Re-Post: Adventures In Going Gluten-Free by Ron Maddocks

This is a re-post of Ron Maddocks‘ article on Huffington Post originally posted Sept 23, 2011. The link to the original article is here.

I never suspected that 39 would be the age when I had to consider that I may actually be mortal.

Not that I’m a Greek god, but at six-foot one, 190 pounds (give or take), my body’s always been naturally fit — until recently anyway. Over the course of the past 10 months, I’ve experienced recurring back problems, suffered from chronic fatigue and been diagnosed with astigmatism. I feel this is fundamentally unfair, especially considering that at 39, Brad Pitt hadn’t even married Jennifer Aniston, let alone thought about playing daddy to six children with Angelina Jolie. And yet, here he is nearly a decade — a decade — older than I am and still flaunting sit-up-free abs that could be mistaken for rumble strips, while mine are starting to resemble something closer to a single, large speed bump!

My most recent ailment has been the addition of an intolerance to gluten. This should’ve come as no surprise given that the hereditary nature of this autoimmune disease means a sizable portion of my mother’s side of the family already deals with this minor inconvenience. Aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, young and old, are affected by the gluten gene or some form of it. And even though it’s shown up at varied stages of our lives, like a coven of vampires who can trace their origins back to a single point of origin, we all agree that our vampire creator is Grandma. Of course, no one blames her — these things can’t be controlled — and furthermore, after two colonoscopies, I can attest to the fact that Grandma feels sorry about the whole thing.

Let me back up here for a moment. Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve already been subjected to a pair of colonoscopies before having reached the required age for AARP membership (even though my wife believes I should be admitted on a honorary basis considering how often I yell at the television). In both cases, however — and I’m not kidding — the clinic staff claimed that while waking from the anesthesia, I called out my grandmother’s name. Coincidence? Maybe. What I believe, though, is that in my unconscious state, Grandma appeared in my dreams to apologize for the reason behind why a camera was presently snaking its way up toward my intestines. In turn, I tell her there’s no need to apologize for something that’s not her fault. Then I ask why, on top of the whole gluten thing, she had to pass along the virus that caused her lips to break out with cold sores. It really made for some awkward dating situations in high school.

I’ve been gluten free now for several months, which comes off sounding as if I’m some sort of addict celebrating his most recent stint of sobriety. To some extent there are temptations to fall off the wagon — for me it’s pie — yet by recalling the consequences, I can maintain my resolve. What’s irritating to me, however, is expending all the energy in staying disciplined only to be “glutened” (that’s what they call it) from eating something you never would’ve suspected contained gluten. Twizzlers for example, and Play Doh for Pete sakes! I love Twizzlers. I used to eat whole bags at one shot, which of course, explains a lot about the next day’s events — not anymore. Play Doh, on the other hand, although surprising, doesn’t bother me as much. It’s a bit bland to me, and to be honest, I’ve never really been much of an arts-and-crafts kind of guy.

The grocery store is another matter. I’ll give them credit for expanding their gluten-free offerings, but why these items are placed in the same aisle as 85 percent of the manufactured baked goods produced by Pepperidge Farms, Mrs. Bairds and Sara Lee seems counterproductive in my opinion. It’s almost as if someone’s trying to play a game of “Stump the Chump” at the expense of my defect digestive tract.

For their part, the companies dedicated to making gluten-free products are doing a good job from what I can tell, although, I would like to pick the brains of those responsible for naming these items. My question to them would be why do they think forcing the word gluten into the product’s nomenclature is a solid marketing strategy? Glutino, Glutimins, Glutes — all brand names whose sole function is reminding me of what I am to avoid eating while simultaneously revealing to the cashier my embarrassing secret in same way it would if I were to hand her a tube of Vagisil.

In light of all the above, I then find it both annoying and amusing that anyone would choose a gluten-free diet as a means of being trendy. Such was the case a few weeks ago during a friend’s birthday dinner where a hip, single lawyer in her late twenties went on and on to my wife about how healthy it was to be gluten-free even if you don’t need to be.

“The other day, I had this thing with tomatoes, and onions and chicken wrapped in a flour tortilla. Sooo good.”

“Flour tortillas have gluten in them,” my wife said.

“Gluten’s in flour?” The lawyer sounded genuinely surprised by this Gluten-101 factoid. “Well then I must be gluten intolerant because I was pooping all night after that.”

Pooping. Classy — and from a lady who just explained why she prefers shopping at Neiman Marcus over Saks.

Speaking of my wife, there has been no bigger supporter in my gluten-free journey. Were it not for her Ph.D. in Google Search Medicine from Johns Hopkins University’s website, I would be on a highway to digestive tract hell. My wife is the one who researches safe recipes and tracks down the hard-to-find ingredients needed to make them. She goes out of her way to ensure my food isn’t cross-contaminated while it’s being prepared or from using a non-sterile serving utensil. Her commitment has made this lifestyle change much easier that it would’ve been going it alone — and she’s taught me a great deal.

One Saturday afternoon, shortly after we learned of the gluten intolerance, my wife looked over at me in the kitchen and said something to the effect of, “I betcha you’re happy that you can’t do the dishes anymore.”

“I don’t?” I said.

My wife rinsed off a large pan. “No. There’s gluten all over this stuff.”

I could feel my heart flutter. Working from home, most of the household chores fall in my lap by default, and of these, washing the dishes rates at the top in terms of loathsomeness. So, to be given a lifetime pass from scrubbing pots and pans meant a big check mark in the gluten-free “win” column.

By Thursday, however, I realized that amnesty had its limits — a five-day old mound of dirty dishes nearly toppled over on me. This was further reinforced by the observation that dinner was being served in a collection of mismatched Tupperware containers.

It’s then that two truths became apparent to me:
1. Adhering to a gluten-free regimen means there are a few things I have to do on my own, and 2. My wife’s concern for my well-being is superseded only by a pile of crusty plate and casserole dishes.


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