Tag Archives: healthy diet

Bloated

Do you get “the celiac bloat”?

Spend enough time in the gluten-free blogosphere, and you’re sure to find posts about bloating. Many consider it the first sure sign that they’ve consumed gluten. Some even share photos, as though to prove they aren’t imagining things (which, no doubt, many of them have been told).

Though I won’t be posting a photo, I wanted to share a bloating story of my own. This one’s from the archives: an email I sent to my dad back in 2010.

The only context you need is this: my junior year of college, I lost a third of my body weight. (On purpose, although I kept it going a bit longer than I should have.) Just weeks after hitting my “target” weight, I became very ill.

By the time I wrote this email, I’d started to experiment with what I now see as Band-Aid management strategies. They were helping, but not entirely—and not at all with what seemed to me the worst part.


. . . the thing that’s most upsetting is that my belly is constantly swollen and bloated, and gets progressively worse throughout the day. After I worked so hard to get in shape, now I can’t wear my new clothes because they’re too tight. I haven’t had any days for a while where the pain got as bad as it did those few days, so I’m really only dealing with mild discomfort most of the time (although sometimes pretty bad discomfort by the end of the day). But I just feel depressed and embarrassed all the time about the way I look.

I guess you’ll probably think that I’m noticing it more than other people are, and that’s probably true, but if I wore my fitted shirts people definitely would notice. By the end of the day my stomach is often so distended that I literally look several months pregnant. . . .

I’m afraid this will never go away no matter what I try and I’ll never be happy with the way I look or feel ever again. And I’m trying to gain some perspective because I know I could have far worse troubles, but it just seems so devastatingly unfair that at the time in my life when I should be my most healthy and look my best, instead I get this.

Note: This was originally all one very long paragraph. I’ve made cuts and added paragraph breaks because it was utterly unreadable. Sorry, Dad.


When I wrote this, I was strength training several days a week, “doing abs,” and running almost daily. To have this uncontrollable bloat “ruin” those efforts was frustrating, especially since I was more image-obsessed then than I’ve been before or since.

Back then, I felt I would rather deal with mild and increasingly worse discomfort every day possibly forever than be bloated. It was more important to me to look good than to feel good. Sad, right?

Since then, some of my other symptoms have improved. My weight has gone slightly up and down; I’ve worked out more or less consistently; and I’ve eaten more or less cleanly, on a few different diet plans (omnivorous, vegetarian, low-FODMAP, and now gluten-free). But the bloating has continued. I both feel bloated—that awesome “please just pop me now” balloonlike feeling—and look bloated—just a little, usually, but sometimes a lot.

sad mime holding onto balloons

See? Balloons make him sad, too.
Photo © Jorn Idzerda | Flickr

I’m in a healthier place now than I was then, body-image-wise. But you know what? I still find the bloating unfair (if not devastatingly), and I still find it depressing. Some days, I still want to just stay in bed.

Bloating is one of the symptoms that consistently pops up in descriptions of celiac disease, perhaps because it’s less graphic than the alternatives. But it also affects 10 to 30 percent of the general population, often for unclear causes.

Some people don’t think of bloating as a big deal. “Oh, everyone has that from time to time,” they might say (as a friend did to me back when I first got sick). Protesting that it’s different when it’s every day may or may not penetrate, but it’s true: it is different. Sure, in comparison to other symptoms—including my own!—bloating is mostly just a nuisance. But when it happens every day, it gets to you.

These days, I think of bloating as just one more frustrating aspect of a frustrating illness. One more daily bit of proof from my body that I’m not the boss of it.

One day, maybe, I’ll prove it wrong.

What’s your least favorite symptom of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity? Any good “bloat begone” tips to share?

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For the record

You know when keeping a food log sucks? When you get to the end of a day and realize it looks like this:

Breakfast: Sugary cereal

Snack: ~1/3 jar of Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter

Lunch: Half a bag of tortilla chips with salsa and hummus

Snack #2: Gluten-free cookies

Dinner: Frozen premade Indian dinner, peanut brittle

Exercise: Skipped

 

You know when it sucks worse? When you’ve had a week of days that look like this:

Breakfast: Unsweetened whole-grain hot cereal with flax and almond milk

Lunch: Sweet potatoes, pinto beans, carrot sticks

Snacks: Reasonable portions of nuts, fruit and vegetables

Dinner: Tempeh, apple, and onion stir fry with brown rice and spinach

Exercise: Lots of walking, plus 45 minutes on the elliptical

. . . but you still feel like crap.

Photo © Ben Haley | Flickr

Photo © Ben Haley | Flickr

Amirite? I know my paleo friends are just waiting to pounce on that second entry, much as their ancestors descended upon prey in the savanna. There are at least as many different definitions of an ideal diet as there are calories in a third of a jar of peanut butter. My own sense that a whole-foods, plant-based diet should make me feel healthy is shored up largely by dogma and selective reading. Still, at the end of most days, I feel I’ve made pretty good food choices. But does it make a difference? My answer is in black (or blue, depending on pen color) and white.

When other people go on and on about how great their unprocessed veg*n diets make them feel, I often struggle with the urge to hurl butternut squash at their heads. I know intestinal healing comes first, and I’m sure an overall healthy diet is probably working invisible heart-protective magic, yadda yadda, but I can’t help but wonder: What’s the point of eating well if an unhealthy gluten-free diet and a healthy gluten-free diet leave me feeling exactly the same? For that matter, what’s the point of eating a healthy or unhealthy gluten-free diet if I feel worse on average than I felt when I was eating gluten? Why bother doing it right if I’ll still feel wrong?

When I start asking myself this kind of question, that’s when I know it’s time to call in the big dogma. Six months to two years to feel better on a gluten-free diet, I remind myself, mantralike.

Six months to two years. That’s a lot of days worth of food logs. Might as well make them good ones . . . well, most of them, anyway.

Photo © Tyler Dawson | Flickr

Photo © Tyler Dawson | Flickr

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