‘I Quit Gluten, Here’s How It Changed My Body’

For most of my life, I’ve loved freshly buttered toast with Marmite. This is from the time I was sent to boarding school at the age of 12. I didn’t enjoy school, the food was disgusting and I wouldn’t eat it. But every night, I would make myself Toast and Marmite for dinner. It reminded me of home, because my dad always loved Marmite. I found it comforting, and continued to enjoy breakfast into adulthood.

But everything changed when I went to travel at the age of 26. I spent 21 months in Asia and South America eating the cheapest food you could buy – usually pizza, pasta and noodles. It was very heavy on gluten.

When I returned to London in 2001, I was not feeling well. Whenever I had roti, I used to feel bloated and uncomfortable. I was also conscious of the fact that I looked different—I thought I looked six months pregnant.

After the swelling, I felt very, very tired – almost to the point where I could fall asleep right away.

I didn’t know what was wrong. I would go out to dinner with friends and then suddenly feel very tired. I’m a private person and I didn’t want to be a party pooper, so I would be at a loss even though I was feeling uncomfortable.

This went on for four to five months. I wanted to know why I didn’t feel right in myself—I felt like my body was telling me something for some reason. My parents recommended that I see a good friend of theirs who was a dietitian. I was tested for celiac disease, but the test came back negative.

The dietitian asked me to write a diary of what I ate. I experimented with cutting out some foods, but I still didn’t know which foods were causing me problems. Then I did an allergy test, and my dietitian diagnosed me with a severe gluten intolerance.

Even though I’ve been fine with gluten my entire life, he thought maybe I’d developed an intolerance to it because I consumed too much of it while traveling.

giving up gluten

I found it difficult to give up gluten. A lot of going out involves going to pizza or pasta places and I felt so embarrassed when I was with my friends to say, “Oh, I can’t eat that.” I didn’t want to be difficult. I missed a few parties because I didn’t know what I would eat.

But giving up gluten is worth it. I am more comfortable now—physically too, because it was uncomfortable when I was bloated, and mentally. Quitting gluten has made me happy with my appearance – you look and feel better by not being bloated. It has made me feel more positive.

Stock image of a woman smiling and holding her belly. Katie Roberton feels happy in her body now that she is not bloated from eating gluten.
iStock/Getty Images Plus

I also have more energy to do sports that I enjoy. I cycle, I play tennis and I love wild swimming. When I take care of my food and drink, everything becomes much easier.

This is not to say that it has been an easy process. Even now, I worry when friends ask me out because I think, Should I say something about my gluten intolerance, or should I just eat what I can? I feel like I’m a nightmare dinner guest.

Adapting to the Gluten Free Life

Going gluten-free can be restrictive when you’re at a restaurant. I still find it awkward to tell the waiter that I’m gluten intolerant, and there’s still a risk that they’ll accidentally add something with gluten to my food. I recently went out to dinner and told the restaurant I had a gluten intolerance. But as soon as I added it to my meal, I knew it contained gluten because I was completely floored and thought I’d fall asleep on the spot.

There are many foods that you didn’t know contain gluten, such as soy sauce. I eat a lot of sushi because it’s delicious, so I now carry gluten-free soy sauce in my handbag.

I find it much easier to cook for myself than to go out to dinner. I have always enjoyed rice dishes, Thai food and anything spicy. I also enjoy eating meat with salad, or burgers in gluten-free buns. Finding good gluten-free buns wasn’t easy. The quality of gluten-free food isn’t great, and I think it hasn’t improved much in the past 20 years.

I’ve completely given up gluten for over 20 years now. I find it a little frustrating that I just can’t eat what I want. But no matter how much I love freshly buttered toast with Marmite, I know that feeling good in my body is more important.

Katie Roberton is a designer in London. she runs a ceramics shop outlandish creations,

All views expressed in this article are those of the author.

As told to Katie Russell.

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