Part 1 | Part 2
My stomach hurts! "I feel bloated! I feel fat! Darn, I feel like I am having a heart attack! Diarrhea again? What is wrong with the enamel on my teeth?"
Have you ever said any of these things aloud or just to yourself? Do you feel like you are a hypochondriac and that people are just not listening anymore? Well, you are not alone because I and countless others have said it, too!
I will be the first to admit that speaking of bodily functions such as constipation, flatulence, abdominal bloating/distension, and diarrhea are embarrassing at the least, but they are also a major warning flag that something can be awry.
As with numerous ailments, these previously mentioned symptoms can be indicators of a plethora of diseases, but very seldom will you ever hear your doctor say it could be a genetic auto-immune disorder called Celiac Sprue.
Celiac Sprue Disorder
"What is Celiac Sprue? I have never heard of that! Is it a new disease? Who has it? Is it contagious? Is it treatable with medicine? Can it be cured? Can it kill me?"
These are all very legitimate questions you may be asking yourself or your doctor if you think you may have it or you are diagnosed with it. But, before I launch off and tell you exactly what Celiac Sprue is, I want to tell you my story and how I finally discovered what had been ailing me my whole entire life!
Since childhood, I can remember truly enjoying my food and relishing in the moment when I knew that dessert was finally going to be served, especially at birthdays when the cakes were huge and the frosting was in abundance!
I love sweets, cakes, cookies, pastas, breads, pudding, ice cream, cheese sauces and just about anything that is not good for you! I love red meat, chicken, pork, sushi, vegetables, and healthy foods as well. I have never been one to turn down a good home-cooked meal or a dinner at a fancy restaurant. What more can I say, but I love to eat!
But I also love to look good physically, so as I got older, I knew that the delicious foods were more of a reward at the end of a healthy week of eating. But even when eating healthy, 90% of the time my stomach still hurt! I always felt fat after I ate!
Everyone (including my parents) always thought that it was in my head and that I was trying to get attention by saying that I felt so bloated or fat after I ate. It did not matter if I overate or ate a normal portion, I always felt huge!
Now, I can see how the normal person would not understand how I felt, especially if they were slightly overweight. When they look at someone with virtually a flat stomach, they get annoyed listening to that flat-bellied girl griping about her "bloated stomach" (especially when to the casual observer it really did not look different). But let me tell you, I could see it and I could feel it! I battled with this through my teen years and up until my late twenties!
As I got older, it never seemed to go away. It was always lurking around the corner. When I got into modeling two years ago (2005), I remember having my first photo shoot with Terry Goodlad and promising him that my stomach had been flat just a week before! I constantly blamed my nerves for my bloat! Some photographers did not seem to notice the bloated belly (those are the ones that were more interested in my booty shots).
The fitness-minded photographers did notice, though, and naturally I did as well. I had no idea why I was bloating when I was eating so well before the shoot! Oatmeal, oat bran, egg whites, whole wheat grains, etc.
Little did I know that some of the "healthy" carbohydrate choices that I was eating were actually blowing me up! I also remember getting hooked on iced coffee as that seemed to be the only thing that helped me "move" in the morning!
As the past two years have gone by, I have had increasing health alerts, or at least I thought so! Starting back in the middle of 2006, I was getting the most severe heart attack symptoms, from the pain in the arms, neck, and lower back, to chest tightness and heart palpitations.
Strangely, they were only manifesting themselves to me at night when I would lay down to sleep. It got to the point where I was becoming a regular at the E.R. and they thought I was insane! My blood pressure was always below normal at 100/60 (which is normal for me) and my pulse rate was no higher than 74 at the height of my symptoms.
Generally my resting pulse is around 50-60 bpm. After getting the 'okay' from my family doctor to see a cardiologist, I had an EKG, echocardiogram, echo/stress test, and cholesterol screening! I passed all with flying colors and the cardiologist said that I was in superb cardiovascular condition.
After I found out that there was nothing wrong with my heart, other issues became more prominent. My joints became increasingly more stiff, my menstrual cycle became even more irregular, I was tired all of the time, the enamel on my teeth was starting to chip off, the heartburn was not going away, and my stomach pain became intolerable. I could not bear it any longer so I decided to visit the gastrointerologist.
I made an appointment and saw him right away. I told him what I was experiencing and basically I was told that I needed to include more fiber in my diet by supplementing with FiberSure and that bloating is just a medical anomaly. Naturally I told him that I am a model, and I am sure that aroused suspicion in his mind as just another woman coming in to the office feeling "fat" with the bloat!
So, I took his advice and tried the FiberSure, although I knew that was not the issue. After continuing to deal with the pain and distension in my stomach, I Google-searched abdominal distension and came across a condition called Celiac Sprue disease. I read the articles about it and came to the conclusion that I must have it. So, self-diagnosing myself, I stopped eating what I thought was gluten-laden.
What is gluten
Gluten is a sticky protein found in grains (such as wheat, oats, rye, malt, and barley) which when flour is used to make bread, helps hold in carbon dioxide (CO2) gas bubbles formed by yeast (due to gluten's stretchy, cohesive nature) so the dough will rise. Gluten can be difficult to digest, thus a person with Celiac Disease must avoid it totally.
After making a second appointment at the gastrointerologist's office, I told him that I was sure I had Celiac Sprue and I wanted to be tested for it. He assured me that I did not fit the profile (because I am not Irish), but that we would go ahead with the test anyway. Two days later I went to the lab, had my blood taken and the very next day, the doctor personally called me and told me that I tested positive for Celiac Sprue! What a relief, but it also came as a shocker! Nobody likes to be diagnosed with a disease that can actually kill them!
After implementing a totally gluten, wheat, malt, oat, barley, and rye-free diet, I immediately started to notice changes in my body! My stomach stayed flatter, my peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling) started to ease up, my bowel habits became more regular, my skin took on a smoother appearance, I was sleeping better, the heartburn was not returning, and my general attitude got better!
This is where it gets tricky and where I am going to lead off to start the second part of this article. Diet is important for patients with Celiac Sprue! Celiac Sprue has no cure, and there is no medicine to treat it.
It can be life-threatening if not treated properly with a strict gluten/wheat/barley/rye/malt/oat-free diet. Sounds simple right? I challenge you to go to the store and find the simplest of foods containing no gluten or wheat in them! Think you can eat ketchup? Think again! How about mustard or mayonnaise or ice cream? No, no, and no again! Then what can you eat??
Well, that will be a mystery until Part 2 of this article! But stay tuned... See how this disorder can actually be a blessing in disguise for bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, and regular people alike!
I am actually glad that I found out that I have it because it is forcing me to eat healthy and discover the joys of natural foods! It is also encouraging me to be creative in the kitchen, because heaven knows that I love to eat, buthate to cook!
Until next time, watch what you eat, see how your food treats you, and be healthy!