I certainly did this week.
One of my biggest issues with Celiac is how much I have time I have to spend worrying about it. And once I get tired of being careful and I let my guard down? Boom. Glutened.
I went to a restaurant for a late “fourth meal” of sorts with some friends after a mid-week event we attended. Nothing crazy. We ended up at a bar that served food, never a great start in general, but we were hungry and it was the only place open in the area. Literally, we tried to go to 10 different restaurants, which were all closed, before we gave up and went to the bar.
Unfortunately, for Celiacs, eating out is already a gamble. Unless a restaurant is a certified gluten-free establishment, there’s always a risk of cross-contamination. And even if they are highly aware of allergies, there’s still a risk of something getting into my food, making me sick. So the bar is very high when I go to a restaurant.
Ordering from a place where they respond to my gluten-free questions about a dish with “Well… there’s no cheese in it” is not the least bit fun to hear. In regards to all the “out there” responses I’ve received, gluten is not cheese or rice or potatoes or meat or fat or milk or anything related to veganism or vegetarianism. So yes, I’m risking myself every time I eat out, but dang is it frustrating!
Long story short. All I ate at the restaurant was chips and guac. Were the chips corn? Yes. Was I wary of the cross-contamination potential? Yes. Did I ask fewer questions than I usually do (ie. if the fryer is shared, etc)? Yes. Did I get sick? Yes.
For anyone wondering what happens when I get “glutened”, the answer varies. It’s not food poisoning and I don’t go into anaphylactic shock, because Celiac is not a gluten allergy, it’s an auto-immune response. My body rejects it, but not for a while. So unlike someone with a peanut allergy whose throat will swell up or start puking if they eat gluten, my body doesn’t respond until it’s too late — once I’ve already digested the gluten.
In this case, the tortilla chips I ate were most likely fried in a “shared fryer”, alongside whatever other fried food the company served. But I was hungry and it was pretty much the only thing I could order on the menu, besides cocktails! So when they share a fryer, it means that particles of the other food get on the chips. Obviously, this isn’t something I can see, and the particles are crumbs, the smallest of crumbs. And that’s how much it takes to get me sick… crumbs.
My reaction comes in the form of stomach aches, extreme exhaustion, and cold/flu-like symptoms… for a few days not fun. In fact, it’s literally exhausting.
Think about your body when you’re fighting off a heavy cold or mild flu. Your energy levels are down, you may or may not feel like eating, you definitely don’t feel like yourself, you’re irritable, all you want to do is sleep, and maybe your stomach hurts. Well, group those with massive stomach aches, nausea, brain fog, and a multitude of other symptoms, not to mention the silent symptoms of my small and large intestine being further damaged in the immune-attacking process.* My body is fighting off what it thinks is a virus attacking my body.
That’s my week in a nutshell.
And that’s why Celiac people have to be so careful about eating out. That’s why we have to be “annoying” with all the gluten-free questions, and that’s why I seem uptight and picky when eating out, even though I’m not a picky eater and certainly don’t want to be.
Hopefully, this helps you learn a bit more about what it means to be gluten-free as a Celiac. It’s not a fad, it’s not for fun (in the slightest), and it is forever…
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*Learn about what the Celiac Disease Foundation is doing to further research around Celiac and hopefully discover a cure for this not-so-fun disease. It was recently discovered that gluten in the intestine of someone with Celiac does irreversible damage, so if the disease goes undiagnosed, there’s only so much healing that can happen once you cut gluten out of your diet.