This little dish is quick and easy to throw together! I couldn’t continue the second part of this 2 post series without giving you a little bit of food porn and an easy meal. In many ways, the food I’ve included in both of these posts is a way to balance the heaviness of the condition. It is possible to have good food while managing Celiacs or Gluten Intolerance.
Easy Penne Dinner
I boiled up a bag of gluten free pasta. While that was cooking, I sauteed loads of minced garlic in olive oil, and before they browned, I added about 1 1/2 cups of chopped tomatoes. I would have added more but I didn’t have any. Lowering the heat and allowing the tomatoes and garlic to blend their flavors, I threw in a bunch of pepper a pinch or two of salt. When it smelled done, I turned off the flame, mixed in a hearty handful of chopped fresh basil. After draining the pasta, I combined everything, and included some hand torn chunks of fresh mozzarella. Garnished with Parmesan shavings and a couple of fresh baby basil leaves, it was perfect, fast and easy!
By the time I finally made it to the doctor, I was in just as much mental crisis as I was physically. The not knowing and the constant long term malaise had worn on me heavily. So, when I arrived I was admittedly desperate and terrified. I wanted to put an end to the not knowing, but was so afraid of what the diagnosis would be that I was completely conflicted.
Looking back now, of course I have a better picture of things, and its easy for me now to wish I would have had the foresight to do some more research prior to going to the doctor. I don’t know however, that this would have helped. I had stopped looking to the internet for answers about a month prior to getting in to see a doctor because each time I did, I came up with a scarier diagnosis then the one before. It is indeed one of the challenges of Celiacs; the symptoms are so many and vary so much from person to person that its hard to pin point what it is.
The preliminary blood panel came back revealing that I was severely anemic. So much so that my red blood cells were 40% the size they should be, making oxygen transportation difficult, which explained the cramping I would get when I would walk several feet, and it also explained the severe fatigue. The anemia was bad enough, that the doctor believed that I must be bleeding internally somewhere, and that lead to a colonoscopy and endoscopy. Both revealed nothing. There were no ulcers, masses or lacerations anywhere. I also underwent an ultrasound, and an EKG. I don’t remember now exactly why they ordered an EKG, but that, thankfully turned out fine.
I had countless blood test done, had seen a general practitioner, a gastrointerologist and a cardiologist. None of them could explain the anemia, which was now the focus of all tests. All the other symptoms I had been experiencing had been deemed a result of the anemia. Which is interesting to me now, because the anemia itself was a symptom too.
In the end, I was sent home with a bottle of Iron pills and told that if symptoms persisted to come back in 6 months. This, after 5 months of tests, a newly acquired debt of over $8,000 for whatever my PPO insurance didn’t cover, and no closer to understanding what was happening in my body. I was frustrated and angry, but… somewhat relieved.
I have never had a lot of faith in our medical system, but I understand that when you are desperate and in need of answers, relying on them can be incredibly tempting. When it was all said and done, what all those doctors gave me, was the knowledge that I didn’t have cancer. And I don’t know how to explain it, but it relieved enough anxiety from me that I was able to reclaim a bit of my sanity and intuition long enough to turn to someone I should have turned to from the beginning.
I don’t even remember now how I found this woman. But she was a local natural-path. I was broke and in need of someone that would facilitate me reconnecting to my body so that I could find my own answers. I laugh now, because as I went through the list of all my symptoms, she looked at me, and said, “Sounds like you have a food allergy.” After staring at her incredulously, I cried. There is something so profound about actually being Seen. My entire body opened and relaxed in the chair, as if it was saying, “Finally!” I need to add here, that never once was I tested for allergies by the doctors I saw. It never came up.
I couldn’t believe that it could be something so simple. And there were tests that I could have done to find out immediately, but honestly by that point, money was so tight that I chose to go the cheaper route… which in turn was the most empowering one.
She placed me on an elimination diet, where all potential allergen foods were taken out of my diet and then one by one they were added back in. I kept a journal of how I felt after eliminating everything, then I continued to document what was happening in my body as foods were reintroduced. This took about 2 months. And honestly, the entire process for me felt like a ritual of healing and reconnection to my body. I had become so wound up and afraid, that I was no longer ‘in’ my body – no longer in communion with it, to know what was going on.
This process made it clear what my allergy was and it was then that the learning began. Because sadly, with Celiacs, knowing the diagnosis isn’t the end. There is no pill you can take just before eating something with gluten in it in order to be OK. And the journey I have been on since has been challenging to say the least.
Here is what I learned about what was going on with my body:
Because Celiacs is an autoimmune disease, when gluten is introduced in the body, the body then attacks itself, specifically the inner lining of the small intestine. This causes a couple of problems. 1) The very tips of the villa lining the small intestines are whats responsible for creating enzymes that break down dairy. When these are destroyed the body becomes lactose intolerant because it has no way to break it down. 2) The further along the damage becomes, the less able your body is to absorb the nutrients of your food, so you become malnourished.
For me that meant severe anemia, exhaustion, weakness, hormonal imbalance that lead to anxiety attacks, dry skin, more gray hair, heart palpitations, headaches, blurred vision, slurred speech, edema in the joints and body and major weight gain. My metabolism basically died.
These are just the symptoms and consequences that I know were occurring to me then, and still whenever I ingest gluten by accident. I have read that it takes the intestinal tract about 6 months to fully heal from the last time gluten was ingested. Other possible consequences of ingesting gluten are infertility, cancer, osteoporosis, bowel cancer, diabetes, miscarriage, arthritis, anxiety and panic attacks, behavioral problems, depression, mental confusion, migraines, asthma, and dermatitis.
My intention is to continue sharing about this process. I have found over the years, that there isn’t just a physical component to this, but an emotional, social and spiritual one as well. As the Spring and Summer unfold, I will continue writing about this and hope to open the dialogue with you all about your own experiences. I know that finding a place to talk about it can be incredibly helpful.