Gluten Intolerance – Six Months Later…

July 8, 2011

It’s a little over six months now that I’ve been living gluten free. I’ve kind-of got used to it. I’ve managed to make a few cakes without tasting the tiniest morsel (though once, while mixing, I automatically stuck my finger in my mouth while it had some cake mix on it). By cautious trial and therefore very few errors, I’ve found various things I can have. Mercifully, I can have beer and some chocolates and some ice creams. So my life is not entirely a bleak desert landscape. I even tried gulab jamun recently (if you don’t know what it is, a wordy description by me certainly can’t do it justice, so I’m not even going to try) and suffered no ill effects. Actually, jamun shouldn’t have flour in it anyway, it should be made entirely of khoa – but I was just being cautious, because flour is so much cheaper and you just never know what weird recipes these commercial cookeries can come up with in an effort to cut costs.

Last Saturday, we went to Sue’s Kitchen for lunch. It is a wonderful little place that we’ve been too much too infrequently. That’s going to change. We usually like to go to “Conti” places (places that serve “western” or “continental” food – anything from sandwiches and burgers and pizzas to steaks and sizzlers) for dinner, but it’s become impossible for me to eat anything at these places. At first they claim that everything is gluten free. Then you question them closely and they disappear into the kitchen and return to confess that, yes, that sauce does use flour to thicken it and yes, that cutlet does have a bit of bread crumb mixed in, and yes, they do coat the chicken with a bit of flour before frying/grilling it and so on. Most frustrating.

So Sue’s Kitchen was something of a paradise for me. Sue, who runs the place herself, knows exactly what’s in each dish. When I told her I’m gluten-intolerant, she even seemed to know what that means. She told me the salads were all safe – no flour used as a thickener, thank god; in fact, she was aghast at the very thought of it. I’m not a great fan of salads, of course – I mean, I’m the farthest thing from a health freak when it comes to food – but the salads in Sue’s kitchen are far from health food anyway. Which is to say – they are heavily coated in mayonnaise-type salad dressings and they are absolutely delicious. Apart from salad, there’s a main course of rice, veg, two non-veg curries, channa, and rajma.

And then, there’s dessert. Of course I can’t have the cakes, but the mousses – ah! While I actually prefer my chocolate mousse with a lot more chocolate in it (overpoweringly chocolate-y is fine with me), Sue does a good job despite going easy on the chocolate and the sugar.

Chinese food is still difficult – you just never know when they use flour instead of cornflour for coating things and thickening sauces. And noodles are ruled out anyway, except for one concoction of rice noodles that I quite like.

Most Indian food is ok, so I’m not exactly starving here. I’m eating dosa in unbelievable numbers, which does reduce its appeal quite a bit, but at least it’s an item that affords a lot of variety if eaten away from home, while still being a quick and easy thing to make at home too.

There are still a lot of things I miss, though. For instance:

Cake – Sigh. What is life without cake? I sometimes dream about chocolate cake with chocolate filling and chocolate icing. And I will make that some day – I am going to get hold of some gluten-free flour, and soon. All the same, the one single item I’d love to be able to eat once in a way, is my favourite Corner House Death by Chocolate. You’d think I’ve had enough of them to last me a lifetime, but when it comes to DBC, there’s no such thing as “enough”.

Maggi – I still find it really hard to make Maggi for the kids and not take even a single bite.

Rolls – Lazeez Kati Rolls – need I say more?

Roti – I was never very fond of roti, but I wouldn’t have elected to give it up for life. There are some times, and some dishes, when nothing works better than fresh, hot rotis.

Bread – It used to be something I took for granted – more of a convenience than something to really indulge in. But as with roti, it’s something I unexpectedly miss.

Pizza – Not that we used to have this very often, but even once in three months or so, it was something to look forward to.

Chaat – I can’t have phhuchka (pani puri) or any of the other chaats. These used to be fairly regular snack-outings for us. Now I can only have bhel puri and then too, I have to tell them not to put the papdi in it. Sob.

Apart from these, one withdrawal that I really battling nowadays is caffeine withdrawal. I’ve always had a morning cuppa, ever since I was in my teens. The quantity of milk in my coffee has varied from 100% down to zero. For a long time, I used CoffeeMate instead of milk to whiten my coffee. But in recent months I haven’t been able to get my hands on CoffeeMate, and I’ve been reacting badly to hot milk. I tried using Pediasure as a substitute, but the coffee tastes foul, primarily because I like my coffee without sugar and Pediasure is nothing if not sweet. So now I’m forced to reduce my coffee intake to zero – and it’s really hard!

