Going gluten-free, there’s a high price to pay

     You think being gluten-free is a fad? Ask yourself who would willingly give this up for a fad. (<a href=Oven-fresh pizza image courtesy of Shutterstock.com) " title="shutterstock_pizza_1200x675" width="640" height="360"/>

    You think being gluten-free is a fad? Ask yourself who would willingly give this up for a fad. (Oven-fresh pizza image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    When I was forced to go gluten-free, my doc didn’t mention I would have to also become free of anything that tasted delicious. Friends say, “Going gluten-free is such a fad.” My family was like: “Eat the damn pizza.”

    When I moved from New York to Philadelphia in 2010, it was a very stressful time in my life.

    In the two years I was married, my husband had spent most of the money I had earned — and even more of the money I had yet to earn by purchasing items on credit without any self control. So I was broke. I filed for divorce, was laid off from my job, and found bed bugs all within a three-week time period. All signs pointing to me having to move back home and live with my parents—at age 30.

    I found a job and started to pay off the very large debt that my soon-to-be ex-husband had left me with. I tried to de-stress my life, exercising more and taking care of myself.

    But I started having extreme stomach issues. Not only that, I was lethargic, I was waking up with numbness in my arms and legs, and I was gaining weight, even though I had been training and running semi-long-distance races for almost nine months. None of these things made sense.

    Diagnosis: misery

    In New York, not having insurance made it very easy to differentiate between being REALLY sick and “I don’t technically need my right arm because I am left handed” sick. But now, with this new job, I finally had some insurance, and way less rent to pay, so I decided it was time to go to the doctor to have a check up.

    It was a whole new world. Seeing a doctor just to have a conversation was never really in the cards before, because the cost was so high. But when I was finally able to, it went something like this:

    Doc: How long has your stomach been bothering you, Val?

    Me: Oh, I don’t know … Nine, maybe 10 … years.

    A few days later I got the diagnosis: Celiac.

    Silly who?

    Apparently at some point in my life — and mostly because of the stress of the prior six months — I became intolerant of gluten. I was just a big ol’ wheat racist. With just one phone call, I became trendy and had to totally, like, order from the, like, Gluten-Free Menu.

    When I was forced to go gluten-free, my doc didn’t mention I would have to also become free of anything that tasted delicious.

    I’m Italian-American. I was raised on a steady diet of pasta, bread, chicken cutlets, breaded fried cheese, breaded fried vegetables, cannolis, “The Godfather,” Mario Lanza, judgment and a hearty side of Catholic guilt.

    Celiac meant: Steer clear of all of the delicious stuff on that list. It was as if I was deliberately ignoring Clemenza’s advice. I was taking the gun; leaving the cannolis.

    Desperately seeking support

    They don’t tell you that being free from stomach pain isn’t a good enough justification for most people around you. My friends, and even strangers, would say, “Going gluten-free is such a fad.”

    And I would without fail reply, “Oh, really? Well — it is a much better fad than that whole ‘almost always pooping in my pants’ fad that was happening up until yesterday.”

    My family was like: “Forget about it. Eat the damn pizza.”

    My grandmother would just look at me with disappointment and threaten me with guilt. “Just eat the macaronis. I could be dead tomorrow.”

    I’m not saying my refusal of glutens killed my grandmother. I’m only saying she just happened to die one month after I told her I could no longer eat her raviolis. Her doctor’s called it cancer. I called it: “Point, Grandma.”

    I honestly believe my family thought about having me exorcised, because demonic possession seemed more logical to them than a perfectly reasonable autoimmune disorder.

    Tick, tick … boom!

    I’ve basically turned back into an infant with my hunger indicators. It’s either “not hungry” or “CRYING FOR FOOD NOW!” When I reach that point, you have about 30 seconds before I do become possessed and my head starts to spin. I’ll be freaking out and I don’t even get comfort foods! All I want is chicken fingers and onion rings. And all this place has that I can eat is house salad. And God forbid that salad come to me with one freakin’ crouton on it. I will take the waiter’s face off.

    I don’t need everyone’s constant reminders that everything I eat tastes fantastically disgusting. I know this. I’m eating it. All. The. Time.

    What did I do in a past life to be punished with fake cake? People wonder why I don’t smoke weed. What would I eat when I get the munchies? Carrots? Apples? Lame!

    Free from gluten? More like free from flavor. More like free from joy.

    Yeah, yeah … I know: Free from pooping my pants, too.

    But still, pooping my pants seems like a really small price to pay for a really good slice of pizza.

    Valerie DiMambro is a stand-up comedian and storyteller who lives in Philadelphia and performs anywhere they’ll hand her the mic. Watch her co-host the comedy show “The Sunday Funnies” upstairs at Buffalo Billiards in Old City.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.