It all started November, 2013 with a gym-wide Paleo challenge. I decided that I was not going full Paleo but that I would avoid gluten and sugar. My intent was to see if what I’d read about arthritis and gluten was true. Also, I wanted to drop a few pounds.

I didn’t lose any weight, but I did discover something that I wish I’d known much sooner- that I didn’t have to suffer the symptoms of anxiety, autoimmune disorders, and PCOS. This discovery took place during the course of several months, so slowly that I almost didn’t notice the changes.

By the end of November, I didn’t notice much difference in my level of joint pain, so I figured that going gluten-free was a nice, but unsuccessful, dietary change. I treated myself to Thanksgiving dinner at Maggiano’s and Sunday dinner with family. I ate what I wanted. Gluten and all. A few days later, I had a weird rash on my face. At first I thought I was having a cold sore breakout. Then I thought I hadn’t been taking good care of my skin. It was so dull and dry. So I bought some scrub and scrubbed away, followed by a layer of coconut oil. It didn’t work. At some point, I got the notion to google “eczema.” There it was- a description and pictures of what I was experiencing. Weird, I’d never experienced eczema before and therefore didn’t make the connection.

I stayed off gluten for a couple more weeks (still hoping to be pain-free), and then one night I indulged in a chocolate chip cookie that my daughter made for an event. Minutes after eating the cookie, my arm began to itch. It was then that I suspected a connection between my skin and my intake of gluten.

After doing quite a bit of online research, I found that I saw myself in many of the descriptions of gluten sensitivity and/or intolerance. I decided to stay off gluten still hoping that I would get great relief with my joint pain. That great relief would end up taking about 3 months, but somewhere along the way I started noticing other things. I no longer felt like a circus side act. My facial hair was markedly decreased. Although I still had a way to go in handling my stress and anxiety, I didn’t feel tightening in my chest or muscle tension like I had before. My cycles were lighter and less painful. There were other good changes, but I’m too polite to post them. Each time I’d notice something that had improved, I’d do a search of that symptom + gluten. Each time, I found that there was a connection.

I began to embrace the gluten-free lifestyle, sacrificing my beloved brownies and chocolate chip cookies in exchange for pain-free days and a general sense of well-being. The hardest part for me to deal with was wishing I’d known sooner. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have had more successful pregnancies had I avoided gluten. (My miracle child was conceived very shortly after a visit to China in the 90s during which I “unintentionally” ate a traditional Chinese diet consisting of only whole foods and very little gluten.) I wondered if I could have avoided my years on steroids and my various sinus procedures. I felt a little angry at my former doctors. Surely they had heard about a connection years ago. I decided to let go of the anger and regret because I knew there was no point to it. I couldn’t go back. I could only move forward and make my voice heard so that others may benefit from my experiences.

I don’t get the same joy of going out to restaurants as I did in the past. I eat before social functions- just in case I’m faced with a cornucopia of gluten-filled foods. I’m a little anxious about spending a week at a friend’s this summer because I don’t want to be a bother with my dietary needs. But still, I fully embrace the gluten-free lifestyle.  I’ve yet to encounter a food containing gluten that I have felt was worth the indulgence.

That’s not to say that I never will, but for now, I’ll take feeling good (mentally and physically) over any cookie or brownie in the world.