Why Health? Going Gluten Free

This post was taken from a column I wrote in February 2013 for my school’s newspaper, found here: http://thebeggarblade.com/lifestyle/2013/02/08/why-i-write-about-health/

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,” Psalms 63:5. The Bible has much to teach on the subject of food, and how human beings, especially Christians, are to interact with it. Throughout Ecclesiastes, the message is clear that food is God’s gift to man, for his enjoyment (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Though I had been interested in health for years, it was when I came to Providence that I began to learn the scriptural teachings about food through Dr. Swanson’s Bible classes. Food theology, shown in Scripture, is by far, the most important foundation for my interest in health.

Last semester I began a column about nutritious eating, but before I continue with it, I would like to explain how I became interested in health and nutrition.

In middle school, I became interested in food for healing, homeopathic medicine, as opposed to antibiotics and chemical medicine. In high school I went through phases of fascination over the prospect of unprocessed foods, smoothies, raw foods, fasting, and occasionally vegetarianism.

Despite my interest and somewhat serious efforts, healthy living never seemed to work for me. Particularly in my first three years at Providence, my health grew steadily worse. I was at the point where no matter what I ate I would feel ill, so for the sake of managing school, I would often go whole days of classes eating little to nothing until evening.

At the same time, I was always exhausted, had almost daily migraines, and was overwhelmed in apathy. I began to care less about school, my greatest passions such as art, relationships with people, and even theology and Scripture. This was because when one’s body is not being fed proper nutrients, one’s mental health is drastically affected.

In summer 2012, I came home for a short visit and my mom was appalled by my appearance and health. She resisted my obstinacy and prejudice against doctors, and I found myself sitting in the dreaded doctor’s office later that week. After a lot of questions and blood testing, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Previous blood tests in high school had shown that my body was intolerant of soy and dairy, so I was frustrated to find gluten added to the list.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is incurable; every time I consume gluten, my intestinal lining attacks and destroys itself, making my body unable to absorb any nutrients from food. The only treatment for celiac is to completely cut off gluten from the diet. Untreated, the disease leads to severe malnutrition, which leads to many other illnesses.

Besides being the main ingredient in bread and cookies, gluten is found in many sauces (i.e. soy sauce, teriyaki sauce), most gravy, flavorings, soups (as a thickener), green naked juice (wheat grass), a lot of granola bars, cereal, and more. I was exasperated by this new list of restrictions.

As I struggled with my own health while studying nutrition over the years, simultaneously I struggled with the idea of dualism between the body and mind. Dualism teaches that the spiritual realm is superior to the material world. In extreme dualism, the physical is evil and the metaphysical is good. My own life seemed to support this idea because even as my mind thrived, my body was always a stumbling block, no matter how healthy I tried to be.

In anger, I would go to the extreme of not caring about my body (namely, by not eating), and in those times, I often felt better, sometimes I even felt a high by how much better I felt in contrast to my norm. Yet my struggle with food contradicted everything I was learning in Bible classes to be true about food. As mentioned earlier, Ecclesiastes particularly teaches that food is a source of nourishment and gift from God for enjoyment. Learning this was convicting but only added to my confusion. My first reaction after learning about my celiac disease was stronger feelings that my body was my enemy, at war with me, and dualism was true.

Yet, when the body is thriving in the way it was created, this dualistic idea is no longer adequate. The first few days of going gluten free, I felt like I had been freed. When you are sick for so long, you forget what it feels like to be well. Not to have a stomach ache or a migraine becomes a thing of the past, that you know exists but is no longer in your experiential memory.

The effects of going gluten free to my body and mind were immediate. My dualistic tendency was challenged as I could think again, when so long I had been living in a fog. The crippling feeling of dread and sickness that came along with eating lessened. Though it takes one to two years for the adult body with celiac to completely heal after the necessary dietary changes, the difference I felt already was well worth saying goodbye to all my favorite gluten containing foods.

I believe in eating well. I am interested in learning about food nutrition and what foods best feed the brain, the heart, your blood, and so on. If a diet is perfectly balanced (along with exercise and ideally, good sleeping patterns), the human body can intake all the necessary nutrients required for a strong immunity, healthy body, and therefore mind. Personally, as I continue to heal from the affects of celiac, studying nutrition for healing is interesting and I find, effective.

For that reason, I consulted the editor, Marissa Branson, on writing a health column for the Beggar Blade. I hope that my readers will continue following these articles as I share the new things I learn. My hope is to write on things that will be applicable to you as you manage the precarious balance between success in studies, and taking care of your body that God has graciously given.

3 John 1:2 states, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” This is only one example of many passages in Scripture that reveal to us that it is God’s will that the people he created thrive in the body and the mind, as distinct but united parts of the human being.


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