Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bonus Post: More Food Blogs to Check Out!

This week I am posting twice because there are two recipe blogs I want to bring to your attention.

The first is Yet Another Useless Food Blog, which is a new recipe blog started by one of my friends. Despite it's name, it is not actually useless. YAUFB contains satisfying vegetarian recipes, most of which are gluten free. 

The second is The Existential Chef, which is by another one of my friends. EC's posts are often chock full o' gluten, but look delectable. Non-glutards: enjoy! Glutards: enjoy the challenge of adapting these to fit the g-free diet. 

Both blogs offer clear directions, so you can easily recreate their masterpieces in your own home. 

PS: If you haven't checked it out yet, here's another link to The Perfect Recipe Project, a go-to for amazingly simple, yet healthy meals. You guessed it, PRP also belongs to one of my friends! I seem to be surrounding myself with people who like to cook delicious meals. I recommend that you do the same ;-)

Go forth in foodiness!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


This week I am taking aim at people who take aim at gluten sensitivity.  This mama grizzly got you in her METAPHORICAL crosshairs... since I don't advocate actually shooting anything. Sorry, Dick Cheney. 

A recent article on Slate, Throwing Out The Wheat: Are We Being Too Tolerant Of Gluten-Intolerance?, focuses on the glutards of the world. The author suggests that we call shenanigans on this whole g-free thing, since more people adhere to a gluten free diet than just those with Celiac disease.

Here's the relatively innocuous passage that annoyed me most from this article:

"According to Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland and a leading expert on the disease, almost half the people who show up at his clinic are on the gluten-free diet before they've even been tested for celiac. For every patient whose intestinal biopsy turns up positive, he says, nine or 10 more test clean but commit to going G-free all the same."
Here's a timeline for ya: In my experience, doctors generally suggest exclusion diets before they suggest biopsies. Exclusion diets = free; biopsies = $$$. After all, what is the point of doing a biopsy ($$$) if you try the exclusion diet (free) and it doesn't make any difference? At that point, you'd be testing for something that doesn't seem to be related to your presenting symptoms. People with great insurance can be tested for long shots; people with shitty insurance don't generally get that luxury. As for the biopsy procedure, you have to consume gluten in order for the test to be accurate. Its like a two-for-one! Risk getting sick AND get intestinal biopsy! 

The author goes on: 
"These patients are described as having "gluten intolerance," a nebulous condition that amounts to something like celiac-lite: They feel pain or discomfort after eating wheat, rye, or barley but lack the hallmark signs of intestinal deterioration. The notion that you can have the symptoms of celiac but not the full-blown disorder is based on the idea, first proposed in 1992, that a person's reaction to gluten can be plotted along a sensitivity spectrum—with celiac patients falling at the most vulnerable extreme. Since there's no way to "prove" a case of gluten-intolerance in the lab, the diagnostic criteria are rather lax. To qualify for the condition, you need only discover (with or without medical supervision) that going "G-free" makes you feel better—in body or mind or spirit." 
The author also suggests that some people on a g-free diet feel better simply due a placebo effect, that self-fulfilling prophecies might be involved, and that the g-free diet can actually be bad for people who are not Celiac. While I agree that the world of non-Celiac gluten sensitivity is a bit "nebulous," that doesn't mean that the sensitivity doesn't exist. Let me drop some more knowledge on ya: Lots of things occur on spectrums, like psychological disorders, and (gasp!) even other allergies, food or otherwise. Also, there aren't tests for every disorder. Some things, like Parkinson's disease, are diagnosed by trying out different treatments or by exclusion. 

No one seems to take issue with people with peanut or shellfish or soy or other food allergies. Why is the gluten free diet perceived as such a threat to people? 

