My Declaration of Independence: the 2012 Edition

As many of my semi-regular readers know, every year I use Independence Day as an opportunity to declare my own personal independence from something. (You can read the background here.) Frequently I use the text written by our Founding Fathers as the basis for my own declaration. This year I’m doing it a little differently. Probably because this year’s declaration is harder for me, but, as I am discovering, it’s necessary for my health and well being.

I’m declaring my independence from gluten.

This is not about me jumping on the Paleo bandwagon – I’m way too picky about meat and fish to go full Paleo – or following what seems to be a trend among some circles. This is about my health, and my belief that Momcat’s early death was the result of undiagnosed celiac disease.

A quick gluten and celiac disease primer:

  • Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grains, such as barley and rye.
  • Gluten adds elasticity to dough – it gives bread its chewy texture and helps it rise.
  • Gluten is often added to foods as a stabilizer, or to add protein.
  • Celiac disease is a chronic, hereditary, autoimmune disease. If someone with celiac disease eats something containing gluten, their small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged. They may experience diarrhea, nausea, or bloating. And they end up not absorbing necessary nutrients from food, all because their body can’t process it.
  • Someone who is undiagnosed with celiac and continues to eat gluten may become more susceptible to other autoimmune disorders, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis. They may have unexplained skin rashes that do not go away. They may have gall bladder, liver, or kidney problems. They may suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. They may have problems with their teeth. Their hair may thin or fall out. They may be constantly tired or fatigued. (You can find a more comprehensive list here.)

Momcat had a lot of the above symptoms for years. A month before she died, I asked her if she’d ever been tested for celiac. She muttered something about the test coming up negative. But anyone who’s ever been to the doctor and had blood tests know that sometimes tests aren’t accurate, and that diagnostic tests, especially for food allergies, tend to improve over the years .

I’ll never know for sure if she had celiac. But I know how I feel when I eat a lot of glutentastic products:

  • I get really sleepy. I call gluten my natural sedative because if I eat bread or pasta at dinner, I am guaranteed to be asleep in two hours or less.
  • I get weird rashes on my body.
  • I have a lot of gastric distress: bloating, abdominal pain, and what I will not-so-delicately refer to as poo problems.

And I know that Momcat’s sisters and my cousins suffer from a lot of the same medical issues Momcat did: fibromyalgia, arthritis, fatigue, allergies, asthma, high blood pressure. And none of them have gone gluten-free.

At this point in time, I can’t afford to get tested for celiac. But when I look at all of the evidence, it tells me that declaring my independence from gluten is the thing to do.

But giving up gluten is so damn hard. Those of you who love tortellini and cinnamon rolls and burritos and pizza and bruschetta understand this. Because even if you stay away from gluten, and you dutifully eat all the gluten-free substitutes (many of which are quite good), there are moments when gluten beckons to you and says, “Oh, come on, one little piece of pepperoni pizza won’t kill you. Look how thin the crust is! All the gluten has leaked out. Honest.”

I think of gluten as my bad boyfriend, the dark, mysterious guy with the six-pack abs, the guy who promises that this time he will treat me right. (In my fantasy, gluten looks like Joe Manganiello.) So I let him spend the night and wake up the next morning, all alone, feeling as if a fleet of moving vans ran over me, then shifted into Reverse and ran over me again. And there’s no note, no kiss goodbye, nothing. That’s because gluten is a selfish bastard.

Joe Manganiello, actor, True Blood, Magic Mike
What gluten would look like if it was a person.

So I’m going to try extra hard to live independently of gluten. But if the real Joe Manganiello knocks on my door, offering me a latte and a gluten-free cinnamon roll from Mariposa Bakery, I am so going to hit that.