By Andrea Eisenman
I am not into fads, especially when it comes to food. I feel my life is complicated enough having cystic fibrosis and a bilateral lung transplant. There is a lot of time spent on taking medications, checking my blood sugars for diabetes and trying to squeeze in exercise, some form, every day. And it is not uncommon for me to absolutely crash and need a nap mid-afternoon daily.
My dislike for fads is, they come and go and at times new information or research will contradict what was “good” for us twelve months later, only to be unhealthy and unwise. Another reason I am not going to jump on some bandwagon is, I already feel limited by my diseases and eating is my one vice, if you can call it that. I am a foodie. So, to limit myself even more, with cutting out, let’s say gluten, seemed, in the past unfathomable. Or it did about 2 years ago.
I will say I love to eat and enjoy a bowl of pasta now and then. I make a mean spaghetti and meatballs and linguini with clam sauce. But knowing more about CF and how inflammation plays a big part in increasing symptoms made me think eating wheat and gluten could be contributing to my health issues. Couple that with a friend who went gluten-free who told me her arthritis disappeared and she lost weight, began to get interested. The arthritis and joint pain reduction got my attention. I read the book called “Wheat Belly” by William Davis, MD. It was informative and helped me understand why not eating wheat and gluten-based foods, breads, pastas, crackers, a few of my favorite things, is beneficial to people that do not have celiac but every day, normal folk.
To read his book, is to take a bit of a deep dive into science about how wheat is grown, how it used to be grown and the difference between the two. The new wheat is shorter and grows faster to accommodate production. It has supposedly been tinkered with genetically and that alteration affects the absorption of glucose and has made eating wheat more addictive. So that if one eats wheat in the morning, in cereal, for instance, one will be hungrier in two hours and want more sooner. Thereby making people eat 40% more food than non-wheat eaters. Dr. Davis also goes into what wheat does to our brains and our joints. That it can cause a lot of inflammatory responses in our bodies. Especially in our guts.
His book is a bit repetitive but I did learn a lot. It was only that a good friend of mine, mentioned above, who is a liver recipient, told me about her relief from arthritis, that I even considered sacrificing many foods I enjoy with wheat. I do have a lot of joint pain in my elbow and it can be so bad, it can keep me from playing tennis. My knees also suffer some pain at times and after a knee fracture (from prednisone use) had considered a partial knee replacement. I also get horrible sharp pains in my hips. Hopeful to be rid of these aches and pains, I began weaning myself off all gluten goods. Most days I only had one item containing wheat.
The first two weeks of ditching wheat or gluten completely, were hard. Not eating bread was agony. But reading Wheat Belly made me aware of substitutions for things I usually ate that contained gluten. It was not perfect but it felt like I was eating cleaner and less processed food. I ate more proteins, vegetables and fruits adding whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal and similar items. I also added more fiber with legumes.
The affects were not immediate, but… all of a sudden I realized I was not having migraines 4-6 times a month. I almost didn’t believe it because I was not expecting this result. I have now been gluten free for about eight months. I am not always fully compliant. I sometimes crave a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese, sad to say, and give into it. But when I stick to the gluten free regimen, I feel much better and my joints do feel less inflamed. And, when I am “bad” and eat pancakes and other wheat-laden items, it will only be about 12-18 hours when a migraine will start to brew.
Now, I just have to get over the eye-roll that accompanies my telling people I am gluten free. I know they think I “drank the Kool-Aide” and joined the latest cult/fad/movement But I would not do anything unless I saw results. Life is too short. We all know this with CF.
I am sharing this information, not to convince you to join me in being wheat free, but to just share what helped me and the ramifications on others with CF. I am not sure I can maintain this diet for the rest of my life but for now it is helping me.