Living With Crohn’s Is A Bitch — Going Gluten Free Isn’t
So Crohn’s. I have it. I’ve had it for 15 years and I’ve seen some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days — still one of my favourite childhood reads.
First a very basic biology lesson:
When food enters your body, it goes through the digestive system. People assume all digestion happens in the stomach. Not true. The stomach is a storage facility for food, and a place where it breaks down and sends it to the small intestine, so food can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
The large intestine mostly stores waste. It’s about 4–6 feet long.
The small intestine is where most of the digestion and absorption happens. It’s about 20–24 feet long.
Most people that have Crohn’s eventually end up having a major surgery. In my case, the surgery involved removing 3/4 of my large intestine because it was dead and deteriorated, and because humans can’t live without the small one.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
In short, it’s a very serious bowel problem, where the digestive track gets inflamed and swollen; in other words, the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells in the GI track. This leads to unpredictable cycles of painful flare-ups, bleeding, a crazy case of “the runs,” along with a boatload of other invisible and visible unsexy symptoms.
Each case of Crohn’s is different, what they all have in common is the fact that it’s a chronic disease with no real treatment, and no real known cause.
I was told mine was due to stress.
I was also told by Gastroenterologists and naturopaths that maintaining a gluten free diet can manage the symptoms. Now, I love cookies, muffins and fresh breads. Giving up these foods makes my heart hurt.
I do have to admit, the days I cut down my carb intake, I did feel less like sh*t.
It makes sense. The gluten grain is high in starch. My body doesn’t know how to breakdown grains, so it just sits there until it becomes bacteria, causing all sorts of distress.
Naturally, this led me to look up gluten free recipes, with a negative disposition to begin with, because gluten is in all the things I love to eat. Did I mention I’m a professional non gluten free baker?
I came across a website called happygut.ca, a blog dedicated to managing Crohn’s through a plant based, gluten free diet.
Plant based and gluten free sounds like torture to me and unmanageable, because I don’t have the discipline to make a drastic lifestyle change. I rather enjoy eating the foods I love and pay for it when I have to. Although that’s not the smartest way to live either.
“Getting Crohn’s was the best thing that happen to me, it got me very healthy.” — Kiran Shahbaz, HappyGut
A recap of Kiran’s story, (creator of HappyGut), is that once she got sick, (dealing with severe Crohn’s symptoms), she was obsessed with becoming seriously healthy. She quit her job and decided to give herself a big a chunk of time to heal and change her diet completely. Today, Kiran says “I’m symptom free and I feel better than I have my whole life.”
I tested out a bunch of her recipes and was pleasantly surprised at how good the final product turned out. It never tasted like something was missing, it just tasted good. Good enough that I would happily serve it to my non-Crohn’s friends.
I wanted to contact Kiran, hoping to uncover some sort of secret as to how she was able to change her diet entirely, going from eating everything to a diet so strict. I was hesitant since it wasn’t the most breezy conversation to have with a stranger.
Then a few months ago, I saw her at a mutual friend’s party. I recognized her from her website photo. Later that night, I found out Kiran is one of my closest friend’s neighbours.
Now, we’re both at this rooftop birthday party, everyone’s in a good mood, kicking back and enjoying each other’s company, and just like in a movie scene, as the crowds parted I saw Kiran, walked right up to her and instead of going with a normal opener like “hey, how do you know so and so,” I dove right into “Hey Kiran, you don’t know me, but I have Crohn’s too!”
Good thing she was super cool. Not your typical party conversation but it was common grounds for us.
Me: I’m a fan of your blog, I’ve tested out some of your recipes and they were a hit. I really want to know how did you go from eating everything to going strictly gluten free, let alone plant based?
Kiran: I was so sick and so desperate. My life before Crohn’s was one where I could fly by the seat of my pants. And then to hear I have to take meds for the rest of my life, which would also have negative side affects on my everyday living, I didn’t want to live like that. It was time to make a serious change.
Me: What’s the connection between Crohn’s and gluten?
Kiran: I can only speak from my personal experience. Wheat is an inflammatory. My Aryuvedic doctor and a naturopath suggested going on an anti-inflammatory diet, which basically means no gluten, no dairy, no processed sugars and no nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers & eggplant.) I have an obsessive personality, so I was able to discipline myself and stick to the diet. Plus, if you don’t go all in, you don’t know if the diet is working. I did that for a while now, I’ve mainly adopted a plant based, gluten free diet.
Me: What inspired you to come up with HappyGut? I’m sure there are already so many gluten free resources available online.
Kiran: I got sick in 2008, back then I could only find a handful of gluten free sites. So I started to experiment with flavours and ingredients and created my own recipes. People would ask me to email them the recipes so I decided to archive them into a blog. That’s it.
It’s so much easier to go gluten free today than it was 10 years ago. In fact if you google gluten free diets, too many results show up. I can even name 10 gluten free flours off the top of my head, (this is where my baking experience comes in handy.)
I’ve been in remission for a while now. The flare ups show up less. But when they do hit, it’s like a bloody tornado that I just have to deal with and wait for it to pass. It sucks.
Hearing stories like Kiran’s are inspirational. It all comes down to discipline. Serious personal discipline …and sacrifices — something I lack when it comes to food.
On the plus side, lots of foods are naturally gluten free: fresh fruit, veggies, meats, fish, nuts, eggs, cheese and above all, wine.
Plus, I don’t have to give up cookies, muffins and fresh breads, I don’t need gluten to make baked goods, I just need to adjust my taste buds a little.
Here are a few other gluten free recipe blogs I was thrilled to discover:
Published on The Huffington Post Canada