Why I’m Gluten-Free….and a Medical Disagreement (3e)

Why avoid gluten?

My mom first suggested I might be allergic to gluten a couple years ago. I scoffed at the thought of that nonsense. Puh-lease. Wheat is in everything. How can you be allergic to it? That would just suck.

Then she suggested it again a few months ago. This time, I listened. My stomach hurt every time I ate, instead of just a couple times a week. I spent most evenings feeling nauseated. Headaches were frequent. I took Pepcid every day to combat stomach aches, and Advil or Aleve to fight the headaches. But what they say is true: drugs are bad. (Okay, Pepcid and Advil aren’t bad for you. But like anything else, it’s best to keep things in moderation. So taking these medicines everyday, or twice a day, is too much.)

But sometimes when I ate, I didn’t get any symptoms. I decided to try out the whole gluten-free thing just to see what happened. I had been hearing about the gluten-free diet a lot, from other people and in the media. I had even seen gluten-free bakeries and food substitutes in the grocery store. As you already know (if you’re faithful reader), the stomach aches and headaches came to a halt.

My stomach aches, nausea and headaches had an explanation. Being an occasional hypochondriac, I was relieved my symptoms didn’t mean I was dying (thanks, WebMD).  I realized not eating gluten left me feeling more awake and energized. I can trace exhaustion, stomachaches and headaches right back to gluten now (it still sometimes sneaks into the food I eat accidentally. Do you know how much food has gluten? Writing a list of it would take an entire post! Let me just tell you one product though – SOY SAUCE. That leaves me out of eating pretty much half the world’s food!).

I spent some time researching gluten intolerance and Celiac disease, and it can actually start at any age. So maybe I wasn’t gluten intolerant my whole life, or the symptoms just started getting worse as I got older. At any rate, I now identify myself in the ever-growing circle of gluten-free eaters.

The Doctor’s Office

I know I’m not the only person who hates the smell of hospitals. They smell like sickness. And death. And needles.

Anyway, I went to the doctor (let’s just call her Dr. Wheat) for my annual physical. Near the end of the short appointment, I said that I had been trying out a gluten-free diet because I’d been getting a lot of stomach aches, and Dr. Wheat was all, “Eating gluten-free is not a diet fad. It’s meant to treat a serious disorder, Celiac disease, and if you had that, you’d be extremely sick and malnourished.”

“But it’s making me feel better…” I always get terrified in the face of authority disagreeing with me.

“You don’t need to eat gluten-free. Grains are very important for maintaining your health. Don’t stop eating them.”

I shut up about it, even though all I could think was I’ll show you! Although that was clearly impossible. I couldn’t perform a medical allergy test on myself. But if I could, I’d wave the lab results declaring me allergic to gluten in her face! Take that.

So here’s why I’m telling you all of this: Not all doctors will react like mine did, since gluten intolerance is becoming more widespread. I heard on The View that something like 10 percent of the population is gluten intolerant. That’s a ton of people! But also a word of warning – I’ve read about other people with gluten intolerance who gave up on a doctor’s diagnosis because they got the same reaction as I got.

Go to your doctor if you think you have an allergy, or anything else, and make them test you for it. Don’t be a coward like me (she was just so insistent I got scared). Maybe someday I’ll get a real, legitimate gluten allergy test, but for now, I’m just avoiding gluten. And that works.

Most of the time….

Pshh. I don’t need no doctor.

Life Without an Oven…and with one that didn’t work (2e)

I’ve lived without an oven before. And it sucked.

I’ve had lots of experience with ovens before. As a kid, I once decided to press my whole hand on a hot oven rack. Maybe I didn’t believe the heat coming from the oven was real? As you can tell, I was clearly a philosophical child. I must have had a feeling reality and appearance weren’t lining up. Really, it was a brilliant mistake.

My current oven situation is not philosophical. It’s illogical. The thing doesn’t work! But I’ll go more into that later. For now, let’s talk about the eight months of my life I spent without access to an oven.

