My New, Gluten-Free World

by Jennifer Iannolo

While I’ve been trying to get my health in order over the past few weeks, a few people suggested that I look into gluten as a potential culprit for some of my fibromyalgia aches and pains; apparently gluten intolerance can sometimes trigger a fibro flare-up. I figured that at this point, I had little to lose, and gave it a shot. Much to my surprise, within a couple of days I was feeling far more energetic again, and the physical pain was almost nil. Dubious, I ate a few organic mini-muffins, because surely this was a fluke.

My body told me otherwise.

Concerned about my upcoming press trip to Ireland, I reached out to our hosts and asked if they might be able to accommodate a gluten-free menu. I was a bit nervous about it, as I wasn’t sure how the chefs would react — this was a culinary weekend, after all. Again, to my surprise, every one of them was happily prepared for me, and I savored delicious meals along with everyone else, with slight modifications to the relevant courses. They even brought me my own basket of gluten-free breads and crackers each night, which I’ll admit made me a little verklempt because it was so sweet.

But because there is a part of me inside that is railing against such a restriction on my livelihood, I sampled a few bites of bread pudding just before leaving the hotel in Ireland. And because sometimes it takes me a while to learn the lesson, I sat through some pretty wicked physical and stomach pains on the way home, along with a body that swelled with an additional 6 lbs. of water. That’s a lotta liquid.

So now that I’m home again, I’m looking at all of this from a big-picture perspective. And since I’ve been paying careful attention to my body’s reaction to food, I also noticed severe swelling each time I had wine during the trip, so I’m faced with some difficult choices. I’m not going to sugarcoat it — this is not happy effing news. For more than 20 years, my life and career have revolved around food and drink. Now there are whole categories that must be eliminated if I’m to be well again, and I’m struggling with it. As a very emotional person, I am trying to stem the melodrama and powerfully accept what is so in order to create a new path. I’m just not sure what that is yet.

It does make me very happy and relieved to see the number of gluten-free products out there, and so far the going has been quite easy in terms of finding things to eat — even in airports. I’m learning how to eat and not be ravenous in between meals, and am enjoying some gorgeous seasonal flavors. But I would cut a bitch for a slice of freshly-baked artisan bread. Thankfully, I’m not much of a sweets eater, so the prospect of limited desserts doesn’t bother me much (and foie gras creme brulee is gluten-free, praise the gods). The wine problem, however, troubles me intensely. I’m not sure what’s happening there, so I’ll table it until I get the rest of my system in order, but inside me there is a little girl in pigtails and Mary Janes throwing a complete hissy fit.

There have been moments over the past few weeks when I’ve been willing to trade just about any other illness for this one — for something not food-related. However, that kind of thinking isn’t going to do me much good, and irrational is not my preferred state of being. I’ve found some fantastic resources thanks to people like Gluten-Free Girl, Celiac Teen and my Twitter pals, and I’m trying to go a step at a time so as not to be overwhelmed. In fact, I was quite fine with it until today, as it was all theoretical until The Bread Pudding Incident. Now reality is setting in, so I’ll put on my big girl pants and learn the new set of rules.

The toughest part career-wise is that I now have to ask if I can be accommodated for every invitation I receive to a press luncheon, cocktail event or tasting. I’m that girl. Wine tasting events? I can’t even go there in my head right now. We get at least 10 invitations a week to things.

But for now I’ll take a deep breath and focus on the good stuff, and be thankful that I’ve experienced some of the best there is to be had in fine cuisine and wines from around the world. It’s more than some have in a lifetime, and for that I am grateful.

I’m also thankful to you for being here as I walk along this new road. You’ve been wonderfully supportive and helpful, and I can’t thank you enough for that. So I guess we’ll take this little walk together.

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