Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gluten Freedom

Hi. My name is Christina Durksen, and I'm a celiac.

OK. That sounds way worse than it actually is! I was inspired to write today about being gluten free because several people over the past few months have talked to me about taking gluten out of their houses, or have suspected people they know to be celiac. I thought I'd share my story and offer some encouragement.

To have celiac disease means that you cannot eat gluten (or else you could suffer quite the array of consequences...both immediate and eventual). It's an auto-immune disease, not an allergy. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and oats...although oats is a controversial one. This means you can't eat a lot of things.

I remember when I had the scope of my stomach/small intestine about four years ago, and then I was told by my gastroenterologist that I had to stop eating gluten. Even though my mom, sister and brother had been on a gluten-free diet for at least a year by that time, I was crushed.

I spent one last week binging on my favourite celiac nightmares: McChicken sandwich from McDonald's, chicken pitas from Pita Pit, Cheese Cappelletti from East Side Mario's, Cold Cut Trio from Subway...and then that was it. During my first shopping trip for gluten free foods, I almost cried in the grocery store. I remember violently throwing cans of soup back on the shelf because EVERY SINGLE ONE had some variation of wheat in it. The first loaf of gluten-free bread I bought tasted (and smelled) like Play Dough.

After a few little meltdowns that first week, I realized that my sister Danielle, who had been gluten-free well before me, had never complained about it. Well, if she could do this, then so could I.

Any time someone learns that I can't eat gluten, he or she says, "Oh my goodness. That sucks. I would never be able to do it. There are just way too many foods that I'd have to stop eating. Oh, man that sucks" or something like that.

OK. It kind of sucks. Danielle and I sometimes fantasize about what we'd eat if we could cheat on our diet. If Joel and I are out to eat, and he gets some kind of mouth-watering, warm baked bread, I smell it. OK, no, I inhale it. Believe it or not, just smelling something that has gluten in it is pretty satisfying. Pathetic, perhaps, but definitely satisfying. I can still remember what warm baked bread tastes like, and just the memory ignites a little euphoria in me.

Nevertheless, I haven't really found it too difficult to be gluten free. Every few months there seems to be something new out there that we discover we can eat. When Pizza Pizza came out with the gluten free crust, we were singing, "Hallelujah." When I realized we can eat the cheese sauce mix from Kraft Dinner boxes, just replacing the wheat noodles with rice ones, I Hoovered a huge bowlful down while still standing up in the kitchen (couldn't waste time walking to the table and sitting down.) One of my mothers-in-law bakes absolutely delectable gluten free food for me, like oatmeal chocolate cookies and lemon coconut squares. My other mother-in-law supplied me with THREE kinds of gluten-free pies for Thanksgiving this year (THREE!!!). Getting your hands on gluten free baking isn't as easy as running out to any given grocery store and getting an inexpensive box of cookies, so I don't eat a lot of it. Now: if you only eat cake maybe five or six times a year, you really appreciate that cake.

Life is pretty good. I don't feel robbed of any of life's enjoyments just because I can't eat gluten. We have ways. We know which stores carry the best gluten-free bread. We know where to get the best soup (yes, there is gluten-free tomato soup out there!). We know what brands of what things we can eat now, so shopping is a breeze. At weddings, instead of eating the pasta course, I drink another glass of wine. That's not so bad.

So I wondered about this: Why was I so crushed when I found out I had to stop eating gluten? Because when I stopped eating gluten, it wasn't that bad. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

I think that decisions and restrictions are much easier to deal with when you have no choice in the matter. In order to deal with the more obvious, sensory, physical temptations and difficulties of a decision/restriction/change, you have to reconcile your choice mentally first. If you tell yourself that you absolutely cannot change your mind - put up a wall instead of allowing yourself to rationalize excuses - then you can accept having made a tough choice. Ironically, there is a sort of freedom in having no choice. Then the blissful aroma of freshly-baked apple crisp is totally manageable. In fact, it's enjoyable.

If you would like to know more about celiac disease, is a great starting point. Link below.

Also, if you would like to know all the good places to go for gluten free food, message me through Facebook or e-mail me at

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