A Meditation on the Benefits of Celiac Disease

by Rachel Sircy

I have been sick most of my life with various and seemingly unrelated symptoms ravaging my body. I have suffered body aches, severe fatigue, mental fog, mood swings, the inability to gain weight, borderline anemia and so on. No one ever imagined that these varied symptoms were possibly all related. Finally, when I was in my early 20’s and just married, I started to develop terrible gastric problems. Every time I ate I would experience such intense stomach pain that I would have to lay down for a while. It got to the point that I wasn’t able to eat more than about a handful of food at a time. I dreaded going to the doctor for these problems, but my husband put his foot down and told me that I could either go to the doctor on my own, or he would drag me there himself. I was afraid I had an ulcer. My husband was afraid that I had stomach cancer. The symptoms had gotten that bad.

Before I went to the doctor, I prayed a simple prayer: that no matter what the diagnosis, I would not have to be on medicine my entire life. The thought of taking pills every single day was something that I dreaded. I got what I prayed for, but my answered prayer turned out to be much more burdensome than I had expected. Instead of taking one or two pills every day, I would have to completely change my relationship with food, what I ate and how I cooked. For the first few eight months or so after my diagnosis, I lived in a sort of denial. I thought that perhaps I had been misdiagnosed or that perhaps if I prayed hard enough, I would be miraculously healed. I do believe in miracles, but no miracle was in my future. Or, rather, the miracle that I got was not the one that I wanted. I refused to stay on a strict gluten free diet for that first eight months and I even went back to the gastroenterologist to try to talk him into retesting me and seeing if he had been mistaken. I stayed sick and when I went back to the gastroenterologist, he told me that there was no need to retest. The tests, he told me, had come out clear as day. There was no mistake in the diagnosis. He actually looked at me and said that he was sorry that I had celiac disease, but “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

I was fairly distraught after that. One night, alone in my room, I knelt down by the bed and cried, begging God to heal me and let me go back to the way of cooking and eating that I had always known. In that moment, crazy as it may sound, I think I heard from God. I didn’t hear an audible voice or anything, but an idea came to my mind so strongly, an idea that was so contrary to everything that I had been thinking and praying, that I knew the idea didn’t originate with me. The idea was something like this: Do I really need to be healed so that I can continue to eat powdered doughnuts and McDonald’s hamburgers? No, the point of this disease would be to serve as a constant physical reminder that it isn’t okay to just fuel my body (or my soul) with easily accessible junk. I was going to have to think about what I ate. I was going to have to put the health of my body before my cravings. Somehow, that night, I understood that this new way of relating to food, would make me a more careful and purposeful person. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Each time I drive down the road wondering what I’m going to do for dinner and thinking that my life would be so much easier if I could just pull over for fast food, I am reminded that food is for nourishment. My lifestyle is difficult because I choose nourishment over convenience. It has occurred to me since that night that this is a spiritual discipline as well as a physical one. This gluten free lifestyle is my own personal sacrament. Deuteronomy 30:19 records God’s statement to the Israelites: “[…] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: choose life.”

This blog post was really supposed to be about the possibilities of a cure for celiac disease. Pharmaceutical companies are working even as you read this on drugs that could cure celiacs via immunotherapy drugs or protect celiacs from gluten contamination by creating drugs that isolate gliadin (the protein that causes the violent auto-immune response in celiacs) and making it undigestible. At first, I thought that anything that could cure celiac disease would be a welcome answer to prayer, but as I began to write, I realized that my prayer was answered years ago. Choosing life is never an easy decision, but it is one that is well worth it. Almost 10 years into my diagnosis I am a healthier person all the way around. I’m not saying that everyone should avoid these drugs or therapies if they ever become available. By all means, if you can become healthier through better science, I say that is a good thing. But as for me, I think I will continue to do things the hard way, choosing to remember that the ability to deny myself means that I am not a slave to my cravings. There is a great freedom in self-discipline.

Just something to think about…

Food for Thought

Disclaimer: Our bloggers are not health experts. Contact your physician if if you are thinking about starting a new dietary program.

