About a month ago, while camping in the NH White Mountains, I was talking with some friends about my experiences being gluten free. My friend, whose mom has celiac disease, retorted by saying that her mom is on a gluten free diet because she HAS to be. Before I continue, let me tell you a little bit about my history while sparing you too many details. In January 2011, I decided to try a gluten free diet after years of bloating and discomfort. I always felt like I had a healthy diet, so I didn’t understand why I was feeling the way that I was. When I reflect upon my digestive health throughout my twenties and thirties, I realize now that I never really felt 100% when it came to my stomach. I decided to try a gluten free diet after friends recommended it, and then doing some research on it. Since making this change, I have noticed many positive changes, have more energy, feel less sluggish, and have a much more efficient digestive system.
Before I stopped eating gluten, I was tested for Celiac disease at my doctor’s office, and it came back negative. So basically, you would categorize me as being ‘gluten sensitive’. The blood work doesn’t show that I have the disease, but I have some minor symptoms that a celiac patient has.
Back to my friend at the campground. Admittedly, when she made that comment about her mother cutting out gluten out of necessity–and so implying that I really didn’t need to–my immediate impulse was to get defensive. But, a few days after the trip, and thinking about it some more, I realized it’s not her fault that she sees my choice of going gluten free unnecessary. It’s the society we live in. It’s this attachment we have to having a diagnosis for a disease in order to have an excuse for doing something that may actually be good for us. It’s the need to know from a western-trained medical professional what exactly is going on in the body, and why it’s happening. It’s the desire to have permission to make such a drastic lifestyle change, to have an excuse at a party for not partaking in the cupcakes, the cookies, the triscuits. The excuse, I’m trying to be healthy, sadly, is not always socially acceptable and can result in confused looks, or that convincing friend saying, ‘Oh come on, you don’t have anything wrong with you, just try one, you’ll be fine’.
Well, here’s a thought: how about making a change for no other reason but that you will feel better? For you, and only you? Many times, it’s just a simple change, like cutting out something that makes you feel bad. Recently, a patient of mine came to my office after having intense abdominal cramping for months, and her doctors didn’t know what it was. They were at such a loss, they ended up diagnosing her with giardia and she left the office with a prescription for antibiotics. (Wait…Giardia??? Ok, I will keep my thoughts to myself on this one). Anyway, this patient happens to love spicy food. One day, while visiting with her parents, a family friend, who is also an acupuncturist, suggested she stop eating spicy food. And guess what? No more stomach pain.
In my practice, I encourage patients to be in charge and empowered when it comes to managing their health. Acupuncture helps take the pain away, or can bring upon a good night of sleep. But honestly, if the patient is not taking care of self while away from the treatment table, then the time and money spent on acupuncture treatments is a waste, sort-of. Perhaps the patient will feel good for days, weeks, or months, after a round of acupuncture treatments. If the diet is not filled with an abundance of nutrient-rich foods, the person doesn’t get a regular 8-9 hours of sleep a night, or if stress is not managed properly, problems are likely to rear their ugly heads again at some point.
So, next time it doesn’t feel right to eat something, chances are, it’s your body’s way of lovingly asking you to stop what you are doing. I recently attended the Ancestral Health Symposium at Harvard in mid-August, and one of the speakers, Dan Lieberman, made a good point. Referring to running and injury, he said, “Shin splints are a physical adaption telling you you’re running like an idiot. Stop.” Think of symptoms as that pesky friend or relative who is always giving advice or telling you what is right for you. They may be annoying you and you don’t want to listen, but it is always with the best intentions. Your body does not want to be diseased, so listen to it. With a little time and patience, the body will always let you know exactly what it needs.
Maybe I don’t have Celiac Disease now, but perhaps if I continued to eat gluten, I would develop it at some point. I will never know the answer to that because I’d rather approach health with a preventative slant. Why wait for a diagnosis before making a change? Do it now.