Here's my theory:
1. Moreso than other any other food sensitivity I can think of (and I've spent 15 seconds thinking of other food sensitivities), as noted below, g-free is marketed as a lifestyle. Unlike shellfish or nut allergies, some people opt into the g-free diet in hopes of losing weight, relieving Autism, and a bunch of other reasons that don't relate to sensitivity. 
"The fact that "going G-free" means eating fewer cupcakes and less pasta suggests another source of relief. It is, after all, an elaborate diet—and so delivers all the psychological benefits of controlled eating and self-denial. "Once G-free, you are no longer simply robot-eating bag after bag of pretzels," writes Hasselbeck, in a chapter of her book titled "G-Free and Slim as Can Be!" Gluten intolerance may be a medical condition, but according to Hasselbeck, it's also an approach to eating—like South Beach or Skinny Bitch—that's supposed to make you lose weight and feel good about your body."
Lactards and eggtards (people with dairy and egg sensitivities, respectively), don't bear hatred because of feelings toward vegans, though. And yet glutards deal with anti-g-free sentiment. You may dislike the prominent people who choose this diet for themselves, but that is not a good reason to be rude to me or anyone else who falls along the gluten sensitivity  spectrum. 

2. Moreso than other any other food sensitivity I can think of, our diet is a pain in the ass. Staple foods and many favorites are out of the question for us. There's hidden gluten all over. It is effortful to truly live g-free. I get it. But we appreciate the effort. We really do.

I could go on and on, but let me end with this: Don't let a bad apple or two ruin the barrel. You may find Elisabeth Hasselbeck (see mention of The Drop technique in the article) and Jenny McCarthy annoying, but for plenty of us gluten sensitivity is a reality. I am personally enjoying the explosion of awareness and gluten free accommodations, and the opportunity to discuss all things g-free with you on the interwebs. As long as we try to be honest, patient, and considerate of each other, whether pertaining to diet issues or anything else, I think we can all get along fine.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How I Knew

Here's the story
Of a lovely lady
Who was eating tons and tons of gluten treats;
Suddenly she got a rash,
Then felt shitty;
And it would not let up....
[This is the part where I spare you two more verses -- insert brief, bridging instrumental here]
That's the way that I become a Glu-u-tard
The signs and symptoms of gluten allergy/intolerance/sensitivity/Celiac's disease are wide-ranging, and two people with the same underlying issue can have totally different experiences. Some people are asymptomatic, others are hypersensitive, and the symptoms vary quite a bit regardless of sensitivity. Today I am going to tell you about how I discovered my gluten allergy.

I was at an advantage from the outset. As soon as things started to get wonky, my mom reminded me that when the doc diagnosed her with her gluten sensitivity, they mentioned that there was a possibility that her children would also develop a late-life gluten sensitivity. As such, I was able to skip a lot of the usual crap from doctors about it being anything else, as well as skipping a bunch of exclusion diets. I had a starting point, and I think it saved me a lot of wondering what was wrong with me and why. That's right, audience, I was not always like this. There were many years of cupcakes and pasta and bread and breaded cupcakes stuffed with pasta. 

But then I started developing little rashes. The little rashes became bigger as I ignored my body's signal and plowed through gluten like it was going out of style. I suspected that the rash was related to issues digesting gluten, since the rash was similar to what my mom experiences when she eats gluten. No rash was going to stop me. Once I suspected, I went on a mission to eat as many different things as I could. I figured that I'd get them all in right away so that I wouldn't feel like I was missing out on anything that I really wanted to try for the rest of my life. [This was probably a stupid plan in retrospect -- nothing quite like figuring out if you're allergic to bees by sticking your face in a hive for a couple of weeks.] Then the rash got itchy. Did I ever itch. I had eaten all of the things I could think to eat except chocolate croissants. I gave up the grain before I had a chance to try one.

It was really hard to walk away from gluten. My entire diet was built around bread and pasta and cookies. In the midst of being itchy and feeling miserable, I had to re-learn how to eat. I binged on fruits and vegetables and tortilla chips and rice cakes -- the only things that I initially knew were safe. I had strong cravings for my old diet. I was in grad school, so I couldn't afford gluten-free substitutes (and most of them were gross back then anyway); I just lived without most starchy carbs. Carb withdrawal was painful and miserable. My body hated me for suddenly changing everything about its fuel source. I was not psychologically prepared for trips to the grocery store, since now I had to read every label on everything that I purchased. It easily took me 3 times as long to find even the most basic things to eat. 

