Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gluten-Free and Pregnant

I’m being totally honest when I say that I am glad I was diagnosed with celiac disease. When you live with a lot of conditions that are hard to treat and manage even with lots of medications, knowing there is something wrong you can manage through what you eat alone is a liberating, empowering thing.

Most days, I barely even think about being celiac. The way we prepare food is now more of a lifestyle than a dietary chore. I know what questions I need to ask, I know the ingredients to look out for, and I know the best places for me to eat. I am always vigilant, of course, but it’s not like I wake up and think about eating gluten-free as a challenge or as deprivation.

I realize not everyone feels the same way, and I totally get why people take awhile to adjust and grieve over many things they can no longer enjoy. But for me, the diagnosis was a turning point, and brought about many positive changes in my attitude towards food.

I’ve always been ridiculously conscious of what I eat. Spend a lifetime (literally) on steroids, and you spend a lot of time passing on birthday cake (at your own birthday), sticking to the salad bar, and wondering at what point a diet consisting of 95% vegetables and chicken/fish will work for you. (You also break tons of bones, destroy your adrenal system, and have lots of other fun side effects but I digress.) In those days, though, I was focusing on calorie content, not necessarily quality.

All that changed when I began eating gluten-free, and I now find satisfaction in knowing how few ingredients are in each of the meals I eat, not how many calories are there.

I’ve noticed a further evolution in my attitude towards food since I became pregnant. On the one hand, I am more vigilant than ever about cross-contamination and accidental “glutening.” Coupled with the dietary restrictions all pregnant women are encouraged to follow regarding caffeine, certain fish, shellfish, lunch meat, soft/unpastuerized cheeses, alcohol, etc, there are certainly many things to keep in mind and avoid.

And I’m not going lie—with weeks and weeks of violent and long-last morning sickness (at one point I was conducting virtual office hours with a bucket in one hand and typing with the other), the idea of a simple saltine was (is) appealing.

But I don’t find the dietary limitations, well, limiting. I feel really good about what I put into my mouth. You see on message boards sentiments like “whatever you eat the baby gets first” and my doctors tell me the baby takes what he/she needs from whatever I eat. I’ve gone back to (limited) dairy consumption for more calcium, and started eating breakfast every day. Knowing the bulk of what my baby gets comes from cottage cheese, vegetables, nuts, yogurt, and lean proteins makes me feel like no matter how wacky my body is and how medically intensive this pregnancy is, I am doing something right for this kid. No processed food. No junk food. Nothing overly salty or fried.

Sometimes it is challenging to balance my (many) medications with prenatal supplements and vitamins since some need to be taken on an empty stomach and others on a full stomach, but I’ve incorporated smaller snacks throughout the day and have found somewhat of a groove.

Because I had to go back on steroids at one point in this pregnancy, and because of my history of steroid use and related problems, I am at an increased risk of gestational diabetes. We’ll see what the test reveals, but in terms of what I eat, I know I am doing what I can to set us both up for a healthier outcome.


Bibliotekaren said...

You hit it on the head.

I'm not glad that I need to eat gluten-free. However, in the scheme of all the other things going on for me, it's not a huge deal in my life. For those of us with multiple health issues, ones that we have little control over, it is nice to have one thing that we have control over.

Good luck with your pregnancy.

Pamela said...

As one planning to be pregnant soon -- and one with other multiple health issues -- I can relate to your post & Bibliotekaren's comment. It can be controlled and, in a way, it's a good thing :)

Debra said...

I was first diagnosed with a chronic illness in 1986. I became pregnant with my oldest daughter and she was born healthy and vibrant in 1987. I went on to have three more daughters after that. You can do this, and do it very well. Because of my illness, I think my daughters are more compassionate and empathetic towards others. This is yet another hidden "blessing" of chronic illness.

Best of luck with your baby!

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