By: Shannon Boatwright

“Food for thought” means something that warrants serious consideration. Now let me tell you something you should already know…what you eat and drink matters immensely to your overall health and quality of life. Thus, it should certainly be food for thought!

Now there are tons, upon tons, of diets and healthy eating programs out there. But what we need to focus on if we want to truly be healthy, is a change of lifestyle.

I recently completed the Whole30 Challenge. Now let me state something here – I have NEVER done any kind of diet. Ever. Was never my thing. I like food too much and I’ve always just believed that exercise was the answer for me and I could eat and drink whatever I wanted. I’m not in the overweight category, have never been a big soda drinker or sweets eater, and overall believed I was a pretty healthy individual. So this concept of focusing on changing my lifestyle for the better really attracted me.

The truth is, I shouldn’t eat whatever I want. At least not if I actually want to feel good and operate at my best! So what in the world inspired me to try this Whole30 thing? Well, amongst my busy-ness I noticed that one of my dearest friends, Tiana, had been posting things on Facebook about her healthy eating and weight loss. Though I was really happy for her, I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the details of her journey. Then my sweet Tiana came to visit me this past summer. Wowzers!! Not only did she look positively amazing – better than I’ve ever seen her look – but her health journey story with the Whole30 absolutely wowed me! Here was a woman, my age (in our very early, fabulous 40s), a kindergarten teacher assistant, with four kids and a very stressful home life. Before doing the Whole30 and changing her lifestyle, she would have anywhere from 15 to 20 migraines a month, had to get weekly allergy shots, experienced low energy and battled depression. Back in February she completed the Whole30 – a whole 30 days of eating and drinking healthy. It was her doctor that suggested the program in hopes that she would achieve positive results and ultimately all around feel better. She committed whole-heartedly, doing the program all alone in a house full of folks that did not join her in her mission to better health.  She stuck it out and has become a new and improved person, gaining much better habits and incredible awareness of what foods triggered ailments, etc. She went on to lose 40 pounds, has gained a life with zero migraines, no longer has to get weekly allergy shots and has boosted her energy levels immensely. Is that not crazy wonderful or what!??!

Needless to say, her story, her positive experience, totally captured my attention. I wanted, needed a body that functioned better! I desperately wanted to feel better while living my stressful, busy life. And though I considered myself a relatively healthy individual, I have learned so very much from my experience with the Whole30. Which by the way, is not a diet, nor a program really, it’s a lifestyle change. And the number one thing I learned is that the way you fuel and hydrate your body is absolutely critical to truly achieving good health.

Life is short, we have to take care of our vessel if we want to make the most of our lives!

Everyone’s experience with the Whole30 is different. We experience different benefits and learn different lessons. We figure out how to maneuver this healthy lifestyle change to best suit our needs and achieve health success. My biggest benefit is that since a drastic cleaning of my diet, I sleep better. Me! The chick that never sleeps well. The mom and teacher that can never turn off her brain! I can tell you right now that going 30 days without a whole lot of stuff that I really, really like, was totally worth it when I started actually falling right to sleep and finally sleeping well! I really, really hope to hold onto the key to keeping this benefit a part of my life.

Here are a few lessons I learned: 

1) I did not exercise as much as I should have while doing the thirty days, so I probably did not lose as much weight and/or inches as I could’ve. So, I learned that I really need to do better with that and move more on a consistent basis. Not necessarily for the sake of losing weight, but to benefit my body, activate and stretch my muscles, lubricate my joints, etc.

2) I actually experienced not having those afternoon slumps. You know, those moments in the afternoon when most people reach for that sugar filled, caffeinated drink to give you a boost? Yea, well I couldn’t do that while on the Whole30 and surprise, surprise, I didn’t need my sweet tea or coffee in the afternoon. I could drink some good ole water or cold green tea (nothing added) and feel good! For real.

3) I seriously love to cook. And boy did this experience ever give me a chance to get really creative with my cooking! Recipes change when you cut butter, certain oils, grains and dairy out of your diet!  And did you know that sugar is in almost everything!? Seriously, even my absolute favorite seasoning, Lawry’s, has sugar in it! This diet opened up a whole new world for me when it comes to reading ingredient labels! These products get so sneaky. Did you know that there are so many different words for sugar!? It’s crazy. So I learned and certainly experienced the reality and truth behind eating REAL foods, with REAL ingredients.