But the itchy rash went away almost immediately. After a few days/weeks, I felt like a completely different person. I hadn't realized it, but I had been fatigued and headache-y. It felt like a fog was lifted -- suddenly standard operating procedure was revealed to be sub-optimal. I had more energy, I had fewer headaches, I was able to focus and think more clearly. Being a scientist, I decided to re-introduce gluten into my diet to see if it brought back the symptoms. They came back in full force after a trip to a pizzeria, then went away when I went back on my exclusion diet. I don't remember being digestively unwell as my sensitivity developed, but I definitely noticed a crap-ton (ha!) of issues after my first gluten poisoning incident in a restaurant about a month into the g-free life. My body was sending its message loud and clear that it did NOT want me to go back to my old ways, and that is how I became a member of the Glutard Bunch.

Here's me being stubborn and a bad role model. Don't do what I did -- do what your doctor tells you to do. My doc and I started searching for what ailed me with exclusion diets, because there was no fighting with health insurance to get that covered. After knocking it out of the park with the first exclusion diet I tried, I never bothered getting tested. First, testing costs money and I had terrible insurance. Second, blood tests and biopsies don't really appeal to me, since the treatment is the same regardless of if you have Celiac or if you're sensitive/allergic/intolerant. BUT DON'T LISTEN TO ME. I'M NOT THE RIGHT KIND OF DOCTOR TO BE MAKING THOSE DECISIONS FOR ANYONE, NOT EVEN MYSELF. CONSULT A REAL MEDICAL DOCTOR BEFORE MAKING BIG HEALTH DECISIONS. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

To Tell or Not To Tell...

I'm back today with yesterday's post, and in true late submission form, I'm probably going to half-ass this thing so I can move on to the many other things that need my attention right now. 


I hadn't really given much thought to whether I should or should not tell people about my gluten allergy. I always figured that I could be the example that educated people, and that knowing about gluten allergies could potentially benefit me as someone who still needs and likes to eat. Knowledge is power! So I've been very open with family, friends, acquaintances, enemies, strangers, etc. And it has been good. I feel like I have done good by introducing a lot of people to gluten intolerance. 

Recently, I am starting to question my decision to tell. 

While it is great to raise awareness and teach people how to accommodate glutards, telling folks about my gluten allergy makes something about my health public knowledge. Instead of being that quietly fabulous/awkward person, I am suddenly transformed into the quietly fabulous/awkward person who clearly has something wrong with her because she can't digest a staple grain. Once this information is out there, it can be used or misused beyond my control. Normally, people just ask questions or make some comment on how unfortunate a gluten allergy must be. Sometimes, people use this information to provide accommodations for me so I can partake in eating, or at least warn me to come prepared with my own food so I am not left to watch everyone else eat their gluten-laden goodies. I don't mind questions or conversations about my gluten allergy, and I REALLY don't mind those folks who are motivated enough to attempt to feed me (wink wink). 

Lately, though, I've run into some reactions I wasn't expecting. Part of this is my fault for not thinking things through, part of it I am chalking up to shittiness. To some people, my gluten allergy defines me as a person. It has the been personal detail about me that is used to describe me during introductions. "This is Am. She is the one I was telling you about with the gluten allergy." I am a glutard, yes, but I am also so much more. My food allergy sets me apart from many people, but so does my PhD and my wit and a gazillion other things that are not related to my health. Maybe next time I am navigating dinner and my gluten allergy comes up in conversation, I will also mention that I recently finished my PhD and bought a car so clearly my allergy doesn't stop me from doing anything except eating some grains. 

