"Man, I'm glad I'm not actually allergic to gluten!" This statement has popped out of my mouth more than once during this experiment. The truth is that living gluten-free is difficult. It's emotional, challenging and at times, very frustrating.
A good friend of mine has celiacs disease. She generously let me interview her for an insider's perspective. Before this experiment, I knew that she had to maintain an unusual diet, but I didn't know much about it. Now when she talks about her experience, I have a very real point of reference. She and I studied abroad together in 2002, and I remember the first signs that something was wrong when she would get sick (stomach aches, bloating), sleepy and grumpy after eating or trying to enjoy a couple beers. She reminded me of one trip to Florence, Italy, when we ate pasta all day and then went to a crazy disco with racy japanamation, greasy Italian dudes and vats of nutella loaded with breadsticks. Obviously, that wasn't her favorite day of the trip. As she leaned on me during the bus trip home, neither of us realized what was going on in her body, specifically her small intestine.
Celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. If you have celiac disease and eat foods containing gluten, an immune reaction occurs in your small intestine, causing damage to the surface of your small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients. Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment. This can lead to other illnesses and stunted growth in children. For more information check out: http://www.celiac.com/
My friend told me that traveling is the hardest part for her. During a recent trip to Russia, she ate a few pieces of salami for breakfast due to lack of other safe options. She was sick for the rest of the trip. The smallest traces of gluten matter. I mentioned receiving a salad at a restaurant with croutons. I pushed them to the side and kept eating, but someone with celiac would have had to send the plate back. She asked me to mention to just be nice. People with celiac disease often feel uncomfortable having to deny foods or constantly explain. They're not trying to be picky. They just have to take care of themselves. It's not worth the alternative.