How My Gluten Intolerance Made Me Realize That Food Can Change Your Identity

For so long, I refused to believe I had developeda gluten intolerance.I would insist, convincingly and forcefully, that I’d be fineif I ate just one small plateof pasta, or just drank onebottle of beer. One serving of gluten couldn’thurt when I’d been shoving my gluttonous Italian face with pizzaand pastafor my entire life, right?

Wrong. Liketheperfect cause-and-effect scienceexperiment, a day after eating glutenmystomach wouldexpandand my eczema would flare up more violently than iteverhad in my entire life. I’d be left withdigestiveissues and bloody scabs from scratching my skin that took weeks to heal, and I’d be very much not fine.

But still, I’d do it again. More pasta, more cereal, more bread, more bagels. This time willbe different, I’d say, grabbing my fourth slice of pizzaat lunchtimeand downing threebeers at happy hour.My body can’t react to the foods that havegiven me so much joyduringmy 22 years on earthforever… can it?

Oh, but it can. It can.

I never wanted to be that girl who hasto ask for thegluten-free menu atrestaurants. I still find myself shooting apologetic “I swear to God, I’m not one ofthosehealth freaks who is just doing this for no reason” looks at the waiter.

But suddenly, seemingly overnight, gluten went from a staple in my diet to public enemy number one. I was scratching my skin constantly, picking out dead skin that accumulated under my fingernails, grabbing tissues from the bathroom to soak up blood, slathering prescription ointment on every inchof my skin threetimes a day.My stomach was expanding so much from painful bloating that I couldn’t fit in my jeans. Andmy farts were straight up horrifying.

So, I waved the white flag. Gluten would be eliminated from my diet.

Before giving up gluten, I never realized how much what you eatcontributesto your identity.Food is not just something you consume; it communicates who you areto the world.

My penchant for carbs is myexpression ofmy Italian culture. On Christmas Eve, my extended family indulges in a special yearly ritual of eatingspaghettiwith fresh fish sauce. If I’m eating a warm, creamy, comfort bowl of pastina for dinner, I probably had a bad day. If I’m eatingpork roll egg and cheese on a bagel, I’m celebrating my Jersey pride. Everything I put in my mouth tells the world something important about me.

Food even communicatesyour social status. There’s a reason people who live in impoverished areas don’t eatquinoa, microgreensorother fresh,luxury health items: They just don’t have access to a supermarketstocked with them.

Unfortunately, my gluten intolerance has involuntarily altered myidentity. I didn’t choose this life the waya vegetarian chooses not to eat meat to make a statement about his or heraversion to animal products, or the way an Instagram fitness gurumakes a special tripto Whole Foodsto buy kale.

Iam NOTthe girl who purposely avoids a food group for the sake of “health”or who makes special trips to Whole Foods.I am the girl who puts on sweatpants and runs to the general corner store and who eats carbs at every meal — toast for breakfast, bread on a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner.

But now, I can’t be her. Now, I am the girlwho replaces her hamburger buns with lettuce. Now, I am the girl who doesn’tdrink beer. Now, I am the girlwho orders a salad at arestaurant if there are no gluten-free options. Now, I am the girl whoshops at specialtysupermarkets that stockgluten-free items.And I DON’T WANT TO BE HER.

I don’t feel likemyself. I’m anempty, carb-less version of myself. It’s depressing.

I yearn for the day that my stomach and skin don’tbetray me when I eat a slice of bread. Until then, you’ll find me picking at my sad, sorry, wilted salad (all salad is wilted when you love carbs) while dreaming endlessly ofbowls of spaghettiand meatballs.

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