The 5 Stages of Hipster-free Health

16 Feb

hipster hatAbout six weeks ago, I woke up from a sound sleep with a stabbing pain in my hip.  It radiated out from a central point and pretty much covered the front of my pelvis.  No matter what I did, the pain didn’t subside.  From that moment on, if I sat too long in the same position, or if I walked down a flight of stairs, or even stood in the wrong way, that pain would smack me up.  In the past 6 months alone, I have strained my left elbow and my right knee, landed wrong jumping off a rock onto my left ankle, and pulled my right lat in the gym.  So I’m pretty familiar with all sorts of muscular pain – this wasn’t it.  I just  didn’t know what to make of it. I remember telling a friend of mine that the only thing that made sense was arthritis, but that couldn’t be it, because you can’t just wake up in the middle of the night suddenly arthritic.

Apparently you can.  It turns out I have advanced degenerative bilateral arthritis.  Advanced.  I’m 42 years old, very active in my body, with no real family history of arthritis…but here I am, looking at the possibility of a hip replacement.  It’s a classic WTF.

In the process of gathering “what the hell do I do now?” information, I went to a previously-scheduled appointment with a brilliant nurse practitioner named Seth Merritt.  Seth’s not a rheumatologist or an orthopaedist – he’s actually one of only a handful of health care providers in Oregon to hold a board-specialty in bariatric treatment and metabolic disorders, the perfect person to help me navigate my Hashimoto’s Disease.  I mentioned the arthritis thing, and he said the one sentence I had been expecting but dreading: “I just don’t see how you avoid going gluten-free.”

(Insert wailing, groaning, and prodigious cursing here.)

Like any recovering bulimic, I abhor across-the-board food restriction.  It freaks me out and sends my mind spinning, and I’ve never been convinced that it could be completely healthy to cut entire food categories from one’s diet.    Furthermore, and equally important, I’m not a Portland Hipster:  I am not a member of the “I bike commute to work every day on my fixie, which makes me a better, inherently cooler person than you are, which is why I ‘accidentally’ leave one pant leg rolled up so you know I bike commute” class; I don’t wear “ironic” trucker hats while possessing no actual understanding of the word “irony”; I don’t love unicorns or PBR or Neutral Milk Hotel; I do not, ever, under any circumstances, wear skinny jeans; and I don’t jump from one “I saw it on Dr. Oz so it must be true” diet plan to the next, be it vegan or paleo or raw…or gluten-free.

But I trust Seth completely – the guy really knows his shit – so I responded in the way I always respond to a crisis: “Is there a book?”

I’m now in the middle of reading Wheat Belly (yes, I know Dr. Oz recommends it…whatever), and I’m telling you, this guy is on to something.  Gluten is, of course, just a huge inflammatory.  And arthritis is all about inflammation.  And Hashimoto’s is an auto-immune disease, which means it, too, is all about inflammation.  So I’m doing it.  I’m going gluten-free.

But let me back up, because it wasn’t quite that straight-forward.  I think I went through speed-laced stages of grieving, trying to reconcile my relationship with gluten in about 48 hours.  It looked something like this:

  1. Denial:  “This isn’t really that big of a deal.   I mean, people have been eating wheat for thousands of years, so how bad can it be?”  (Pretty bad, it turns out, especially considering that what we call “wheat” is nothing like what it was even 60 years ago.)  So I sat down with an enormous plate full of whole wheat pasta and enjoyed every bite.  Of course.    
  2. Anger:  “Well, this is just totally fucked!  I manage to recover from a 25-year eating disorder and a lifetime of being afraid of my body, only to get this crap thrown in my face now that I’m living a healthy life?  WTF?  First Hashimoto’s, then MTHFR, now arthritis?  No way.  No effing way!  This is not fair and I simply refuse!”
  3. Bargaining:  Well, maybe if I don’t eat gluten at home, I could eat it when I go out to dinner?  Maybe I could just reduce the amount of bread I eat?  What if I made sure I always had a big piece of protein with my pasta?  Would that counter the effects?  (Answer: nope.)
  4. Depression:  I can never go out to eat ever again in my entire life, and I’m the only person who could possibly know what this feels like, and so what that I live in Portland, Oregon in 2014, the easiest possible place and time to go gluten-free, because this is still horrible.
  5. Acceptance:  Okay, well, I don’t want to walk with a cane before I’m 45 years old.  So I guess I’m going gluten-free.

At the end of the overwrought day, gluten and I have had a dysfunctional relationship for a long time, a classic unrequited love affair: I loved it, but it just didn’t love me back. Or maybe it loved me, but it wasn’t in love with me.  And that’s why whenever I tried to get close with it, it hurt me.

And here’s the really weird part: I feel great.  Like, actually, really great.  My energy is through the roof, I have only had a few random moments of hip pain in the past three weeks, my mind feels clearer, my depression is under control, and I feel capable of doing whatever it takes to protect my hips and the rest of my body, to stay as mobile as possible for as long as possible.

I’m not saying that a gluten-free diet is for everyone – this is absolutely not me standing on a soapbox.  But it is me saying that it’s so important to listen to our bodies, even when they are telling us things we don’t want to hear.  And it’s so important to listen to our health care providers (not just TV doctors!), even when they are telling us things we don’t want to hear.   It’s important to be open to the options that we don’t like, because they just may be the right options for us.

And if anyone can recommend a restaurant in Portland that is both hipster-free and  gluten-free, I’m all ears!


Lily-Rygh Glen

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