4) I learned that processed food is BAD. And now that I’ve tasted the difference, I sure do like the real stuff better. So much better! It’s amazing how it all affects your gut. Your body thanks you in so many wonderful ways, when you actually fuel it with real food and not processed, boxed and bagged foods.

The flip side – What I also learned:

1) I learned that I despise – I mean I truly cannot stand – my coffee with no sugar or cream. Yep, can’t do it. Drinking what seems and tastes like dirty water – NOT MY THING.

2) I learned that my body does need some dairy and grains. Fortunately, I do not have any sort of lactose intolerance – as long as I stick with the good stuff and not anything processed in any way. My gut operates better when I have some milk, cheese, yogurt, rice and breads – in moderation, of course.

3) I learned that any type of what I call “fake sugar” is really bad for me. I can literally take one swig of something with aspartame or sweet-n-low, etc in it and it will send me straight to the bathroom. Not good. And guess what, that’s totally fine with me because that fake sugar stuff is terrible for you anyway! When I do have any added sweetness, I’ll stick with the real deal, thank you very much.

4) I learned that I can actually survive just fine without alcohol and still be happy. Yep, I was without my wine. Did I miss it? Sure, there were definitely moments. Ironically, the 30 days that the hubby and I dedicated to the Whole30 were literally filled with special occasions and big events! Ranging from my sister’s 30th birthday to about four different other family birthdays, dessert dinner theatre and other random, special events and celebrations. Not to mention school started back up for me and goodness don’t you know a glass of vino after a long day back to the grind would’ve be so lovely. But nope, didn’t do it, and I survived just fine! My hubby is not a big drinker at all, so that certainly helped me. Instead, we focused on food. But I have to admit, because I do indeed love to cook, I really missed being able to pair the foods with a good glass of wine. On the flip side though – do you know how much money I saved by not buying that wine to go with my food? A lot.

5) I learned that though I have always been a pasta and wine lover, surprisingly it was not the pasta and wine that I missed most and not what my body craved the most during my 30-day experience. I missed my coffee! My Café Bustelo coffee with my French Vanilla creamer and sugar. And when I say I missed it – it was a tragic loss. In all seriousness, there were many days that I literally fantasized about my coffee. In dramatic fashion, with total desperation, all I wanted was my coffee, declaring, I’ll never eat pasta or drink wine again, just let me have my coffee with my cream and sugar!!! But alas, I pushed through the pain and made it out. Will I indulge in my coffee now that my 30 days is up? Absolutely. But, will I be more aware of the amount of creamer and sugar I put in my coffee? Sure thing. And will I limit all the other sugar filled beverages I have so that I can at least have my coffee the way I like it? Yes indeed!

6) The hubby and I learned that honeydew melons are the best fruit on the planet. You might say we overdosed on honey dew. They are the sweetest, yummiest fruit! OMG. In fact, we both probably gained weight and did not follow the Whole30 rules as much as we should’ve because we literally ate so much of that succulent, sweet, heavenly produce. It was how we survived our loss of sugar and now we are forever fans.

7) I learned important, yet ironic lessons about quality and quantity. I discovered that even though the foods we were cooking with were top quality, fresh, real foods, I still have a problem. Quantity!! That southern clean your plate mentality apparently applies to me always. I still tend to eat too much and not listen to my body when it’s full. So I’ve learned to be more aware of how much I put on my plate. Too much food is still too much food, even if it is great-for-your-body food. Moderation! In today’s times we eat enormous amounts of food! And it’s not necessary! We’re consistently overfilling our bodies and what our body cannot process quick enough, just flat out turns to fat and makes us feel terrible! So I’ve definitely learned that even though I’m on a mission to eat real foods, I still must be aware of the amount I’m taking in too.

