The Other C Word – Part One

Firstly, I cannot emphasise this enough – If you are concerned about your health and think it may be due to your diet, go to see your GP.

In November 2014, I was diagnosed with coeliac disease. Coeliac disease is an auto immune disease where the body produces antibodies when you eat gluten. People with coeliac have a genetic predisposition although many may go through their life without ever triggering the disease.

I’ll never properly know what triggered my coeliac and when I asked my gastroenterologist what she thought, she wouldn’t speculate. I do have my own theory though. A year before I got married, I decided I’d like to lose a bit of weight. I wanted to look svelte for the big day, and when I looked at the pictures I wanted to be pretty and petite so I started exercising more and made changes to my diet. In addition to cutting back on chocolate and crisps, I decided to cut back on the carbs. For me, this meant no more bread and pasta mostly. I stopped eating Marmite on toast and porridge for breakfast in favour of omelettes. My delicious lunch sandwiches became salad in summer and soup in winter. Big bowls of pasta with garlic bread became meat and two veg. I continued to consume small amounts of gluten though, in things like corn flakes and soy sauce although my gluten intake was reduced.

I look back at this diet and think what the hell was I thinking? I was never unhappy with my size before the wedding, and I remember times when I craved toast and ham salad rolls, and treated spag bol for dinner like it was an event! Even if this wasn’t what triggered my coeliac, it was still a terrible idea! I lost 10kg that I didn’t really need to lose and I hated going to the gym and eating salad all the time. I did look cracking in the photos though!

On the day of the wedding, I broke my diet with wedding cake and bread rolls. We went on our honeymoon to glorious Singapore which we basically ate and drank our way through – noodles, dumplings, curries washed down with Singapore Slings. Michael and I have always been fond of food, Michael is a great cook and enjoys cooking and I’m a glutton!

It took about six weeks before I started feeling rough. The symptoms for coeliac vary a lot, some are more extreme than others. For me, I started suffering from severe nausea. I had a few weeks where I was missing a few days of work before I decided to visit my GP who sent me for blood tests. A week later, my GP contacted me to say that my bloods indicated I might have an intolerance to gluten and that I should feel better if I avoided it. I cut the gluten out of my diet and started feeling better generally. Then a few weeks later I received a second call from my GP. He said that my bloods had been assessed incorrectly at the pathology lab and my results actually indicated that I may be coeliac. He referred me to a gastroenterologist for a diagnosis.

The only way to diagnose coeliac disease is to have a small bowel biopsy via a gastroscopy. I had to eat gluten again for a few weeks before the procedure which was not too bad. After the procedure, my gastroenterologist told me straight away that I had inflammation of the villi – the tiny finger-like projections which increase the surface area of the lower intestine – and I was coeliac. My gastroenterologist told me the only treatment for coeliac disease is a lifelong gluten free diet and recommended I see a nutritionist, and join Coeliac Australia.

My husband and I removed all the gluten from the house. We got rid of the breads, pastas, condiments and sauces, herbs and spices, flours, breadcrumbs, and tinned foods. We also had to replace the toaster, bamboo steamers and some of the utensils that were porous like the bamboo spatulas. I made an appointment with my nutritionist. She taught me how to read food labels accurately and suggested gluten free alternative foods. She also highlighted the risk I took when eating out due to cross contamination. I joined Coeliac Australia where I could learn more about the disease, research and importantly, talked about how to explain to people my dietary requirements when eating out.

My health now is a lot better without the gluten. I’m less gassy, I don’t suffer from indigestion as frequently and I generally feel better. This is pretty strange because when I was eating gluten I thought that feeling slightly sluggish and gassy was normal. I hadn’t realised that being healthy wasn’t like that.

When I do eat gluten by accident, I suffer from terrible nausea. My reaction is fast and prolonged, starting with indigestion and ending after three days. The nausea is so bad it stops me from standing up without the urge to throw up. In addition to this, the longer I go without gluten, the more severe my reaction has become!

To date, it’s been about 10 months since I was last gluten’d, although I’ve had a couple of near misses. In my next post, I’ll go into some details about how I felt after my diagnosis and why I started this blog.

Thanks for reading!

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