Strangely enough, despite all the goodies I can’t eat any more, I don’t seem to be losing any weight. I was expecting (or at any rate hoping) the weight would just fall off me, but that hasn’t happened. I suppose I’m doing a good job of making up for all the things I can’t eat with some of the things I can. And since I the list of things I can eat now includes ice cream, chocolate, and beer, I really don’t have all that much to complain about. Until birthdays roll around.

A Happy Confluence

January 18, 2011

Today I feel like a million dollars.

After a long time, the past few sessions of tennis have been good, and – what’s even better – improving. I’ve been swacking the ball and it feels great!

Last year, my game had completely disintegrated. Tennis Sir said I had lost conditioning, and I could see what he meant, I just couldn’t understand why. In September, after I could barely stand after a brief half-hour on the court, I finally decided it was time to see a doctor. He treated me for chronic fatigue syndrome, and I started to bounce back in days. But it’s taken time for my general conditioning level to recover. Now, after really going for the ball for over an hour, I can feel some stiffness in my arm. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have happened even after two whole hours on the court. But six months ago, I wouldn’t even have been able to stand on the court for that long.

Another thing Tennis Sir has been telling me is that I’m not keeping my wrist firm while hitting the ball. After struggling for months to fix the problem, and almost giving up in despair, late last year I decided I was just going to ignore it and go back to enjoying the game like I used to. Then my parents came to visit and one idle morning, my mother started playing tennis against the wall in our living room, using Mrini’s tiny racket. “Our coach used to tell us to hold the racket tightly,” she said, referring to an event that must have taken place at least 50 years ago. I realized that I should be doing that as well. Strangely enough, it was not something either Amit or Tennis Sir had mentioned, though they are both usually extremely perceptive in identifying the mistakes in my game and suggesting strategies to fix them. Still, in the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing exclusively on holding the racket tightly, and suddenly, my loose wrist problem has improved dramatically!

Then there was that gastro problem that has been plaguing me for a year-and-a-half. I remember exactly when it started – I had decided that I really needed to lose weight (for, of course, the umpteenth time in my life) so I’d started a new diet and exercise regime. When the bloating developed, I thought it was the sprouts and boiled channa I’d taken to nibbling on, so I cut those out of my diet. Then I cut out wheat and milk for a week each. Nothing worked. After some months, I went to a doctor. He tested me for various things and then gave me a list of pills to pop and sent me away. The pills worked, but only to control the symptoms; they didn’t fix the problem. And I didn’t want to be on pills for the rest of my life.

So then, in the winter break, with many reservations and much reluctance, I finally consulted a homeopathic doctor. He gave me more pills to pop and suggested that I avoid wheat. After a few false starts and a few denials and rebuttals, I’ve succeeded in weaning myself off all kinds of wheat and flour for about a week now. It’s much more difficult than I’d thought! When I’d gone “wheat-free” for a week or so the last time around, I hadn’t realized that it also meant no bread, and no beer. I hadn’t thought to check which of the processed foods and restaurant dishes used flour. I’d just cut out the rotis and not seen any difference. This time, I’ve really tried to avoid even microscopic bits of suspected flour. Like, boondi laddoos. They should be made of besan, but unless I make them myself (unlikely!), can I be altogether sure they don’t have some flour added?

The result of all this excessive paranoia and obsession? I’m not ready to bring out the champagne yet (and I’d need to check that it doesn’t have any flour), but my bloating really does seem to have reduced. This morning, I woke up feeling light, flat, and hungry! I haven’t felt that way for months!

According to various sources on the internet, lactose intolerance, wheat sensitivity or gluten intolerance (or, in more extreme cases, celiac disease), tiredness, joint and muscle ache, and possibly even chronic fatigue are all related. Also, wheat/gluten intolerance runs in families. I told the chronic-fatigue GP about my gastro problem, but he ignored it. I told both my allopathic gastro doctor and my homeopathic doctor that my sister has gluten/wheat intolerance, but the allopathic doctor just shrugged it off. If this gluten-free diet that I’ve been struggling to adhere to actually pays off in terms of putting an end to that eternal balloon-like bloating, I’ve got some nasty words in mind for those allopathic doctors. (But then again, according to the Internet, in most cases, gluten intolerance is misdiagnosed for years – so I’m actually ahead of the curve here, thanks to that homeopathic doctor that I didn’t have much faith in.)

So, right now, with my general conditioning, stamina, and strength improving, my tennis looking up, and my bloating showing signs of reducing, I have much to be happy about! Funny how sometimes what it takes is a happy confluence of circumstances. Or maybe it has to do with the alignment of the stars and planet. Whatever it is, I like it.

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