My New, Gluten-Free World

10 May 2010, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in wellness

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.

  • As someone Southern diagnosed two years ago with an extreme adult onset allergy to Shrimp, Crab, Lobster and Crawfish (HORRORS, some of my faves) I am completely empathetic. COMPLETELY. To be “that girl” makes me cringe. The fact that even being around the cooking steam sets me off has limited my fun and livelihood (I rep a lot of restaurants and wineries etc among other things for work). I haven’t found a solution yet that makes everyone happy, but for what it’s worth, anytime you just want to VENT – totally here for you.

  • Thanks. :) You have my utter empathy, too.

  • Vicki

    It’s really difficult to think of yourself in this whole new, different way when you first find out your allergic to a substance that is so pervasive.

    I used to be extremely athletic, muscular, healthy and never thought of myself as a “sick” person, or someone with an allergy. Now, my allergy to gluten has to be accommodated everywhere I go. From rehearsal dinners to family get-togethers, people ask “Is she coming?” before they start making their menu. It makes me cringe, because I was happy to eat whatever and not complain before.

    I’m just glad my livelihood is not at all connected to eating, or food. That must be so hard for you! You’ll make it, and starting to feel better is definitely worth all you must forgo.

  • Saw this on wikipedia:

    Spirits made without any grain such as brandy, wine, mead, cider, sherry, port, rum, tequila and vermouth generally do not contain gluten, although some vineyards use a flour paste to caulk the oak barrels in which wine is aged,[27] and other vineyards use gluten as a clarifying agent (though it’s unclear whether gluten remains at the end of the clarification process).[28][29] Therefore, some celiacs may wish to exercise caution.


  • Thanks Chris. I never even thought about gluten in the wine itself.

    Vicki, I feel you there. Thankfully my family has been great. I’m just not sure what to do about the career part, but I’ll figure that out as I go, I suppose. Thanks for your kind words. :)

  • NoGluten

    do you plan to test for celiac? If there are autoimmune disorders in your family, it is a good idea. Dr. Peter Green’s book has a checklist for who should test:

  • I may at some point, but as it’s clear the gluten has an effect, for now I’ll just stay gluten-free.

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  • Hi Jennifer. I know a little about how you’re feeling, though at least my intolerances don’t interfere with my career. I’m allergic or intolerant to almost everything except meats, so I can’t enjoy any of the foods I used to. It was hard to accept.

    As Christopher posted, some wines can contain gluten. Here’s a good resource about GF alcohol with a good description of the wine situation:

    It’s possible you’re intolerant of something else. For me, more than 1 glass of GF wine gives me problems just because of the fruit. Not as bad as gluten, though.

    Some restaurants are getting GF menus, and it’s easy to order GF ingredients online or get them at local organic food stores. There are also some useful iPhone apps for GF traveling.

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