On August 3rd, I embarked on a short-term journey. I have mildly struggled with digestive issues, both while running and in general, for quite a while now. I had played around with my fluid intake, adjusted my nutrition, cut out processed sugar, and monitored my diet in the days prior to long runs. All of these steps provided me with limited success and increased comfort, but many of the issues remained. Those ugly “runner’s trots” still emerged, undeterred by my attempts to vanquish them. I had to be missing something. There was clearly more I could do to adjust my daily habits.
For more than a year, our household has been mostly gluten-free and dairy free (we still cheat a bit on the dairy, but we are both suckers for really good cheese…can you blame us?). However, there is no cheating on the gluten for the beautiful epicurean. I’ve still managed to consume limited amounts of gluten, mostly in the form of whole grain breads, cereals, and my ever-expanding taste for quality micro-brews! It’s been interesting to watch the change in our lifestyle as we adjust our shopping and cooking habits. Foods that had been tried and true staples for us went by the wayside, and were replaced with ingredients neither of us had much experience with, whether it be cooking or eating. Luckily, the epicurean has a culinary gift (as if the name wasn’t a giveaway), so she has poured herself into the task of learning how to craft amazing gluten-free meals, and embrace the anti-inflammatory that keeps most of her Sjogren’s-related pains at bay.
As a side-note, I should point out that our choice to eliminate gluten and dairy had nothing to do with the variety of fad diets that seem to be the rage right now. Especially within healthy-living circles, gluten-free has somehow become a trend and people with no actual need to eliminate gluten are doing so in hopes that it will make them stronger or healthier. There are definitely health benefits to eating gluten-free, and research to demonstrate those benefits. There are also health benefits to eating a natural, unprocessed diet that includes whole grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. If either of us had to choose, we would be including those whole grains in our diet. Alas, this is not a choice motivated by trendy media hype or experimentation. At times, it is frustrating to see people make that assumption when you explain your dietary restrictions, when in reality, eating gluten causes every joint in the epicurean’s body to become inflamed and feel as though her body was attaching her with burning needles. There is nothing hip about that. That is physiology and biology. *Ok, I’ll step off my soapbox now.*
As I was saying, our home has been free of most gluten and dairy, but I always consumed just enough on my own to never really know if it was impacting me. Since I still had no solution for my GI troubles, I decided to go on a gluten-elimination diet to see if that was indeed causing my issues, as gluten intolerance manifests itself in similar ways quite regularly. Ok, so I didn’t so much “decide” to attempt this elimination diet as the epicurean strongly suggested it over the course of a few months, and I finally, begrudgingly, gave in. I suppose it was a testament to my commitment to running that I was willing to give up bread and beer, right?
Prior to my dietary experiment, I thought I had a pretty good sense of the struggle that the epicurean and others forced to eliminate gluten go through. I had been with her for every meal, watched the early despair as realization after realization emerged with regard to foods she could no longer eat. I watched her strength as she adapted to a new way of life and adjusted her passion for cooking to accommodate her new restrictions. I was wrong. At the end of every day during that period, I went to bed still being able to eat that sandwich, muffin, or pastry. I could still select new beers to try. When I was alone, I could still walk into just about any restaurant and find something on the menu to eat.
I’m not naive enough to think that the last 5 weeks of gluten-free living provide me with a full understanding of a lifetime of avoidance. However, being in a position to need to make those choices for myself has given me a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the experience as a whole. My transition could have been much more difficult, but I luckily have a supportive partner who understands both gluten-free living, and my commitment to running and my health. However, this dietary elimination experiment still reared it’s head at the most random times. It would catch me off-guard when I would be out with friends have realize at the last second that I couldn’t eat something or drink something. I spent even more time at the grocery store reading labels, searching for substitutes to my staples, and putting items back on the shelf after I realized I couldn’t eat them anymore. I ended up craving meals that I rarely thought about before. I am much more aware of choice than I was before.
After 5 weeks, my system had been cleared of gluten for the most part, and it was time to test my body. A few days prior to my planned gluten splurge, I inadvertently ate a malted-milk ball, not even thinking about the fact that it had gluten in it (malt)! I did, however, figure it out when my stomach quickly started churning, and I started sweating and feeling nauseous. This was not a good sign! However, I was going to stick to my plan and not jump to any conclusions. On the Sunday following my birthday (with Monday being a rest day), I cracked open a delicious bottle of small batch Sam Adams that I had been saving. Not only did I enjoy that beer more than I had any beer in quite a while, but I was keenly aware of that fact that it may be the last beer I ever have (yes, there are gluten-free beers, but they are a work in progress, to be sure!). After a few hours, I didn’t feel any different. The next day, I was still feeling fine. Perhaps gluten is not the culprit after all?
I’ve had gluten only one other time since that beer, again with no reaction. However, I’m still not entirely convinced that it doesn’t have something to do with my bodily concerns. I haven’t felt overwhelmingly different, but there has been a slight increase in my “comfort” on long runs. I’ve also recently noticed that Gatorade, even in small amounts (when given by others), is too much sugar for my stomach to comfortably handle in addition to my honey stinger chews. I shall indeed stick to water and electrolyte tabs. So, at the end of this interesting experiment, I may not have a concrete solution to the questions I sought out to answer. I’ll keep experimenting. What I do have is an even better appreciation for the effort and energy my partner puts into her diet and the food we eat. Her strength, commitment, and adaptability inspire me on a daily basis, and I’m happy to know that we signed up for this endurance event together!