You’ve been in my life for almost as long as I can remember. Stalwart and faithful, you were as proper and unassuming as Sugar was sexy and alluring. Often the two of you made joint appearances in cakes, muffins and cookies; you showed up in pressed khakis, Sugar in black leather. I confess, I gave Sugar the credit for all that deliciousness. I swooned after Sugar when we were apart and my eyes widened at the mere thought of him, whereas I simply took you for granted, a basic if not boring part of the Staff of Life.
Gluten, when I filed for divorce from Sugar last year, you became my rebound relationship. Having forsaken pies and brownies, I clung to you in the form of artisanal breads and gourmet pasta. You made it easier to let Sugar go, and I was grateful that, amidst growing numbers of gluten-free friends, I wasn’t succumbing to their seemingly horrible fate. To stop consuming croissants (even unsweetened), fresh loaves, fettucine and ravioli seemed unbearable. Having already bid farewell to most desserts, and to coffee and alcohol before that, to refrain from eating even more beloved foods felt too threatening.
If we are what we eat, then who would I be if my diet were radically different than, if not completely unrecognizable from, before?
I’d been afraid to answer that question. Until now.
You see, Gluten, your name keeps coming up in research on mood disorders. Word on the street is that, despite your humble and wholesome reputation, you are actually inflammatory, wreaking havoc on digestive tracts and brains around the nation. More and more people are pointing the finger at you as, if not the cause, then an exacerbator of the almost epidemic levels of modern ailments such as depression, anxiety, and attention problems, to name but a few on a long list of maladies. As much as I dislike the word “disorder” (according to whom are moods “orderly”?), I’m also becoming weary of the trajectory and amplitude of my emotional states. As much as I enjoy surfing the exhilarating and sometimes intoxicating waves of inspiration and creativity, I’m growing less enamored of the moments when those same waves crash, leaving me stranded on a beach of despair or floundering in a sea of the blahs.
Gluten, did I hear you say there are prescription drugs for that, so I don’t have to ditch you?
At various times over the years, along with therapy, I’ve tried different medications when life circumstances felt unbearably overwhelming or overwhelmingly unbearable, such as when my father passed away. Sometimes they helped, but even small, sub-therapeutic doses disturbed my highly sensitive brain and nervous system, creating side effects. But since you’ve been in my life all along, Gluten, I can’t help but wonder if it was you who’s been mucking up my biochemistry behind the scenes, often as Sugar’s stealthy sidekick. You evaded detection and let Sugar take all the blame.
In recent weeks, I’ve been doing some homework on nutrition. I’ve heard compelling stories of people who have either reversed, slowed, or halted the progression of serious illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s through careful eating and supplements alone, ditto for folks who’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. I hate to break the news to you, Gluten, but not only did you fail to make the A-list for for these people’s diets, you weren’t considered at all. Instead, they are eating heaping piles of vegetables, a small side of protein and carefully selected supplements. Although I totally empathize with your rejected status, Gluten, having been chosen last for softball in elementary school, I am considering booting you from my nutritional team.
You see, I didn’t set out to eliminate you from my life, but lately I’ve been experimenting with eating more raw foods. The greater amount of kale, spinach, pears, arugula, carrots, beets, and apples I eat, the more energized and clean I feel. I no longer reach for you, Gluten, as reflexively as I once did, knowing you’d always be there to both fill my stomach and ease feelings of emptiness. Still, when I eat the occasional wheat cracker, I’ve noticed I feel slightly less good than before.
Or so I believe. It’s possible that my mind, eager if not desperate to find a non-pharmaceutical fix for a chronic condition, convinced me that a few crackers contributed to the slightest sensation of sluggishness and dullness. Therefore, I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, Gluten. I am proposing a separation of three months to see how I feel without you: that’s right, no phone calls, texts or e-mails during that time, no matter how much you miss me. Please don’t try to sneak in for a visit, hiding in the likes of soy sauce and salad dressing. After 12 weeks or so, I’ll invite you over for a meal. Maybe we’ll gaze into each other’s eyes over a plate of linguine, or we’ll share a sandwich on focaccia or rye. I’ll chew carefully and observe what happens. Should I feel groggy or hungover, I’ll know that we aren’t meant to be together.
Thanks for the memories, Gluten, and please don’t take whatever happens next personally.