Monday, November 24, 2008

Buono Come Il Pane

It’s always been one of my favorite Italian phrases. Good like bread. You use it to express when someone or something is solid, kind, wholesome – just good. Because what could be better than simple, nourishing, foundation-for-so-much-yummy-food bread? Turns out: lots of things.

Of late, I’m that girl at the restaurant who turns down the basket of dinner rolls, who asks for her eggs without the side of toast, who skips the pasta in favor of salad. Not because it’s Hollywood and I’m supposed to be a size two. Not because I’m following some higher path to spiritual health that doesn’t include the abuse of innocent wheat. Because after a long, redonculous medical journey, I’ve found out that bread is what makes me feel like crap.

For the last few years I’ve been constantly run down. Not just need-a-nap run down but bags-under-my-eyes, brain-dead by 3pm, narcoleptic by 9pm, running-on-fumes-all-the-time run down. I assumed that was just part of life in LA. All this Tinseltown glamour is draining, right?

Along with this, I started to notice various other problems. I was puffy and bloated in spite of hours of Pilates. Despite many applications of my fabulous Tom’s deodorant (family history of breast cancer = no more aluminum deodorants), I smelled. After Proactive, mud masks, facials, and all kinds of dermatologist-recommended extremes like never sleeping on the same pillowcase twice and never drying my face with the same towel twice, my skin was a constant zit field.

More seriously (yes, it gets more serious than zits in Hollywood), I started having weird pains. Crazy headaches have always been a norm for me but now I was also waking up in the middle of the night every few months with excruciating pain in my abdomen. The best way to describe it is it felt like something was ripping apart.

Now I come from a family of suck-it-up survivors. Once my dad nearly severed his thumb with an axe but did he go to the hospital? Nah, a few Band-aids and it’s fine. So naturally I didn’t seek any professional help for any of this. My boyfriend who comes from a crazy family of go-to-the-doctor-if-something-is-wrong people finally badgered me into going.

I started with an amazing homeopathic herbalist and then went through months of gastro-intestinal docs and OB/GYNs and all manner of poking, prodding, imaging and testing. The good news is I feel much better. The bad news is I have to say goodbye to lots of things to feel that way. Turns out I am gluten-intolerant. I haven’t yet had the blood test for Celiac but I know for sure bread is out.

The homeopath had me do an elimination diet and start on an herb regimen. Within two weeks of no flour products my energy was way up and my belly flattened. My skin cleared up and I haven’t had a zit since. Just to test it, I had a dinner roll and within ten minutes felt like someone had clubbed me over the head. So seriously, no flour.

She also had me off caffeine. I didn’t realize how addicted I was. Only a latte with breakfast, Officer. I went through two weeks of headaches and withdrawals and suddenly a new day dawned. I felt clear-headed, slept better and felt calmer. And suddenly, my natural deodorant works all day. I accidentally drank some caffeinated tea the other day and stank instantly. Wow, guess the body is not having caffeine for real.

What’s really amazing to me is how profound an effect these foods have on the body and how we mostly ignore the cause and effect. One of my best girlfriends reported similar miraculous changes in her life years ago when she went off white flour and sugars and I didn’t register it. I just thought: that’s great for her, I’m so happy I don’t have to give those foods up. Or looked at from this side: I’m so happy I get to keep trashing my body because it hasn’t given me a definitive break-down yet. We all know caffeine isn’t good for us but most people I talk to can’t imagine living without it. Likewise, most people have some degree of wheat or gluten intolerance but we continue to consume mass quantities of flour-based foods.

Turns out when the body is overtaxed with stuff it can’t process (wheat, in my case) or too much acids (coffee, tomatoes, mushrooms (!) all diet staples for me) it dumps into two places: the skin and the reproductive organs. The skin was obvious for me. The ovaries, not so much. Although it’s not definitively detectable without surgery, it’s pretty likely I have endometriosis, charmingly nicknamed the ‘working woman’s disease.’ It’s not clear if my two conditions are causally related but it was explained to me that the something-ripping sensations I woke up with were just that; ovarian cysts that were bursting.

So my break-down is here and now is the winter of my discontent as I say goodbye to breads and sweet-rolls and cake and waffles and pasta and cookies and crackers and cereal and flour tortillas and soy sauce (inexplicably contains wheat!) and breaded stuff and on and on and on.

The good news is having to automatically pass by the Krispy Kreme box at work means automatic weight loss. I can still have corn tortillas and Rice Krispies and stuff like that. And there are more and more gluten-free resources and products. My neighbor makes a gluten-free carrot cake that’s the best I’ve ever tasted. I found rice pasta that’s pretty close to the real thing. Great pancake mix that doesn’t leave that flap-jack brick in your tummy. Tasty gingerbread cookies at Whole Foods. I have a whole new world of baking to explore. Just how do you blend rice flour, tapioca flour and guar gum to approximate cookie dough?

More importantly, I have more energy, my late night pains are gone (for now), my headaches have been absent, my face is presentable, and my overall health feels much better. I miss some of those favorite foods but I have to hope improving my chance of someday having kids is worth it.

The moral for me is two fold: sometimes it’s OK to ask for professional help (my dad did eventually require surgery on his thumb since he let the tendons heal wrong), and buono come il pane – good like bread - isn’t.

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