THE DORM

In first year of university, I lived on residence in a dorm. The dorm hall allowed everyone their own room, so I only shared a bathroom with my roommate. But living in a dorm meant no kitchen – unless you count the disgusting, always dirt encrusted, sometimes fire-causing microwave in the common room (and the fire culprit? Microwavable popcorn. It got students every time).

Some people got creative in desperate times with that microwave, making macaroni and cheese and even chocolate cake (a rumour I only heard about, and I still wonder if it’s true).

Just saying

THE CAFETERIA

I ate wraps or Tim Horton’s sandwiches for most meals in my time on rez. On the first floor of my dorm hall sat a large cafeteria, which I was led to believe offered delicious cuisine from around the world.

 Fresh, wholesome, homemade food!

A full salad bar!

Burgers, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese sandwiches, and fries from the grill!

Something for everyone!

Nope.

Surf ‘n’ turf. Imagine this, but not fancy and on a paper plate, consisting of fake lobster and dry steak.

You had to be adventurous to eat in the cafeteria most nights. They had a surf ‘n’ turf night that had the whole place smelling like rotten fish. I didn’t even dare try that. Steak night presented an adventure in breaking plastic knives on cheap cuts of beef. For me, it was either burgers (which got gross after the first few times) or hitting the wrap bar and eating chili (occasionally made with random vegetables like broccoli and celery, maybe from the days they cleaned out the salad bar).

I was sick most of the time first year, with stomachaches and headaches. This was before I knew about being gluten intolerant (read about that here), but I really didn’t eat much bread or pasta. But I’m sure flour touched most things. The other problem was MSG.

THE HORRORS OF MSG

What is MSG? It’s a flavour enhancer under a long chemical name that I can’t spell. It’s supposed to make things taste better, kind of like salt. Little known fact: you can be allergic to MSG (it’s true! Read about it here). Know what being allergic meant? Feeling flushed, nauseated, and getting migraines from food with MSG. The cafeteria used plenty of MSG to make their lackluster food taste remotely normal.

Of course, I only realized this later, months after moving out of the dorm hall. But even if I had known, I couldn’t waste my $4,000 food plan by buying other food.

“Four-thousand dollars! For shitty food?!”

I know. I still feel extremely ripped off.

MY OWN APARTMENT

So let’s fast-forward to second-year, when I got my own one-bedroom apartment. I could cook my own food! Except for one thing.

My oven.

It’s so awful I can’t even get a good picture of it!

At first, it was fine. I was still figuring out how to cook, going off a carefully detailed list from my mom of how to cook different types of chicken and meat. Then, I started trying to bake things. I couldn’t figure out why things either burned immediately or went flat when I took them out.

Well, it wasn’t my lack of baking skills (like everyone thought). The oven in my apartment was 50 degrees off from the temperature dial, and also didn’t hold a steady temperature. Eight months after I put in the first request to get it fixed, a repairman came and reported it fixed. After that, it only got mildly better than before. My gluten-free creations didn’t always turn out, unless I planned on longer cooking times at lower temperatures.

So I had to figure out more and more ways to cook only on the stovetop. Chicken can be pan-seared. Steamed vegetables. My own spaghetti creation – tons of chopped up vegetables in tomato sauce with ground turkey. But still, my cooking was very limited.

After the second failed oven repair, I immediately complained to my mom. She told me to try to get it fixed again. My superintendent insisted the oven was fixed and refused to call someone in to work on the oven again, unless I would pay for it. This, along with other problems, led me to looking for a new apartment.

I just want to bake again! And cook things in the oven! So now I’m on a quest to find a new apartment with a bigger kitchen and working oven (and maybe a newer building that isn’t home to mice in the walls and bugs crawling out of the vents and into my apartment). Keep checking back for a new post on my experiences with moving when I finally find a place!

UPDATE: I found a new apartment! Read about it here.

Also, If you’ve had similar experiences to mine, let me know! I need more ideas for stove top cooking!