It’s been 10 days since I’ve had gluten and I’m not gonna lie to you: it’s been hard. I love – and I mean love – to eat. I went to culinary school, guys. I like my food. So it’s been really tough for me to give up gluten, since it’s in almost everything I like. (Living in NC + going out to eat gluten-free = no fried pickles. What’s the point of living in NC if you can’t eat fried pickles??) And don’t even get me started on giving up beer. It’s pumpkin beer season, you guys. WORST. TIMING. EVER.
Anyway, over the last few days, I’ve had a number of people bring an article to my attention that claims science has proven that gluten sensitivity is a myth. *It still acknowledges that Celiac Disease is a real illness, but claims that varying levels of sensitivity to gluten is not really a thing, just psychological. I don’t know what to think. I haven’t dug into the issue yet to examine the sources and whether or not they’re legit, and honestly I don’t really want to right now. I hope it’s right so that I can go back to my love affair with gluten (as I’m pretty sure I don’t have Celiac Disease), but I’m not a scientist. What I am is a person with 10 days down in what is supposed to be a 2 week experiment (per doctor’s orders), so I’m holding out for the end.
Regardless of whether or not I return to eating gluten, this experience has been humbling. As someone who has worked in restaurants for years, I know how annoying gluten-free requests can be to servers and cooks. There are a lot of people who would run to the kitchen and roll their eyes when someone asked for a dish to be made gluten-free (and while I can’t say I was one of them because my grandmother had Celiac Disease, I certainly wasn’t so kind about some peoples’ allergies.)
Last night, going out with co-workers, I was that customer. I had to pull the waitress aside and ask her, apologetically, if the caesar dressing was gluten-free. She was very kind and went to ask the kitchen. No big deal, right? But, I felt bad. I know what it’s like to go into the kitchen and ask the line if there’s gluten in a sauce. I know how shitty they can be about it. I know it isn’t fun. She comes back and tells me that when she first asked, the kitchen said, “Probably.” She says she made them check.
I was relieved– both to know that they actually checked and to get to eat a caesar salad (sans croutons, of course), one of the few gluten-free things I enjoy and can find at most restaurants. But I couldn’t help but worry a little bit that they hadn’t checked, that they’d been careless, that the last 9 days I had spent pouring over ingredient labels would go to waste and my experiment would be ruined. I was so worried about it that it was hard to actually enjoy my meal. Now I know what it feels like to be on both sides of that coin.
Look– I don’t know if gluten sensitivity exists. I don’t know if it’s a fad diet that spread like wildfire over the last decade or if it’s a real problem. What I do know is that I’ve had undiagnosed digestive problems for the last 10 years and they’re only getting worse. What I do know is that I love eating delicious food, that I’m social, and that I not only like, but deserve to go out and enjoy myself just as much as the next person, just as much as someone without dietary restrictions. I know that I was embarrassed to ask my server because I didn’t know if she’d be an asshole about it. I know that everyone has their own opinion about gluten-free lifestyles, and almost everyone I’ve talked to thinks their opinion is the right one.
More than anything, what I know is that I just want to feel better. I know that I’m sick and I try to have a good attitude about it, but it’s hard. It sucks, and it’s okay to say that sometimes. I know that this isn’t what my body is supposed to feel like and I know I waited too long to seek treatment because I was ashamed. I know that from now on, I’ll never judge someone for an intolerance or allergy, real or imaginary, because for all I know, they’re just trying to make it through the day without feeling awful. And people deserve that.
Which brings me to pizza… Tonight, I was happy to come home to a night on the couch with my boyfriend and our puppy, kick my feet up, pour a glass of wine, and order a gluten-free pizza from Domino’s. Is it the best pizza I’ve had in my life? No, it’s not. But, it just might be the best thing I’ve eaten all week.