of these struggles, though, that 2014 is going to be amazing. I am stronger now, perhaps not physically (maybe after a few more dairy free milk shakes and weight lifting?), but definitely mentally. I have accepted that I have changed, and changed for the better. So what does starting 2014 mean for me?

It means continuing to focus on gaining weight and energy.

It means embracing my new palate and learning even more new recipes (spaghetti squash and tomato sauce; shrimp stir fry; salmon in 101 ways, here I come!).

It means acknowledging my limits, pushing my boundaries, and spreading knowledge and awareness of celiac disease in my college and online.

Most importantly, it means enjoying every moment of 2014 (which will start with a trip to the happiest gluten-free filled place on Earth - Disney World!) as a happy, healthy celiac. I'm well on my way.

I see these guys in my future!

How was 2013 for you? Do you have any gluten-free goals for 2014? Comment below!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Whole Foods Market and Gluten Free Me

Since I started college, I've learned a lot of things, from the impact of gender on political power to the realization that trying to sneak in kittens by hoisting them through a second story dorm window will result in more fines than success. One of my last lessons before Christmas break, though, was all about food. Whole Foods Market that is.

For those of you who don't know, Whole Foods is, according to their website, "the largest retailer of natural and organic foods." Or, in celiac speak, it's both tasty and safe. Can you say score?

My first visit!

It was the middle of finals week and a few friends and I decided to escape studying (and the cafeteria food) by having dinner out Wednesday night. I had never heard of Whole Foods before, but my friend K. swore it was food allergy heaven. As soon as she started mentioning a gluten free salad, soup, Mexican food, deli, pizza and sushi bar, I said yes as quickly as I could while drowning in drool

When I first stepped into the store, I was immediately assaulted by thousands of delicious smells and sights. We snagged a table at one of the in-market bars and for the hour we spent "working on homework" (I couldn't eat without consulting Instagram for inspiration, now could I?), my stomach begged for the huge platters of stacked hamburgers and fries

My lovely theatre book kept me company

As soon as we entered the hot food bar, though, my craving for hamburgers disappeared. The buffet area seemed to stretch on forever, separate islands of food fighting for my attention. I was so hungry and excited, I even forgot to take a picture! :( Grabbing my food carton (each person fills up their own box or tray and pays according to weight), I started with the salads. With endless kinds of greens, salad toppings and proteins to choose from, I couldn't resist a green dinner. 

Thankfully others have taken a photo!

The amazing aspect of Whole Foods, though, is that, unlike many other restaurants, celiacs aren't limited to flimsy salads. Even though I didn't feel like it the night I visited, I saw gluten free soups, mashed potatoes, quinoa mixes, grilled vegetables, and I'm sure there were many other options that I missed. And to make it even easier, above every food is an ingredient list (even the lettuce specifics it, indeed, contains only lettuce). 

The dinner Whole Foods had my taste buds dancing with its fresh ingredients, quality chicken and enough options to make my head spin. Knowing every ingredient in my meal made my dinner even better! So if you're looking for somewhere to safely snack, Whole Foods is a great place to go! I'd give it a 9/10 (mainly because I haven't explored the more unique gluten free foods - yet).

My dinner masterpiece

What's your favorite celiac-friendly restaurant? Have you ever visited Whole Foods? Comment below! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Giving up Picture Perfect

This year, my amazing hall of girls (go Hendricks!) did a Christmas photo shoot together and we received the finished product yesterday. When we reviewed the photos together, it amazed me how many of my friends absolutely hated the very photos I thought made them look like supermodels! The skewing properties of chasing perfection at its finest. The more I thought about it, though, the more I saw perfection overshadowing every aspect of life. Beauty, power, money…even celiac disease.

Don't we all want to pinch and trim a part of our life?

I'm sorry that I've fallen off the face of the Earth for so long, and I really don't have a good excuse. I could blame the finals that are presently squeezing my brain or the holidays that are catching up to me faster than an Olympic sprinter racing for a calorific ice cream sundae. Honestly, though, I think the real reason my fingers have divorced the keyboard is fear…the fear of letting you, my readers, down by revealing how utterly imperfect my life as a celiac still is.

I exited the hospital with high hopes. Now that a liquid diet soothed my intestines, nothing stood between me, weight gain, and the endless energy cured celiacs were always chatting about! Months later, though, I've realized that it isn't quite that easy. I still weigh 90 lbs after falling back to my hospital weight during a particularly stressful time before Thanksgiving Break. I still struggle with food - I'm eating more, but still not enough.

Food should smile!

And, even when I have wonderful experiences like baking a gluten free meal with fellow campus celiacs/intolerant, sometimes, on days when I'm as energized as a rock and just as hungry, it feels like whatever I do will never be enough. I dreamed of going to London when I first heard about my school's study abroad program as a high school senior, and now I'm on the road to finishing all the paperwork to make my dreams come true. Yet, mostly because of celiacs, I'm having doubts.

Will I be healthy enough by next fall? Will I be at a point in my life where I can truly enjoy every sleep-deprived, stressed-out, mind-blowing moment in London? Honestly, I don't know. And the fact that I don't know, the fact that I don't have it all together even after making my life worthy of a FDA gluten free stamp, drives me crazy.

I'm right…about…here

Yet, as I stood in my dorm listening to girls put themselves down in the human pursuit of perfection, I realized how silly we are. We are so focused on attaining the perfect, photo-shopped picture, appreciating the imperfect beauty that others see never enters our mind. Celiac disease works the same way. I can spend my time striving to be the perfect celiac with every aspect of my health figured out; I can waste my life concentrating on all of the ways celiac disease has ruined my chances at a perfect life. Or, I can accept the imperfection and embrace all of the beauty that I have overlooked.

I may still be skinny, but I can run. I may be slow and limited in my weekly repetitions, but I can feel the wind kiss my face and look beyond the sandy running trails to ocean side cliffs that border my school. I may still have food anxieties and fall short of my goal, but I'm eating twice my old daily servings. Even better, my stomach actually growls - it hungers - and I, knowing that food won't hurt me anymore, can feed it. I may not be going to London next fall, or maybe I am, but whatever happens will happen for a reason.

Me on my morning run

I'm not a perfect person, and I'm surely not a perfect celiac. I get glutened, suffer from symptoms, don't have the most diverse of meal choices, and still have a lot of healing to go. But, starting now, I'm not going to let it get me down.

I only have two college finals to go before Christmas break, Santa will be sliding down the chimney in weeks, and my family is headed to Disney World during my time off - and this functioning, gluten free celiac is going to enjoy the heck out of them all. What's more perfect than that?

Perfection is overrated anyway...

Do you have a "perfect celiac" standard to live up to? What perfect standards are you aware of in your life?