Hi.  I'm gluten-free and I read.

I came to be gluten-free rather gradually. No test has indicated that I need to be gluten-free. My body told me. Only it took me quite some time to figure it out.

Sometime in early 2006, I started to notice that I wasn't feeling well. Consistently. Day after day. Some days were much worse, some not so much so. I was having what I now call "intestinal distress". Pain.  Cramping. Bloating. Gas. Diarrhea. You get the picture. It was starting to affect whole hours of my days. I got so miserable, I finally decided I had to do something.

So... I paid attention.

That's just my style. I didn't run off to the doctor immediately. I paid attention to my body and immediately started to think about what I was eating. I very quickly noticed that I felt the worst when I had eaten a lot of wheat products in a single day.

Breakfast of two pieces of toast. Lunch of a sandwich made with a large French roll. Dinner of pasta, with seconds. Lots of wheat.

I started cutting back on the wheat. It was easy at first. I just paid attention and if I thought I would have pizza at night, I wouldn't eat a sandwich for lunch and bagels for breakfast. If we were having pancakes for breakfast, I would be sure to have a snack of something other than crackers. I didn't start with severe restrictions. I was still eating plenty of wheat. I just made sure I wasn't eating it at every meal.

And I felt better. Much better. Immediately.

My symptoms eased.  If I had a flare up of symptoms, I just cut back a little more on the wheat.  And the symptoms eased again.  I started feeling better.

I was feeling considerably better.

I got to a point when I was convinced that I could safely eat the equivalent of one slice of bread per day without any problems or symptoms.  By this time I was reading labels carefully, avoiding most wheat so that I could choose when to have my one serving of wheat per day.

Then, it happened.  More symptoms.  I was feeling fine, perfectly fine.  I was at work and I started eating a granola bar.  Within five minutes, no joke, I felt intense lower abdominal cramping and headed straight for the bathroom.  Then I checked the ingredients list of the granola bar.  Way, way down on the list was wheat flour.  I immediately attributed my pain and symptoms to the wheat flour.  I wracked my brain to see if it could have been something else, but it had been hours since I ate anything else.  It just seemed to add up.  It made sense.

I couldn't eat wheat.

Any wheat.  Not even the tiny amounts indicated in a granola bar, with the wheat down near the bottom of the list of ingredients.

About this time at a regularly scheduled doctor's visit, I mentioned all of this to my doctor.  I wanted to know if I had celiac disease or if it could be a wheat allergy.  My doctor agreed to do a blood test that could be indicative of celiac.  When I reiterated about the possibility of a wheat sensitivity, she said, "Well, I'm not sure I believe in that."

Huh?  "Believe"?  You have to "believe" in it?

The doctor gave me the name of a GI specialist to follow up with.  I thought about it.  I wasn't thrilled with her response about the wheat sensitivity.  If she didn't "believe" in such a thing, would her recommended GI specialist be of the same mindset?  If I went to the GI guy, would he only investigate celiac disease, or worse find nothing conclusive and label it "irritable bowel syndrome"?  The last thing I wanted was to get labeled as having something, just because I had symptoms and their favorite disease came up negative.  I had already read many stories of this happening to others.  And the misdiagnoses and wrong treatments, some of which were doing harm.  Lots of misdiagnoses.  No thanks.

So I held off.  I stalled.  I wasn't sure what to do.  I was being hounded gently by family and friends to get a doctor's help, but I was just so skeptical of being able to get a proper diagnosis.  And, even if it turned out to be celiac, the solution was exactly what I was already doing:  a gluten-free diet.  Well, really, I was on a wheat-free diet.  I didn't normally consume barley or rye, which do contain gluten, so I wasn't sure if I was sensitive to them.

Given all the publicity and labeling issues, it was easier to think and act according to a "gluten-free" diet, instead of focusing on a "wheat-free" diet.  So, I was effectively gluten-free.

This was a key point.  I was already on a gluten-free diet.  In order to do conclusive celiac testing, you need to be eating a gluten diet and have a biopsy taken of your intestine.  And not just one day of gluten.  I was reading articles and doing research on the internet and finding all kinds of information, much of it in conflict.  Some reports said three months of a consistent gluten diet.  Other articles indicated a month or a couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks on gluten?!

Go back on gluten just to get tested?  Are you kidding?  All the pain and suffering?  I would have to take sick time off of work, since I knew that if I went back on gluten for weeks, I would be spending those weeks between the toilet and the bed.  Miserable.  In pain.  Suffering.

And what if the celiac test came back negative?  Pain and suffering for nothing?

Even if it was positive, the result was the same as what I was already doing:  a gluten-free diet.

Well, I didn't seem to be suffering on a gluten-free diet, so I decided through my inaction to continue feeling good by continuing the gluten-free diet.

Here I am, and I'm gluten-free.  And I feel great.  I've added a daily probiotic and I don't have routine intestinal issues anymore.

I don't know exactly how sensitive I am to gluten or wheat.  I don't know what a safe level is for me.  I do know that I don't have problems with many products that are made on equipment shared with wheat ingredients.  But not all.  I do know that I am sensitive enough to have had a problem at an Italian restaurant, even though I ordered from their gluten-free menu and the waiter assured me they understood the issue.  I suspect that was a case of cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Right now, gluten-free is a better way for me to live than being on gluten or wheat.  I have tried experimenting with a little bit of barley, but I'm not convinced one way or other about my sensitivity to it.  I still haven't ruled out going to doctors or doing testing.  I'm just not ready to do so yet.  As the years have passed, I have seen a greater understanding and awareness of the gluten issue.  This gives me hope that I may still yet get a definitive answer for my body.

I have adjusted my pantry to accommodate a plethora of gluten-free flours.  And I use them.  I started looking for gluten-free cookbooks, first at the library and then buying the ones I liked.  I use the internet and grab recipes as they suit my fancy.  Some are good, some aren't.  I'm happy that my family let's me feed them gluten-free dinners and pastries.  They still have their bread and bagels, but anything that is made for the entire family is made gluten-free.  I am so thankful for their appreciation of my issue.  Then again, maybe they just don't want to me to be miserable.  Either way, I'm thankful.

Throughout this all, I've read.  Of course, I've read article after article about celiac disease.  But I also read for recreation.  After talking with colleagues of mine, I came to realize that my education didn't expose me to many of the classics of literature.  I wanted to know about literature.  I wanted to fill in what felt like gaps in my knowledge.  But I was busy.   A new job in a new, unfamiliar location, without family or friends.  Two young children.  New schools.  Commuting to and from work.

My time was already filled.

And then I got my treadmill setup again at home.  I had already created the habit of reading while on the treadmill.  It passed the time and I got to read.

And then Harry Potter entered my daughter's world.  I didn't know much about it, but she wanted to read it.  So, I had to find out about it.

I read the first six Harry Potter books, back to back, while on the treadmill.  I had to wait another year or so for the seventh book to come out.  While I waited, I was reading more and more.  I chose some classics and some new books.

As the years have passed, I've just kept reading.  I read while I sit on the sofa, I read while on the treadmill, and I used to listen to books on CD in the car while commuting.  Listening while commuting became difficult, since I was frequently backing up the CD when traffic would pull my attention away.

I've wanted to join a book club, but with time at work and away from the family, I've been leery of committing to spending too much additional time away from them.  So, I've been sharing my reading and having book discussions with a couple of friends at work.  And now with you.  I hope you will share your reading with me as well!