Life Without Bread

My first year with celiac.

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

"Man cannot live by bread alone. He must have peanut butter.”
 James A. Garfield

What is it like to live your life being able to enjoy eating anything your heart desires and wake up one morning knowing you will never be able to eat artisan bread, good pizza or most anything available at your favorite restaurant again?

Until that day I didn’t realize how pervasive gluten is in food.

I’m a Foodie. At seventy I’ve traveled the world, eaten more cuisines than I can count. This all ended November 2017 when I got a call from my doctor, it’s never a good sign when the doctor calls. He was not happy with the biopsy of my small intestine. A day later a simple blood test confirmed I had celiac.

Sidebar: What is celiac? Unfortunately, celiac is not the latest gluten free fad diet. It’s an autoimmune disease that there is currently no cure for. It’s estimated that only about one percent of the population has celiac. Symptoms can be almost non existent, like mine, to vomiting, diarrhea and anemia if undiagnosed.

For me this diagnosis was a mixed blessing. I now knew what caused the severe anemia that had started all the testing and head scratching by the doctors. But it also opened a new chapter in my life. No longer could I eat anything I wanted, travel to foreign countries would be much more difficult and what I didn’t realize at the time my social life would change as well.

My anemia was bad enough there was no tapering off gluten. After blood transfusions and iron infusions I knew that cold turkey was my only option.

Out went the wood cutting board where we kneaded bread. Over half the food in the house was thrown out or donated. Every nook and cranny of the kitchen vacuumed and deep cleaned to rid it of residual wheat flour.

It would take six months for my blood work to start coming back normal and be free of anemia What I learned during those six months changed my life forever.

Celiac is not only an autoimmune disease it’s also a social disease. The diet changes were much easier to live with than the social aspects of having celiac.

I’m what’s often derisively referred to as a “silent celiac” by people with more severe cases of celiac. I’ve been told that I couldn’t possibly have celiac because I don’t get violently sick when I eat gluten. I’ve get the look at social events when I ask if a dish is gluten free.

Sidebar: What is a silent celiac? A silent celiac is a person with celiac that can eat gluten with only minor reactions to the gluten. In my case it’s a simple upset stomach and bloating.

Being a silent celiac has it’s advantages like no rushed trips to the bathroom. I can even go to dinner at someone’s house without worrying about cross contamination. It’s even possible to eat gluten on occasion if you’re willing to put up with the discomfort.

But it has its downsides as well.

Friends? Maybe.

It’s amazing how “friends” react to celiac. There are those that simply stop inviting you over for any kind of social activity that includes eating. These are the easiest to deal with as they have shown that they weren’t a real friend.

But friends that really care are more problematic.

Being introvert by nature and all of a sudden being the center of attention can be hard to adapt to. Now I’m the 300 pound gorilla in the room. When it comes time to decide on a restaurant it’s “Can Gary eat there?” If we are invited to someone’s house there is always the discussion of “What can Gary eat?”

The worst is going out to dinner and watching dinner mates eat artisan bread or pizza while sitting there eating a salad or worse a gluten free crust pizza. When you have celiac you quickly discover that the gluten free options are limited and good ones as rare as unicorns.

Then there are the friends that are concerned about limited food options and insist on bringing you gluten free food, often sweet baked goods. I enjoy the occasional dessert but one quickly gets tired of gluten free cakes and cookies.

Baked goods, like bread, are the bane of a foodie with celiac. I’ve tried more gluten free breads than I can count and there is simply no comparison to real bread. Even Wonder Bread is better Than gluten free bread and that’s saying something.

Without the structural integrity of gluten baked goods are gummy. This is not as big of a problem with sweets like cakes and cookie but bread that’s another story. Portland, OR has an active food scene with several top notch bakeries, even a couple of gluten free ones. But there is no good gluten free bread, even at $10 a loaf. Did I forget to mention that eating gluten free is expensive?

I realize now that telling people that I had celiac was a mistake. The loss of friends wasn’t a real problem but the caring friends can be overwhelming at times. I know that they have the best of intentions but sometime I’d just like to have my old life back.

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If you think you might have celiac have your doctor order a blood test. The blood test isn’t perfect but it’s right more than it’s wrong. With only about one percent of the population having celiac its an often overlooked diagnosis. Celiac is not a disease to be ignored as you can die from the side effects if ignored long enough.