As a pasta-loving Italian, eliminating gluten from my diet at the recommendation of my doctor seemed to leave me with extremely limited food options. However, compelled by my compounding fatigue and stomachaches, I waved the white (and red and green) flag, and embarked on my gluten-free adventure, eager for more energy and less pain.
I didn’t realize that the benefits of a gluten-free diet would contribute to the improvement of other aspects of my life.
1) Feeling less chronically fatigued was one of the most noticeable improvements that resulted from my eating gluten-free. Prior to altering my diet, I would sleep sometimes as long as 15 hours per night, and would still be too tired to do much the following day. A likely result of intestinal damage causing malabsorption of nutrients.
A few months after I started eating gluten-free, I noticed that I needed less sleep to function properly and was able to think more clearly.
2) At the same time I was sleeping 15 hours a night and lazing around during the day, I was feeling down. I had little motivation to accomplish even small tasks.
What I didn’t know was that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, which is responsible for mood elevation, and 50 percent of the body’s dopamine, which is important for motivation and attention, lies in our gut. So if my digestive tract is damaged and off-kilter, my levels of serotonin and dopamine are off, which would directly affect my mood.
After I started eating gluten-free, I slowly regained my ability, and desire, to function properly.
3) Years before I stopped eating foods containing gluten, I nearly stopped eating everything. I recall one particular day during college when I ordered my favorite sandwich of tomato and fresh mozzarella on ciabatta. I was hungry after a long morning of classes, and while I was excited to have lunch with a group of friends, I may have been more excited about the sandwich that I was about to enjoy. But after one bite, I put it down.
Something about it wasn’t right. I got the same feeling that I used to get as a child after eating too many doughnut holes at Halloween parties — I couldn’t even think about eating doughnuts for months without feeling sick.
I had, at that time, recently noticed that no matter how hungry I felt, I couldn’t stomach certain foods. I never imagined that my beloved tomato mozzarella on ciabatta would be one of those foods.
I threw out the sandwich, my hunger replaced with nausea, and went to my next class.
That night, ravenous, I ate two slices of pizza. Long before I learned that nausea is a gastrointestinal symptom of celiac disease.
4) Combining my newfound energy with my renewed ability to stomach the foods that I wanted to eat, socializing became a much easier and more regular part of my week. No longer was I too tired to go out when friends called, and no longer did I need to cut the night short because my stomach pains were too much to handle.
I’d always wondered how people would go out to dinner and then hit a club without feeling too full and bloated to dance. When I stopped eating foods containing gluten at dinner, I realized how.
If you’re feeling like I felt before going gluten-free, you may want to check in with your doctor — even if you don’t feel like it — and ask if it’s possible that you have celiac disease or are otherwise gluten-intolerant.
Originally published on The Huffington Post.