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The Gluten Free Diet

Posted By Elana Amsterdam On June 29, 2010 @ 12:07 pm In lifestyle,nutrition | 112 Comments

elana amsterdam with children

For me, diet is a four letter word, I doubt you’ll find it very often on this website.  I don’t spend a lot of time discussing gluten free around here either.  That’s because I take it as a given that the food I eat will be gluten free, that’s just part of my life at this point, though it wasn’t always this way.

Lately, a number of people have asked me to share the story of my celiac diagnosis and personal transition to a gluten free eating plan and lifestyle.  So here it is.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1998 during my pregnancy (not uncommon since pregnancy is considered an immune event and celiac is an auto-immune disorder) with my older son.  I was 30 years old and sick as a dog –I could barely get out of bed –no exaggeration.  Things were very, very bad.  My father suggested that I get tested for celiac disease.  My mother had been sick for most of her adult life with various odd symptoms and had been recently diagnosed.  I was tested and low and behold, yes, I had celiac disease.

Unlike the usual process, where it can take people as many as 9 years and numerous doctors to get a diagnosis and find out what’s going on, my diagnosis came only a few months after the onset of acute symptoms.  In that way, I was very lucky.  However, when I look back, I had been having classic symptoms of celiac disease and malabsorption for most of my life.

What were these symptoms?  I was chronically anemic and whenever I was under stress would get angular chelitis, which is when the corners of your mouth crack and get a little rash.  This is also a symptom of nutritional deficiency.  So, maybe my diagnosis wasn’t so quick after all.  I had to get to the point of being severely ill and bedridden to finally get the diagnosis.  Still, I think I was lucky to get it so quickly once that did happen.

As many of you know, celiac disease is a genetic disorder –it runs in families and it has hit my family quite hard.  Not only do my mother and I have celiac, my sister and older son have it as well.  Incidentally, my mother-in-law also has celiac.  So, as you can imagine, the work that I do in creating gluten free recipes is very personal for me.

gluten free bread recipe

Anyway, when I received my diagnosis I was tremendously relieved.  I finally knew what was going on with my body.  I had already had a 3 year training in Ayurveda which included yoga asana, herbs and food, so I was fairly comfortable in the kitchen.  That doesn’t mean I could actually make tasty food –my husband disliked my Ayurvedic fare with a passion!  He was not a big fan of kichidi, or kichari, as some refer to it.

Of course after the diagnosis I went completely gluten free.  As I mentioned, the diagnosis wasn’t a big deal for me.  I cooked very simple gluten free foods –vegetables, quite a lot of grains and some proteins.  A few months later, I spent a lot of my time making baby food too, once my son finished nursing around a year old.

When that same son turned 3, I started to notice some digestive and behavioral issues in him.  I fed him a gluten free diet during the week; however, during the weekends, he went to birthday parties, and the food served at those parties was pizza and cake (gluten galore).  Let’s just say that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were full of tantrums and mal-digestion.

I asked my son’s fabulous pediatrician (Mark Nesselson, he’s still in practice in NYC), to test my son for celiac and the test came back positive.

This diagnosis had quite an impact on me.

I wanted my son to grow up with all of the delicious treats that I had had in my childhood.  So, I made it my mission to turn all of my favorite recipes into gluten free classics.  For myself, all I really cared about was getting healthy.  For my son, this was a social issue and one that I did not want to color his childhood and experience of food.  Of course it did, though hopefully not in a bad way.

These gluten free brownies are my son’s favorite dessert; he makes them all by himself for his baseball team.  He is a fabulous chef, though says, “Mommy, I think desserts are my specialty.”

This site and my book, The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook, are the result of my passion for providing my son with delicious gluten free food.  It’s been quite a journey and one that has really had a positive impact on my family.

It took a long time though, to heal my gut and my son’s as well.  Like some of you out there, the standard gluten free diet didn’t really do much for my son or myself.  Probably a lot of you are here for that exact reason.  Regular, plain old gluten free doesn’t always work.  There can be other food allergies (such as dairy) and issues of chronic malabsorption.

My search for better health lead me to research, lots of research, and my son and I ended up on the introductory phase of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  We stayed on that (the intro phase) for about a year.

If you don’t know what that is, let’s just say that we didn’t eat sweets for quite some time, and when I say sweets, I’m talking about fruit, dessert, etc.  This was a huge challenge, though it really worked for us.  My son is now merely gluten free, which for him is fairly easy compared to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet introductory phase.

I personally am fairly Paleo, I find that works really well for my body since I cannot digest any grains whatsoever.  I’ve been grain free for more than 9 years now.

Is there a one size fits all solution when it comes to diet and healing?  I don’t think so.  I believe we are all different, in fact, completely different bio-chemical individuals.  Given that, what works for you?  Do you have a specific eating plan that you follow? Do you eat things that you know will make you feel yucky?  I do.

My biggest challenge these days is dairy.  As you can see from my Month O’ Cupcakes, I like dairy, a lot!  I know that cow dairy probably isn’t the best for me, as when I have some cheese or whipped cream, the next morning when I wake up, my right elbow hurts a bit.  That’s an allergic/addiction that I’m dealing with right now.  Nobody’s perfect!  I also find it challenging to stay on my ideal eating plan when I’m baking tons of desserts for this website or my books.  During those times (which seems like all the time) I knowingly take in more sweets than is best for my body.

apricot salad dressing

So there you have it.  My perfect fare is protein and greens with a little bit of fruit –make that low glycemic fruit such as berries.  When I eat that way, I feel like a million bucks.  Although I have great discipline, I’m also like everyone else.  If it’s there, I’ll eat it –to a point, I still draw the line at many, many foods such as gluten, grains, etc.

What do you like to eat?  How did you find out you had celiac or were gluten intolerant?

I’m certainly going to go into more detail in future posts and provide specific information about how I like to eat and other tools that I have used to help heal myself.  And some of that information might work for you, and some, you might just want to toss out the window!  Take what works and leave the rest behind.  For me, all of life is simply the process of self-discovery and continual refining and adjustment.


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