So all this being said, I want to thank my precious friend Tiana for being the best cheerleader and role model ever! She has supported me every step of the way and been such an inspiration. She even repeated the Whole30 days with me! I don’t think I could’ve done it without her. I am so proud of her dedication to changing her life for the better and so very thankful for her unending love and support in helping me change mine! And to my sweet hubby, Brad, I cannot thank him enough for suffering through this experiment with me! He did not have to do it, but he made the sacrifice and knew it would be easier on me if I had a buddy. He recognized the benefits of making the commitment and I’m ever thankful that we were partners through the experience. It made it all much more meaningful being able to learn through it together. I’m very proud of him for committing to it for the sake of his own health too!

The journey to better health doesn’t have to be such a battle. It’s simply a lifestyle change and really comes down to awareness, smarts, logic and effort. What you put in your body directly affects how you will operate and feel. Period. It’s that simple.

Do you want to get out of your own vicious cycle? How do you plan to take care of this one vessel you’re given in order to live your life to the fullest?

It is definitely food for thought. 😉

Dining Reminders and Suggestions for the Gluten Intolerant

By: Rachel Sircy

Just a reminder to those with a severe gluten intolerance: dining out is dangerous! Now, I don’t mean to say that you can never dine out if you have a severe gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but don’t forget that when you go out to eat, you’re heading out to a virtual minefield of wheat, rye and barley.

It’s been in the news recently that large pizza chains Papa John’s and Dominoes have started to offer gluten free pizza crusts that they warn customers are not for the really gluten intolerant. When I first read the article on these chains, I could only think of all of the warnings that I’ve read on restaurant menus and food packages – warnings that sound like this: “Customers with gluten sensitivities should exercise caution when consuming menu items labeled ‘gluten free.’”  This is pretty much exactly the warning that is printed on the Papa John’s menu.

I will confess to you, I have ignored such warnings for years. I don’t suggest following in my footsteps. I have made myself very sick on a number of occasions. Sometimes, the day after I eat out, I am stuck laying on the couch wishing I had had enough self-control to turn down dangerous food items. But, what’s worse is that a person with celiac disease cannot count on symptoms to tell them when their body has been damaged by gluten. Many times a celiac’s intestinal wall has suffered damage and their body is racked with inflammation and yet the person will feel absolutely nothing. There are no symptoms present in many cases of accidental gluten consumption for celiac patients. So, don’t let your feelings be your guide. Don’t be afraid to be that pesky person in a restaurant who asks questions and who sends menu items back. And don’t ignore the warning signs posted by the restaurant – they are there for a reason!

Unfortunately, many restaurants are trying to respond to the rising demand for gluten free food without considering why people really want to eat gluten free. I’ve said several times on this blog that following a gluten free diet is not necessarily healthy for a person who doesn’t have a gluten intolerance, but that is not exactly the popular opinion. People who don’t need to be gluten free are seeking out restaurants and stores that provide gluten free products. They will go where they can find these products, and they will pay a higher price to get them. These are the customers that Dominoes and Papa Johns are trying to reach out to. So, don’t be surprised when you go to a food joint all excited about their new gluten free menu item and find out that it’s not made for you. Those of us with real dietary needs are still on the back burner at most restaurants, so to speak. There are always exceptions to prove the rule, though. Chick Fil A apparently has gluten free sandwich buns that come in their own sealed packages so they cannot be contaminated by crumbs from other sandwich buns. Each customer has to assemble her own sandwich, which seems fairly safe, but remember the buns are not the only part of the sandwich that may have become contaminated with gluten; the chicken, lettuce and tomatoes are all suspect. Starbucks also has a gluten free breakfast sandwich that I feel pretty confident eating because the whole thing is assembled first and packaged in its own sealed plastic package. It is microwaved in that package, which is never opened in the store itself. So, there are a few options out there, but none of them are ever going to be as safe as the food you prepare for yourself.

We do have some hope, however. There may come a time in the future when gluten free restaurants may become popular enough to open up chains. For right now, there is only one restaurant that I can think of that is totally and completely gluten free and that is Posana in Asheville, NC. This restaurant is one I can recommend without any reservations (insert comedic drum roll) as every item on their menu is gluten free. They don’t serve anything that isn’t gluten free and so there is no risk of cross contamination. The food doesn’t come at fast food prices, so I might suggest that you save it for a special occasion, but it is worth it. When I went there, I had the fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese as an appetizer and I still dream about them. Yum. Their menu items are seasonal, but I’ve had their lemon-blueberry cheesecake and it’s to die for as well. If you’re gluten intolerant and you want a place where you can feel totally safe and where everything is made for you, then I would suggest making a trip to Asheville and pigging out at Posana.

