My Gluten-Free Challenge

My Gluten-Free Challenge April 25, 2016

I hate doing something because it’s the “in” thing to do, and out of principle, going gluten-free, or talking about a Candida problem is not something I’d readily admit to.

Recently, several friends encouraged me to try a gluten-free diet. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and pain throughout the body, most often in the joints. For those who develop a more advanced disease, the inflammation can become systemic and affect the nervous system, internal organs, and skin. For me, the disease affects nearly all my joints, along with systemic involvement in my eyes, odd neuropathy (the feeling of bugs crawling on my legs, numbness), and digestive problems.

The idea of eliminating foods to alleviate inflammation is nothing new, especially in individuals prone to an auto-inflammatory response (those with diseases like Celiac, Lupus, RA, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s).

The problem with all of this, is that restricting any food is extremely hard. For someone like me, who could live on buttered toast, I didn’t want to try it. What if it worked? What if I felt better? What if I had to give up my blessed bagels FOR-EV-ER?? So, I balked, and took my immuno-suppressing injections, felt better (kinda), and kept eating Jimmy Johns.

Photo property of Mallory Severson
Photo property of Mallory Severson

Lent was approaching, and despite my medications working very effectively for my joint inflammation, the inflammation in my eyes was causing serious problems. The treatments to help my eyes are few and extreme; a “last resort” to preserve the frail tissue I have left unaffected by RA. I’ve reached the end of the road, and was willing to try anything that might help.

Being 32, with grim options ahead, on Ash Wednesday I decided to eat Gluten Free. If I couldn’t do it for myself, at least  I could do it for God. And so, for all 46 days of Lent, with no cheating, I gave up gluten.

And nothing happened.

At least not right away.

I sighed deep relief when after two weeks I hadn’t noticed a single change in any of my symptoms. Maybe this is just a fad that will fade away eventually. Maybe I don’t have to eat this cardboard square and pretend it’s bread?

But, right around the 1-month mark, I did start noticing changes. My skin felt smoother, which I wasn’t expecting. I had more energy. The achiness I attributed to being a normal part of life, started to fade. My hands, which are always puffy and bulky, looked somewhat more slender. The embarrassing digestive problems weren’t wreaking the havoc they once held. I felt normal. Which, for anyone who suffers with chronic disease, is a huge feat.

After Lent, I continued to eat gluten-free. But, after several weeks, I allowed myself to cheat. It started with a little birthday cake, and escalated quickly to  not restricting gluten at all. At first I felt okay. Then, very suddenly, I didn’t. I went to bed one night with my hips in so much pain that even the top sheet of my bed caused pain. In the morning, I struggled out of bed. My family, recognizing my limp, knew we were heading for a rough patch, and I needed to schedule in times to nap during the day. As anyone who deals with pain will tell you–pain and inflammation are exhausting. 

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

And so, only a few days ago, I decided again to eliminate gluten from my diet. This time indefinitely. I will still need medication for my joints and eyes. I will still be at risk from heart disease and more organ involvement. I will always have RA.

But, maybe I’ll feel a little better, and function a little more. Anecdotally, I have heard many accounts of people restricting their diet to a point where they either reduced or eliminated their medications. If gluten-free is tough, more restrictions seem almost impossible at this point.

So I’ll go slowly.

My advice to someone suffering from an autoimmune disease, or having vague symptoms like fatigue and unexplained pain, is to give a gluten free diet a shot. Try it for at least a month, if not more time. Judge your results by the way you feel. If it’s helpful, that’s great.

It’s taken me way too long to reach that conclusion. Because bread tastes good.





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