I have been gluten free since Spring 2012. At the time, I was living in Beijing and preparing to run a 10K in the Great Wall Marathon. The Sunday before the race my sister and I went for a 10K hike on the Great Wall. The next morning I couldn’t get out of bed. I took a sick day and visited the doctor at BJU. She asked if I was really concerned or if I just needed a note for my school (she knew the sick day routine well!). I told her I was actually pretty worried about being so destroyed after walking the same distance I would run 6 short days later. After some tests, we found I had an iron deficiency. She prescribed some iron and told me to come back in 6 weeks.
The weekend of the race, adrenaline carried me through.
After 6 weeks of diligently popping iron pills, I went back for the follow-up test. My iron deficiency was worse!! The doctor concluded that something else must be causing the deficiency. I visited 3 specialists and all of them came to the conclusion that I was likely gluten intolerant. They recommended an endoscopy and a colonoscopy, but my school contract in Beijing and my insurance were simultaneously running out. The insurance company wouldn’t cover the procedures so the doctors recommended I try a gluten free diet.
I was amazed at how much going gluten free affected me. I had assumed that my stomach troubles were “just China.” Everyone had occasional stomach issues in China! It wasn’t until much later that I learned to attribute my issues to glutenous foods like soy sauce and oyster sauce in China, wheat seeds mixed in to rice in Turkey, rye powder in red curry pastes in Thailand, “oatmeal” made of wheat flakes in Nepal, etc.
I would feel dizzy then my stomach would feel hot on the inside. My lower abdomen would bulge- there would be an air pocket inside that would grow until I pushed it down from the outside and then it would grow again. I would feel pain moving slowly down through my digestive tract and it would end with a rushed trip to the bathroom. I am thankful that I now know how to avoid these symptoms. My body feels more stable and my head feels clearer without gluten.
Eating gluten free abroad can be really difficult. I do also try to ask about “senza glutine” (Italian) and “glütensiz” (Turkish) and similar options when I visit new countries. Many people and restaurants don’t understand the concept yet. I often am left with only one option that is obviously gluten free on menus. Sometimes, though, there is a gem of a restaurant with gluten free options. I nearly cried in Bali when I saw all of the options for me! Though it is difficult, I can’t give up being gluten free or traveling. I must persist. The Gluten Free Goodness section of my blog will follow my GF recipes and restaurant finds.