After reading a large number of health & science journals over the summer I reached a conclusion about my long-term prospects: I’m screwed.  To be more specific, I learned that I may be able to avoid or lesson the effects of some rather nasty hereditary autoimmune diseases by making a few lifestyle changes today.  One of the biggest lifestyle changes I’ve implemented is to eliminate gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt  – from my diet.

I won’t go into great detail here but gluten has been linked to the incidence of autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other diseases and disorders, although the extent of that linkage is still up for debate among scientists.  Because of the uncertain nature about the role gluten plays in autoimmune disease, if any, the elimination of gluten from my diet was not a decision I reached lightly and it’s one I reserve the right to rescind or alter should additional, compelling evidence come to light pointing towards a smarter choice.  This is not a fad for me, nor is it a weight loss tool.  Living gluten free is (along with a healthy diet, some meditation, and yes – exercise) one way to respect my body and my history and hopefully achieve a fuller, longer life with my family.

When people learn that I’ve chosen to go gluten-less, they automatically assume I have a disease. I don’t. What I do have is a family medical history that leaves me fearful and most of my doctors deeply concerned. The laundry list of illness in my family is frightening…

  • Cancers? Check.
  • Heart disease? Check.
  • Diabetes? Check.
  • Obesity? Check.
  • High Blood Pressure/High Cholesterol? Check.
  • Endocrine disorders? Check.
  • Asthma? Check.
  • Mental illnesses? Um, goes without saying…

What’s worse for me is that these diseases aren’t part of my family’s distant past. I’m talking about my mother, brother, and grandmother dealing with these things today.  I know genetics plays a role in everything, so I figure odds are fair that I’ll be afflicted with one or several of these diseases in my lifetime.  In my mom’s case, she was struck down with colon cancer in her early forties. While she survived her encounter with the big C, the persistence with which it reoccurs every few years has her perpetually confronting her own mortality in ways us non-survivors of cancer cannot (and do not want to) comprehend.  This confrontation, above all other impacts of her cancer, has left her deeply scarred. I’m 37 and I don’t want to be deeply scarred. I don’t want to make the sacrifices she’s had to make or deal with the agony of a life & death battle before I’ve ever really lived.  I realize whether or not I get cancer isn’t exactly up to me.  But if I have some power in this complex process that is genetic inheritance or even if I just buy myself some peace of mind for a few more years – isn’t that worth some bread and pasta?  Is my life what I eat, or how I live?


Svetlana and I were having some rare chick chat over drinks the other night when she mentioned she was hungry.  I was starving too.

“Let’s order some nibbles?” I offered.

We grabbed the bar menu.  I was drawn to the two 3 oz. fillet Mignon’s – a tasting portion if shared with a friend - served with garlic mashed potatoes on the side.  They looked delicious.  Svetlana agreed with me.

When the waiter came by to take our order I ordered the fillet as Svetlana urgently texted a missing friend who was supposed to have joined us.  When it came time to decide between potatoes or “something else” on the side, I asked Svet if she was okay sharing potatoes with me.

“I’m fine with potatoes, but I don’t know about you.  Shouldn’t we get something you can eat too?”, she asked.


“Potatoes? Don’t they have gluten?”

I looked at her with what I’m sure was a puzzled expression.  “Potatoes don’t have gluten in them.  They have starch, but no gluten.”

Svet looked relieved.  I finished relaying our order.

When our petite steaks arrived they were seated on a grilled garlic toast.  I pushed my garlic toast aside as I cut into my steak. “You can have my toast if you want it,”  I said to Svet.

“You can’t have toast?  Does that have gluten in it?”

“Um, yes.  Toast is bread.  Bread is usually made of wheat so I can’t have it.”

“You can’t eat wheat?”

“Yes; that’s right. It has gluten in it.”

“So, is gluten-free kind of like Atkins?” she asked.

“No, it’s not really a diet; it’s more of a lifestyle change.  I’ve chosen not to eat anything with gluten in it for health reasons. Gluten is present in wheat, and thus most breads, pastas & cereals,” I explained.

