Thought Catalog
June 11, 2017

The Honest Reasons Why I Chose To Be Gluten-Free

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What is the issue?
James Harris

Gluten isn’t something a lot of people think about. Many people assume I’m gluten-free for weight loss reasons, despite the fact that I weigh 130 pounds.

The real story I tell people about why I’m gluten-free usually shocks them. Indeed, I was shocked about it too when I first discovered that I was gluten intolerant.

Why? Because prior to being gluten intolerant, I supposedly had dermatomyositis.

Dermatomyositis is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin and the muscles. I experienced severe muscle pain and weakness as well as a skin rash. Oh, and also an inability to swallow my food, walk short distances, or basically do anything by myself.

I spent the next four and a half years in and out of hospitals, on chemotherapy, heavy doses of steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs. I also wasn’t able to walk the summer I was diagnosed, which was a week before my seventeenth birthday.

I was determined to do something different after four years of this.

I was 21 and had my whole life ahead of me. I wanted to be a carefree young person, not some sick overweight girl needing hospital visits every couple of months. I thought, “No, this is not my life. This can’t be my life.” I said no to the madness that was modern sickness.

And this is what I found out.

My Body Has an Inflammatory Response to Gluten

The last doctor I saw for my illness looked at me and told me that I would be on chemotherapy for the rest of my life.

I left her office that day and felt as hopeless as I’d ever felt. I was throwing up in the shower from chemo, I was dizzy and nauseous all the time. I’d gained weight from the steroids and had acne and mood swings. On top of everything, my muscle pain was excruciating. I remember the sky being gray and feeling like the world was falling apart.

That was when I decided that I was not going to spend the rest of my life on chemo.

It took me a few weeks and a lot of calls, but I finally found a herbalist in the area who would see me. On our second visit together, she told me that she thought gluten might be making me sick.

I told her she was crazy. The doctors at the best hospital in the country couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Why did she think she could?

But her idea stuck with me. And the more I read, the more I felt like this could be it.

How I Was Reacting to Gluten

When our bodies cannot process a certain food, they can have autoimmune reactions. This will not happen for everyone, depending on your unique genetic makeup and the kinds of foods you eat.

Our bodies can develop reactions to any food at any given time, which explains why I suddenly woke up one morning and found I couldn’t walk. Since I was eating gluten and my body had, quite literally overnight, developed a reaction to it, my body was attacking my muscles and I was in extreme pain.

When we eat food, the components of that food are broken down into our stomach and carried throughout the blood to nourish all parts of our bodies. When gluten was entering my bloodstream and being used to nourish my muscles, my body was attacking it as if it was an intruder; this is considered an autoimmune response. This is where the symptoms of the dermatomyositis were coming from.

I went gluten-free the next day, unable to keep eating something that was supposedly making me so sick that I needed to be on chemotherapy.

I Feel Completely Different

Within a week, all of the symptoms of my dermatomyositis disappeared.

I had more energy, my muscles stopped hurting, and I felt more alive and healthier than I had in years. After three weeks of being gluten-free, I went off all my medication, feeling that it was making me sicker rather than making me better.

I experienced no side effects after I went off the medication except that I felt better. I stopped feeling nauseous, my moods returned to normal, and I lost weight.

For the last six years, I’ve been pain-free, drug-free, and feeling great. I run ten miles a week, I lift weights, do yoga, walk, and I don’t eat gluten.

Sometimes it’s hard explaining to people what happened to me because the world doesn’t see food as medicine, they simply see it as fuel. But I know the truth. I know what food can do to us and to our bodies. I experienced firsthand being so sick that I felt as if I was dying at the age of 21 from eating bread, of all things.

Being gluten-free is a choice for me. I have a choice to be sick or to not eat bread. Some people ask me if being gluten-free is hard. I usually respond with, “Well, it’s easier than being on chemo.”

The Role Food Plays

Many people who suffer from gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, or celiac disease experience digestive problems. This is a common way for the body to express that it has a problem with gluten.

However, gluten can cause many more adverse symptoms in the body, from attacking its own organs (lupus), the brain (ADHD, depression, schizophrenia), and skin (acne). Gluten isn’t the only food causing problems for people with sensitive bodies. Other top allergens include dairy, soy, corn, eggs, nuts, and nightshades (potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes).

Some people don’t have food intolerances, but for those of us experiencing adverse health symptoms, food may play a larger role in our lives than we ever imagined. It’s good to be informed about our bodies, our health, and what we eat.

Eating the right foods can help us feel our best, and I feel amazing, despite the fact that eating bread put me in a wheelchair ten years ago.

It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that I don’t actually have. Going through all that was an insane, insightful journey. It’s one that I can only feel grateful for today, despite everything that’s happened.

The gluten-free diet has a bad reputation these days. From friends to doctors who don’t take you seriously, let’s not assume that someone is doing a diet for a specific reason. Let’s assume that they know more about their body and their health than we do. And this can only be a beneficial thing for them. TC mark