I’m coming out of a two-day hangover. Over the weekend, I played a little too hard. Friday night, we ordered Indian food and I had a piece of naan. Saturday, I stopped by Half Acre to pick up a growler for a dinner party, and took three small tastes of three types of beer. Saturday night, Neil made pizza and I indulged. I also had a couple of slices of some kind of crusty white bread.
If left to my own devices, I would be a carbivore.
But I can’t be left to my own devices anymore, and here’s why: Around midnight Saturday, the sneezing started. It continued all day Sunday–complete with watery eyes and stuffed sinuses. Monday, it dredged on. All day, my eyes were sensitive to light. I sneezed so much my ribs were sore and it made my throat hurt. All because of wheat.
I actually don’t mind the reaction that much, anymore. Admittedly, the indulgence was worth it. It’s only been about a year since I pinpointed that bread, pizza, pasta and beer turn me into an allergic mess. Prior to that, I was sneezing all the time. I truly lost at least two days a month to non-stop sneezing. If you’ve only dealt with the occasional sneezing fit of three, five, maybe ten at a time, let me tell you, a sneeze day is worse than it sounds. You can’t do anything but sneeze and blow your nose. After about 15 years of that, I can’t count how many times I wished for a virus, rather than allergies, because at least you know an end is in sight.
I used to take allergy pills–Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, Benadryl and every generic out there–and, when one didn’t work, I’d take another. Two you can exist on. Three turns you into a zombie, and still doesn’t stop the sneezes. Then comes the hoarseness, the throat pain, the frustration and the exhaustion. You’re not sick-sick, so you don’t get much sympathy. But you’re also not healthy-healthy, and quickly learn that your sneezing is perceived as a germ liability and an irritant in social settings.
I’ve seen allergists over the years, been allergy tested. I’m allergic to a whole lot of things–grass, trees, pollen, cats, bunny rabbits, cockroaches, horses. If it lives, there’s a high possibility that it infringes on my sinuses. But when it came to food allergies, the tests all came back negative. Fifteen years ago, my allergist and I chalked it up to a raging case of hay fever. A hay fever that happened to go strong 12 months of the year. In any city. Any climate. All seasons. He prescribed Claritin and a steroid nasal spray. I now know why neither worked.
About a year ago, around the holidays, I gained the usual pumpkin pie/Christmas cookie weight and decided to give Weight Watchers a try. I learned the WW point system, quickly realizing the most obvious lesson: if you cut out bread and pasta–items with high points–you can make your points go further (i.e. eat more). So I cleaned out all temptations in the pantry and fridge, throwing away a few trash bags full of carbs: Wheat thins, generic wheat thins, water crackers, party crackers, wheat bread, English muffins, flour tortillas, Crispix, Chex, Raisin Bran, Chocolate Special K, angel hair pasta, spaghetti, whole wheat rotini, fettuccine, cavatelli, penne, etc. Did I mention how much I love bread and bread products?
I dropped a few pounds, which was nice. But what surprised me the most was the sneezing stopped. It took a while to realize it, and it didn’t fully hit until last February. That’s when I went to Polar Beer, a legendary (in my circle of friends) outdoor beer fest at Rock Bottom Brewery, and after a few drinks I became a sniveling mess. Huh, I thought. Huh.
Those huhs launched a year of self-testing, and consistent confirmation. When I eat or drink wheat, I sneeze. I’d like to say I went through the seven steps of grief on this, mourning the death of an old friend, but the reality is, I waver between step one–denial–and step seven–acceptance. On the days I’m in denial, I sneeze. Lately, I’ve been sneezing a lot.
I’ve watched friends and family look on with the same skepticism. I mean, I don’t have Celiac disease, I’m not gluten intolerant. Who sneezes from wheat? The fact that going gluten-free is actually trendy doesn’t exactly help dissolve that skepticism, but what can you do? I’ve even had my allergies tested again, hoping for some kind of medical confirmation, but my skin showed no sensitivity to wheat (nor did the skeptical doctor).
There’s a lot of debate these days on just how evil wheat is. Looking back, I can see that I’m more energetic, less groggy and, obviously, less sneezey when I abstain from the grain. But I’m not going to lie. If I hadn’t realized that wheat has a very real and very annoying impact on my health, I’d probably be buttering up a nice piece of fresh-baked bread right now.