With that, Svet nodded in understanding and the conversation shifted to another topic.

As I tucked into my juicy bite of steak I began to tell Svetlana about the last steak I had eaten, on Dick’s birthday.  For his birthday I took him to an upscale restaurant where we shared a delicious chateu briand and a french onion soup that I’ve been craving ever since.

“…the worst part about the whole dinner was that I had to pull the fabulous, cheesy, crouton from the french onion soup and give it to Dick. I’m telling you it was pure torture!” I said dramatically.

“Um, why? Why did you give him your crouton?”

“Well, because it was bread.”

“Croutons are made of bread?” Svet asked with wide eyes.

“Are you joking?  Are you being serious?” I asked her.

She was serious.

“Yes! Yes! Croutons are toasted bread.”

“Oh…”, her voice trailed off as the realization sunk in.

Later, as we mulled over desserts, Svetlana asked me out of the blue, “How about rice? Does that have gluten in it?”

“No. Rice is a grain. Gluten is a protein found in other types of grain like wheat or barley for instance,” I explained patiently.

“Rice is a grain?”


And then I realized…

“Oh my god!  Did you think rice was manufactured? Made with flour and eggs, with like, little Keebler Elves shaping tiny pellets of rice in a factory?”

She blushed ever so slightly and gave me an awkward smile.

“I guess I never gave it much thought,” she admitted.

For the record, I laughed at her.  Not with her, but at her.  And yes, we’re still friends.


On the phone with my mom earlier this month, she inquired about my weight – like she does every time we talk.  I told her I was down nearly 40 pounds since we last saw each other in May.

“Great job, sweetie!” she responded enthusiastically.  “What are you doing to take the weight off?  NutriSystem, Weight Watchers?”

“Well, I’ve just been focusing on eating smaller portions of healthier foods, getting in more regular exercise and, to try to stave off the autoimmune diseases which run in our family, I’ve given up gluten.”

“My friend Donna West did that gluten free dieting thing and she got diabetes anyway.  It doesn’t work, you know.  Barely 60 and her whole life is upside down with the diabetes.  Such a shame,” she said, her voice trailing off with the word “shame”.

“I’m sorry to hear about Donna, but I’m quite a bit younger than she was when she changed her diet so I’m hoping for the best,” I explained.

“Yes, but think of all the lovely baked goods you’re missing out on.  You’ll never bake cookies with the kids again on that silly diet.”

“It’s not a diet, mom; it’s a lifestyle change.”

“Well, whatever you wanna call it.  I can’t see how eliminating fiber is going to keep you from getting diabetes.”

“Actually mom, it’s not the fiber that’s the concern – and eliminating gluten may not just prevent diabetes.  It’s thought that the gluten protein that gives bread it’s elasticity is the cause of a state of chronic inflammation in certain people’s immune systems.  The unfortunate complication with eliminating gluten from your diet is that you need to find other sources of fiber, so I’m doubling down on my veggies,” I explained.

“Hm. Well, mark my words: you’re going to get whatever you get as far as disease goes – that’s just life.  No amount of not eating bread is going to prevent God’s wishes from being carried out.”

“Are you saying that God is going to give me a terrible autoimmune disease just to prove a point about his omnipotence?”


“So how are those grandkids of mine?”

“Thanks for the support, mom…”


Look, I’m the first to admit that my gluten-free lifestyle may be all for naught.  But if I’ve lost some weight and made some smarter food choices as a result of being more informed about my health, than isn’t that a good thing?  I think so.

So I’ll continue to read and educate myself (and everyone else, apparently) on this topic knowing that as a mother, a daughter, a friend, and a wife – my lot in life appears to be that of an educator – only with even less glory than my public school counterparts and for almost no pay.  If it weren’t for the  fact that I got a blog post at my dear friend’s expense, this whole inglorious side-career of ”educator” might not be worth all the effort.  But then again, if I can bust just one person’s mistaken belief that, somewhere, rice is being manufactured from wheat in a factory full of elves, maybe I will have done my part for the greater good.

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