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Why I am Staying Gluten and Dairy-Free

Best french fries in the world!! Gluten-free!

Over the past month, possibly even longer, I have been thinking a lot about whether this whole gluten and dairy-free eating plan I have been doing is worth it. Although it has gotten much easier, once I started doing Weight Watchers in addition to it, it made things a bit more complicated and challenging. However on two separate occasions, I intentionally ate a food item with gluten and/or dairy in it and noticed that I had some joint pain afterwards. Coincidence? Maybe. However at the time, it wasn't worth the drama of investigating the issue any further.

That was, until I was off prednisone for over a month and my old enemy, joint pain, came back into my life on a regular basis. Despite a regular exercise regime and eating healthy, the joint pain and stiffness associated with arthritis began to worsen as well as the autoimmune related migraines, fatigue, and worsening of dryness symptoms. Is it possible that if I was eating gluten and dairy that the symptoms would have been much worse? Maybe. Like everything related to my illness, nothing is ever certain. Everything about it remains elusive to me.

So I go back on a low dose of prednisone which I remain on as I write this, which has given me some relief while my doctor is working on contacting my previous rheumatologist to investigate what previous treatments have been tried, why they were stopped, what worked and didn't work, and try to decide if some of the medications I am taking now are making me worse rather than better. There is the possibility of adding another, possibly toxic, medication. The saga never ends.

During all of this, my fiance and I leave for a four day weekend trip to Old Orchard Beach in Maine. A place not exactly known for its gluten and dairy-free lifestyle. Junk food everywhere you turn and you can smell it within like a mile of even approaching the pier and downtown area by the beach. I had a plan though. I packed a bag of gluten and dairy-free snacks for the three hour drive up and back so I wouldn't have to worry about eating on the road. I did a Google search on restaurants in Old Orchard Beach (OOB) to see what my options were.

I had made a conscious decision that while I was not going to let myself eat out of control, I was not going to be strict about counting points for Weight Watchers while I was away and give myself a break in regards to being so strict about my Weight Watchers plan. I know my leader would probably frown on this but it felt like it was the right thing for me to do. The gluten and dairy issue was going to be difficult enough. I felt confident that once I was back home, I would get right back on track with Weight Watchers, which I have.

My plan at OOB was to allow myself one dairy item which was a soft serve vanilla cone that I have been wanting all summer; and I mean ALL summer. I have been going to ice cream places with friends and their children all summer and getting sorbet with this plan in mind. My intent was for everything else at OOB to be gluten and dairy-free.

So this is what really happened. Out of the four days we were there, I was completely gluten and dairy-free for two of them. I was already having quite a bit of joint pain and fatigue when we got to the beach and pretty much was having a "what the hell is the difference now?" attitude about the whole gluten and dairy issue. I don't think my eating was out of control in terms of amount but the type of food I ate made me feel so lousy that my body felt like I ate 10x more than I actually did. When I sit and think about the gluten and dairy items I actually DID eat in those two days, it came down to: that small soft serve ice cream cone, one regular beer, a buffalo chicken quesadilla (didn't finish it), and a large slice of pizza. Everything else I ate the whole trip was gluten and dairy-free as far as I know. But I think the gluten and dairy was such a shock to my system that it felt that I ate so much more than that. It's called bloat.

Now I cannot say that any of my autoimmune symptoms got worse because I already had joint pain and if anything, that got better. Not from eating gluten and dairy, but probably from being back on pain medication and decreasing my stress levels by being at the beach. But those food items did wreak havoc on my stomach. Now you have to keep in mind what I ate. That was some seriously greasy (and yes tasty) food. I cannot say if it was the gluten and dairy that caused the stomach issues or the type of food that did it. I can say that before vacation, I was eating much healthier. But, I was also eating, on occasion, similar foods such as pizza and buffalo chicken. I was just eating gluten and dairy-free homemade versions that were much healthier as well.

Here is what I do know. Without a doubt, I am very glad that I took my two day hiatus from my gluten-free, dairy-free lifestyle. While it does not answer the question of whether or not gluten and dairy directly the severity of my Sjogren's syndrome, it is very clear to me that is directly affects my overall health. It does this by making me stop and think about what I put in my mouth. I make healthier food choices. I eat more whole foods rather than processed foods which is much better for people with inflammatory disorders like mine. Gluten and yes, even dairy (no matter what the media tells you), have no nutritional value and therefore are not a necessity for my body. I cook more than I eat out. I have seen improvement in other areas of my health not related to my Sjogren's including my weight (because I am making better choices), my skin, hair, and nails, my gastrointestional system, and my menstrual cycle.

I am not saying that a gluten-free, dairy-free lifestyle is for everyone but for me, for now, it is worth the effort. My health is worth the effort. My life is worth the effort.

Photo Courtesy of Google Images


  1. AMEN to that! I decided when we were in Maine to have a lobster roll. I woke up the next day with such a stomach ache and joint pain and I don't even HAVE an autoimmune disease! For me, when I eat that stuff now, it's like having the worst hangover without the benefit of delicious alcoholic drinks. But, sometimes you have to test the system and just see how it know, to reaffirm what you already know. :) GOOD JOB!!!!!


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