If you’re really interested in Posana (it’s great food whether you’re gluten intolerant or not), check out their website: https://posanarestaurant.com.

Shop Smarter, Not Harder

By: Rachel Sircy

Living with any chronic condition usually means having to means that you have to make serious lifestyle changes. For those of us who have to make drastic changes in what we eat, grocery shopping can become something we dread and eating out can become nearly impossible.

For celiacs like myself, you have to learn a whole new way of thinking about food and you have to learn a whole new language: label reading. Learning to become an expert label reader and spot the hidden gluten in food takes time. Meanwhile, as you struggle with all this new information, you get hungry. Really hungry. I don’t know about you, but when I become hungry I get desperate, and desperation leads to bad food choices and bad food choices (particularly for someone with a chronic condition) leads to bad health.

So, what can you do to prevent yourself from becoming desperately hungry while you’re re-learning to shop? Well, firstly, listen to that piece of advice your mother gave you and never, EVER shop hungry. If you have diabetes or high cholesterol or celiac disease, there are very few convenience foods out there that are safe for you to eat. Be sure to eat before you go to the store. And, if you have found a portable snack that is healthy for you, take it with you.

Of course, we can all find ourselves in an emergency situation, and while we’re re-learning about food and how to shop for ourselves again, these two smartphone apps can be real lifesavers:

ShopWell – This app is perfect for those of us who haven’t quite mastered label reading, or who are in a hurry to get in and out of the grocery store. In our modern world of pre-packaged everything, it’s hard to know just what the ingredients in something are and whether or not they’re good for you. The ShopWell app allows each user to plug in personal health information, such as if you want to follow a gluten free diet or if you are a diabetic, pre-diabetic or have high cholesterol. The app has a built-in barcode scanner for food and when you use it to scan a food item, the app will tell you if that food has ingredients in it that are good for you and your individual dietary needs.

If you find yourself completely confused, or in a hurry, you can turn on the app’s location device while you are in the grocery store and the app will point you in the direction of healthy food. It can tell you the general area where you should be searching for food that is right for you in the grocery store you happen to be in. It’s like having a registered dietician in your pocket!

Find Me Gluten Free – My mother (who is also a celiac) introduced me to this app. It’s perfect for those times when you find yourself out of the house for longer than you expected, or your in a city that you are unfamiliar with. This app uses your location to find restaurants in your immediate area that offer gluten free items on the menu. The first time I ever used it, my family was out Christmas shopping in a city that was 2 1/2 hours away from where we lived. We were starving, but we didn’t know anything about the area and had no idea where we could eat. We turned on the app and found out that Red Robin has the option to serve most of its sandwiches on gluten free croissants. While I really don’t recommend eating out a lot for celiacs (cross contamination is almost always an issue), there are times when you need to eat pronto. Thanks this app, Mom and I were saved from becoming hungry enough to make some bad food choices.

So, when learning a new way of life, do it smarter, not harder. Save yourself some time, some headache and be good to your body by letting these apps take some of the guesswork out of shopping and eating out for you!

Celebrate National Chocolate Chip Day: May 15th

By: Morgan Robbins RD, LD at Lexington Medical Center

Did you know that today is National Chocolate Chip Day? Before you sit down with your glass of milk and cookie, take some time to read about how chocolate, in moderation, can promote health.

Chocolate, made from the cocoa bean, is rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids are most commonly known for their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants may prevent or delay cell damage by blocking free radicals.

cookies4Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate. Flavanols have multiple health benefits including lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and brain as well as their antioxidant properties. Flavanols are also found in onions, apples, celery, red wine and tea.

Keep in mind, not all chocolate is created equal. Cocoa’s natural flavor is strong and pungent; the steps taken to process cocoa will reduce this taste. It used to be said the darker the chocolate, the higher the antioxidant properties. Research shows the more processed the chocolate is, the less flavanols the chocolate will have, meaning darker doesn’t always mean better. Commercial chocolate (i.e. Reeses, Snickers, etc.) are highly processed and therefore lack the heart healthy antioxidant properties.