This defining characteristic may be causing some problems for me. Knowing something about my health has primed some folks to assume other things about my health, like that I am sick or frail or weak or unable. In addition to my glutardedness, I do have some chronic conditions, but I tend to manage them pretty well. I have worked hard to come to terms with my health and to implement plans to maintain it. The criticisms of my health that my allergies have invited frustrate me because the implication tends to be that my life will somehow be less complete because I am missing out on gluten/cats/dogs/etc. Criticisms of my health also make me feel bad about myself, as if there was more I should have done to avoid being in this position. I don't know about you, but I don't like feeling bad about myself. It hadn't occurred to me that telling people about my gluten allergy would open the flood gates, clearing paths for conversations I don't care to have. 

At the end of the day, I still choose to talk about my allergy. The reception has been overwhelmingly kind and curious (aside from a handful of paste-eaters). I am happy to spread the word so that people may be more knowledgeable and accommodating to other people with food allergies they may meet. But it is my choice. It may not be the right choice for you, and that is okay. We each have individual needs. I'd rather tell people so that I can hopefully eat, but I've known many people who just don't bother, or who don't feel comfortable talking about it or asking for accommodations. There is no right or wrong way, as long as you are polite and patient. Thus far, the benefits of telling have vastly outweighed my unanticipated costs. But if the cost-benefit ratio shifts in the future, you better bet I'll be in the corner quietly sneaking my g-free snacks. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Request for Extension

Yo readership,

I need an extension on my blog post for this week. I have a lot of blogs to read, I'm really busy with other stuff, and I had already made plans for this week before I realized that this post was due because I lost my syllabus. I am not feeling well this morning. Also, my dog ate my keyboard, so I can't type. Even if I could, I couldn't turn it in because the printer in the library isn't working. Can I email it to you later? No? I know you have a strict staple policy, but my dog also ate my stapler so when I finally get around to submitting my post, I will turn it in as a pile of unattached, unnumbered, nameless pages. That's cool, right? So anyway, I'll get around to this when it is convenient for me, with utter disregard for your schedule. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Brief Guide to Where To Eat Out

I just realized that I tend to post on Tuesdays. This blog is just like Tuesdays with Morrie except I am not dying (not in the immediate sense, at least), I don't give you important wisdom about life, and I no longer sit at the Morrie picnic table* for lunch on summer afternoons. Prepare for an amazing segue... 

Sometimes I didn't sit at the picnic table because I didn't feel like packing my own lunch. 

Not feeling like eating at home, and unable to be inspired even by the likes of Then here's a quick and dirty guide to places where you (or the glutard you love) might be able to eat. 

Better bets:
-Thai (less ubiquitous soy sauce than Chinese places; curries are usually safe)
-American (assuming you like salads or you are not appalled by burgers sans buns)
-PF Chang's (they have a gluten-free menu and can offer g-free soy sauce -- SOY SAUCE!)
-Indian (just don't eat the damn naan)
-Ethiopian (usually the only wheat is mixed into the teff pancake-y thing)
-Mexican (corn tortillas, whazzup!)
-Places containing lots of hipsters (tend to be aware of allergens and flexible)
-BBQ (assuming you don't need bread to enjoy your meatpile)
-Mediterranean (just don't eat the damn pita)

Worse bets:
-Italian (pasta. bread. breaded pasta?)
-Chinese (ubiquitous soy sauce)
-Bakeries (cross-contamination risk is high)
-Places with lots of fried food (no, you can't have fried chicken and waffles)
-Sandwich shops (bread is the enemy)
-Pizzerias (crust is so crusty, and they tend to make unimpressive salads)
-French (bread, roux, blah, blah blah)
-German (unless you like stuffing your face with only a grip of sausage)
-Bars/pubs (limited menus, lots of fried or beer-infused foods)

Look at all of your options! Mind you, even some of the worse places can be better and some of the better places can be worse! Check menus in advance, look for gluten-free menus, and don't be afraid to call places to ask if they can accommodate. Now go ponder the meaning of life over a tasty meal you didn't have to cook. 

*It was a real thing, until a big piece of construction equipment backed over it. Now there's a replacement table at the Brandeezy

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

May the 4th be with you was fun, but now it is time to celebrate a real 4th holiday, Independence Day. 

Take a moment to appreciate all of the things that make our country great. Be safe out there, and eat an extra, bunless hotdog for me!