I’m often asked if I have an intolerance to gluten, if I have Coeliac disease or if not eating gluten is a lifestyle choice…let me explain.
I had always loved bread...as a child I loved hot toast dripping in New Zealand Anchor butter (growing up in the UK) with Strawberry jam (mmmm). And then as an adult, sandwiches, foccacia and toast were staples in my diet.
And then, of course, there was the pasta, pizza, biscuits and cakes that all had the one common ingredient ... gluten.
Then one day, I saw a pattern emerging.
There I was at my desk and a wave of lethargy would hit me like a train hitting a brick wall - crash! I’d literally be fine one minute, and in the next moment I’d be struggling to keep my eye lids open, fighting to stay awake.
To add to this already less than optimal state, my stomach would often blow up like a balloon accompanied by pain and wind…not a great combination for the office!
But what I also noticed, was a feeling of 'dullness' after eating foods with gluten in them, like I'd gone into a fog and couldn't see the way ahead clearly. I wasn't as sharp and my clarity wasn't there.
Looking for a Quick Fix
So in desperation, I would go for a coffee or a sugary snack to pep me up. There. Done. Sorted. But not really because therein was the rollercoaster of crashing after certain foods and using other foods and drinks to pep me up which I learnt was a very vicious and destructive cycle.
This cycle went on for a little while until one day I twigged that each time I ate certain foods, particularly bread and pasta (I didn't at this stage know it was gluten), I felt that same lethargy, the bloating and then reached for a 'pick me up' mid afternoon.
Now, given this was in the early 2000s - before there was much talk about gluten intolerance or Coeliac disease - I did what I always do and started to do some research. What I discovered was that my symptoms of feeling sleepy and bloated were known and common affects of consuming gluten.
Aha Bingo …
So with this, I began to experiment, first with switching to gluten free substitutes for things like bread, pasta and cakes, and then later to actually removing some of these foods altogether as I found that even though some of the symptoms stopped, I still felt heavy and dull after eating gluten free pasta or bread.
Now nearly 20 years on, it is still an experiment because every day is different, and every day my body might need different foods. For example, we all know that when we are unwell we feel like lighter foods, like soups and broths. But why wait to get sick? Every day our body is communicating what it needs to us. If I have a big day ahead where I need to be super sharp and on the ball, I eat much lighter than if I have a day where I might be physically more active and need something more substantial.
And so, back to gluten. What I know is that it dulls me.
It not only dulls my senses so that I'm less aware of the subtle and sometimes not so subtle undertones of situations, but it also means I’m not as responsive and ‘there’, if you understand what I mean – like someone has turned the light down slightly and I’m not as 'with it or sharp' as I naturally am.
And now back to the question I'm often asked about whether I have Coeliac disease. No, I don’t.
Is eating a gluten-free diet a lifestyle choice or an intolerance? I say it is both. If it affects how I feel, then it is an intolerance. Do I want to feel lethargic, dull and bloated - no and so it is also very much a lifestyle choice.