For now, your safest bet is to stick with darker chocolate; it is too difficult to determine the exact path your chocolate has taken to arrive to your table. Additional sugar, fat and oils are added to milk chocolate, making it the less healthy choice of the two. Be mindful of the type of dark chocolate you eat, added ingredients (nuts, caramel, nougat) all mean additional processing. As with anything, moderation is key, keep your chocolate serving to one ounce or less, only a few times weekly.

In honor of National Chocolate Chip Day, try adding some dark chocolate chips or chunks to your yogurt, oatmeal or to a homemade trail mix!

This blog post originally appeared on the Lexington Medical Center Blog. To view more Lexington Medical Center Blog Posts, visit http://blog.lexmed.com/.

LMC Heart & Sole Five Miler Training Tips – Nutrition

Whether you are training for your first race or are an experienced marathoner, just about everyone has questions about running. Our Every Woman Bloggers training for the LexMed Heart & Sole Women’s Five Miler, Crissie Kirby, Sherree Thompson and Lara Winburn, will share their questions about how to best prepare for the race. Here’s our first question, from Sherree:

Question: I was wondering what types of food I should be eating so I have appropriate fuel. Is there a calorie count I should am for? 

LMC _133Answer: When it comes to nutrition and running, it is not only a matter of what you eat, but also when you eat. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), lean protein, and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado) is key in properly fueling your body for running. It is also important to stay hydrated throughout the day with a recommended daily intake of at least 64 ounces of water.

Planning the timing of your meals is also crucial. Just like a car, when your body does not have enough fuel, it cannot perform properly. Likewise, too much fuel or eating too close to the time of your run can interfere with your performance. Establishing a healthy eating pattern of smaller meals more frequently throughout the day will help to keep your blood sugar levels regulated and your metabolism stimulated.

 – Amanda Castles, Health Directions Wellness Coordinator

Nuts About Coconut Oil? Know the Facts

By: Jennifer Benedetto MS, RD, LD at LMC

Dietary recommendations regarding fat intake seem to change with the decade. A recent report continued to question the “healthiest” type of fat. A March 2014 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that decreased saturated fat intake did not result in a decreased risk of heart disease. Following this surprising report, the media began to report that there was no harm in unlimited consumption of saturated fats like coconut oil, animal fat, and butter. If decreased amounts of saturated fat didn’t help, what’s the harm in eating more?

coconut oilHighly saturated coconut oil, in particular, is now being promoted as a cure for various health conditions including Alzheimer’s, heart disease and obesity. But is coconut oil actually beneficial?

Coconut oil contains high levels of saturated fat, higher levels than butter. Ninety-two percent of the fat in coconut oil is saturated compared to 15% saturated fat in olive oil and 62% in butter. Unlike other oils, coconut oil can be solid or semisolid at room temperature due to the multitude of saturated chemical bonds. Conventional coconut oil is made from dried coconut that is pulverized, cooked and treated with chemicals. It is used in candies, coffee creamers and movie theater popcorn. Relatively new to the scene is virgin coconut oil which is extracted from fresh coconut meat. Virgin coconut oil is promoted as being healthier than conventional coconut oil. So should we be switching to coconut oil?

In regards to heart health, coconut oil like other saturated fats, increases “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. High levels of LDL contribute to heart disease. Liquid vegetable oils (olive, canola) do not increase LDL. On the other hand, coconut oil, like liquid vegetable oils, also increases “good” (HDL) cholesterol. But is this elevation in HDL beneficial? That is unclear.

For now, most experts agree that coconut oil is a better choice than butter or trans-fats but there is no evidence to suggest coconut oil should be substituted for liquid vegetable oils. People who regularly eat extra-virgin olive oil in place of saturated fats have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke—and lower cholesterol.

As far as the other coconut oil health claims go, there is no solid science to back them up. More research is needed to support coconut oil’s purported therapeutic benefits. So for now, stick with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines and choose unsaturated/beneficial fat sources and limit saturated fats to 7-10% of calories.

Bottom Line: saying something is not harmful does not mean it is good for you.