My Gluten Free Story: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Gluten Free—it’s a term that most people have become pretty accustomed to. About 10 years ago, when I first began to venture down the GF rabbit hole, the word Gluten Free was practically a foreign language. It wasn’t trending, and not many people were talking about it. But I was curious, not because I was searching for the latest diet fad, but because I was searching for answers. 

To truly understand why I chose the GF lifestyle, I’ve got to take you back to the diagnosis that changed everything. And let me just say, the journey to the diagnosis is a story in itself. If you’ve ever gone rounds (and I’m talking years here) with multiple Doctor’s to figure out what’s wrong with you, then you know what I mean.

Have A Heart

It all started with an extra beat. A flutter. It took my breath away, and then it stopped.

I was experiencing heart palpitations. They would occur at random. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes at night, sometimes not at all. There was no warning, no precursor, and no activity leading up to it. Just little flutters here and there. It was odd, but I wasn’t really worried about it, at first.

Over the next few months, the frequency of these episodes began to increase, and that’s when I began to worry. I made an appointment with my Doctor, which would turn out to be the first of many. Over the next couple of years, doctors and specialists would rule out stress, depression, caffeine (I quit it all), GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), hormone imbalance, neurological problems, and mitral valve prolapse. I was subjected to test, after test, after test, but nothing.

I hit a breaking point, and they all thought I was crazy.

I was even starting to believe I was crazy. Years of tests, no results, no answers, and no diagnosis. What is wrong with me?

In the most unlikely scenario, it was a last minute trip to Tahoe with my husband that would change everything. During that trip I put all my worries aside and committed to having fun, probably a little too much fun. I don’t think I ate anything green the entire weekend—it was all beer and bar food. When we returned home from that trip, my heart palpitations started in full force and didn’t stop for 2 days.

Day 1 –  I was in a complete panic. I called in to make an appointment only to find that my Doctor was on vacation. I didn’t care. I need to see someone now. The palpitations were so bad at this point that I could barely catch my breath. What I didn’t realize at the time was that a new Doctor is also a new set of eyes. She listened to my heart, ordered an an EKG, and sent me directly to the ER. I can still remember the concern plastered across her face. She asked if I needed and ambulance. I thought, “The hospital is right next door, am I not going to make it there?”

I made it, and they were waiting for me. Hooked up to all the machines, I watched the monitor with quiet fear as my heartbeat danced off rhythm across the screen. For the first time I could see the heartbeat the doctors could never capture. A beat that they said didn’t exist. A beat that was making me crazy.

Six hours and a multitude of tests later…the diagnosis:

Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVC), an extra abnormal heartbeat that was disrupting my regular heart rhythm. It was common, it was completely benign, and they had no idea what was causing it. So, here I am again. This time with a diagnosis but not an answer.

Day 2 – As I lay on the couch drinking peppermint tea, and trying to stay calm about my irregular but benign heartbeat, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. Something is causing this and I have to figure out what. I turned to Google and started researching everything about PVC. And that’s when I found the holy grail. A connection between PVC and Gluten Intolerance. It was a golden moment. I had to try because I could no longer live like this. I was on a mission. I started out with an elimination diet to rule out other allergies and then strictly gluten free.

The results were incredible. It was the answer I had been looking for. My Doctor was reluctant that changing my diet would help alleviate my symptoms, and we still battle about this from time to time. But as they say, the proof is in the pudding.

The Good

I experienced immediate and lasting changes in my overall health since turning to a gluten free lifestyle. It wasn’t always easy, but it was definitely worth it for me. Things I never attributed to a gluten intolerance began to subside. Within 1 week I was feeling a decrease in my PVC symptoms, and within 3 weeks I was feeling like a new person. Here are some of the things I experienced and learned along the way:

  • My bloating decreased.
  • Other stomach issues began to decrease.
  • My PVC symptoms decreased, and I still only experience them occasionally.
  • My energy levels increased.
  • My complexion cleared.
  • I experienced weight loss.
  • I started to become aware of good carbs that I could eat instead.

The Bad

With anything good, there is always a down side. When I first started this journey I was driving to Sacramento once a month to go to Whole Foods and a Gluten Free specialty store. I had to be seriously dedicated if I wanted to feel better. I came to realize that even though I was dedicated to being gluten free, I still had to make good choices. Here are a few things I experienced and learned:

  • At that time, Gluten Free products were hard to find, like really hard.
  • Giving up all the bread, cakes and cookies was easier said than done.
  • Trying to avoid the bread basket at restaurants was like torture. I definitely felt a little isolated at times.
  • I was “That Girl.” Seriously, no one cared that I wanted a GF cupcake or some GF bread.
  • The “I’ll just have a bite” syndrome would hit me hard sometimes. The problem is that one bite can wreak havoc when you’re gluten intolerant.

The Ugly

The biggest problem I encountered in this lifestyle was all the Gluten Free products that were being created and offered left and right. I started to covet all things Gluten Free. In the beginning I wouldn’t eat any of the GF products. They weren’t that great, and I found it easier to just stay away. Over time though they got better, and when you find a GF cookie that tastes like a regular cookie, well you can kind of lose your shit–and I did. Here are some of the things I experienced and learned:

  • Gluten Free products can be pricey and slightly addicting. Because why make it when you can just buy it.
  • Just because it’s Gluten Free, doesn’t mean it’s good for you!
  • Buying all the GF products just because you can is a bad idea.
  • Processed foods are still processed foods.
  • Sugar is still sugar, no matter what the vehicle is. In short, a GF cookie is still a cookie!

There is good, bad and ugly to just about anything, and going Gluten Free is no exception. It’s taken me years to find balance with my gluten intolerance. When you first start out it’s normal to feel like you need to replace everything you were eating with the GF replica of it. I’m not really a fan of this idea, but I’ve been there and I certainly understand. The most important thing for me was to stay the course because I could immediately feel a difference in my body and my heartbeat when I ate non GF foods.

Tips – Try to keep it simple and remember that just because it’s Gluten Free, doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. If you really want Gluten Free bread, try making your own. There are GF flours available now that I would have killed for years ago. Look to grains that are naturally Gluten Free like Amaranth, Polenta/Grits, Oats (labeled GF), Quinoa, Rice and Sorghum.

Get creative. Get ideas from Pinterest, and have fun with it. With all of the over processed foods in the world today, it would do your body good to take a break from gluten whether you’re intolerant or not. I hope you try it out and I hope my story and experiences help you along the way.

Love & Blessings, Gina

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As a former NPC bikini competitor, wellness junkie, health coach and Reiki practioner, Gina empowers people to heal and find their voice through health, wellness, love and forgiveness. Gina is a survivor, healer, animal lover and advocate. Her mission is to help you find your healthy balance and awaken your passion for life.

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