It was quite a round about way that I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, but then I suppose most diagnoses are. I had been in Hamburg for the weekend when I woke up covered in spots. Being relatively used to skin complaints and allergies, I assumed it had been a reaction to the Greek food from the previous night, or just too much beer and excess. My sister and niece had recently had chicken pox, but I dismissed that possibility as I had already had it as a child.
My very good German friend took me to a walk in centre and explained to the non-English speaking doctor that I had some sort of allergy. He looked fairly confused, but gave me some anti histamines and sent me on my way.
On returning to England the spots hadn’t receded, so I went to my Doctor at home. She confirmed it was indeed chicken pox. But I thought it was impossible to get twice? Not impossible apparently, but very rare. And can occur in people with low immunity. That led to weeks of blood tests and me convincing myself that I must have some sort of awful disease.
Initial blood tests confirmed I was anaemic. So a course of iron tablets was prescribed. My iron count had been on 4 when it was supposed to be in the 20s. After a course of iron tablets, it had only risen to 6. So the conclusion was that I simply wasn’t absorbing any nutrients. That led the doctor to suspect coeliac.
I had a final blood test and was then sent for an endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis. Not a particularly pleasant experience, but certainly preferable to a colonoscopy!
Over the years I wouldn’t have said I had been a picture of health. Skinny, pale and with eczema. A right catch. I had always just put it down to a relatively poor lifestyle (ok terrible lifestyle) and maybe not thinking much about my diet. I had always been able to eat and drink what I liked, never gaining a pound. Drinking Guinness by the bucket-load. But equally my appetite fluctuated, I often didn’t finish food and felt unwell and almost psychologically overwhelmed by food sometimes. I was often tired and lethargic too. But I put that down to just being lazy and a regular hangover.
Being coeliac had never occurred to me. I always thought perhaps my diet was an issue for certain allergies and my eczema. But had always been too lazy to really look into my diet. And the doctor had never been very helpful regarding allergy tests. It was so difficult to pin point anything specific, I just carried on eating and drinking what I wanted.
And all that time I had been a coeliac. Which means gluten was attacking my stomach and my immune system. It wouldn’t have mattered how good my diet had been, if it contained gluten, nutrients wouldn’t have gone in.
Since being diagnosed the change has been pretty remarkable. My appetite has increased ten fold. To the point that my mates can’t quite believe it. As a result I have put on weight… a really strange experience for me. I now have to seriously consider exercise if I don’t want to become a right fat bastard in my middle age.
I feel less tired, although I am not exactly bouncing round the place. And I am still a miserable git. So maybe that was just always the case.
I am one of those people who has never liked affections or fuss. Previously I would mock anyone who made a fuss about dietary requirements. Seeing it as a rather attention seeking “lifestyle choice.” But it is important to make the distinction between not eating gluten as a lifestyle choice and having actual coeliac disease.
Naturally my mates have still roundly mocked me. Calling me a vegan, threatening to throw bread at me and labelling my gluten-free beer “special” and not in a good way. But they have equally been brilliant and very understanding. My diagnosis came a few days before my birthday, when I had a few close friends round and was showered with gluten-free beer, Jaffa cakes and all sorts of snacks.
It has of course taken a bit of getting used to and the fact that I am now hungrier than ever whilst also not being able to eat whatever I like comes with its frustrations.
Eating out is not as easy as it was. But most places have at least a couple of options that are gluten-free now. You can get everything you need in big supermarkets and lots of the gluten-free products are just as good as their wheat based equivalents. I have found biscuits and cakes to be the worst equivalents. But I was never a big fan of them anyway. Most lager now have a GF option and I have begun to review them as I consume them. A post is forthcoming.
I have been to Spain 3 times since being diagnosed and found it even better than England for GF options. Particularly beer wise. It will be interesting to see what other countries are like as I visit them, next up in Holland for a weekend in Amsterdam and then back to Hamburg in March.
Ultimately, it’s just good to have found out and although it can be a little frustrating there are certainly much much worse things in life! And with a bit luck, being diagnosed and sticking to a gluten free diet should genuinely put years on my life. Of course, I’m sure I’ll do my best to take them off again, but then I could get hit by a Hovis lorry tomorrow so….