Tag Archives: gluten-free

“How” I got pregnant . . . beyond the obvious.

I’m 17 weeks along in my pregnancy now. I had an OB appointment last week and everything is going great. Little Dude and I got to hear our baby girl’s heartbeat and I got some blood drawn. (Yes, I said baby girl!)

Since we announced our pregnancy, I’ve been asked a particular question over and over: “I thought you couldn’t have kids. What happened?” I’ve been answering this honestly and completely, because I just never know who could benefit from my experience. And since the question persists, I thought I’d share it here. It’s personal – more personal than most of my entries, but I feel that is important.

I started on birth control pills at the age of 16. I remained on them until I was 24, when my therapist said that they could contribute to depression. She recommended ditching them for a while to see if it helped, rather than simply prescribing me another medication. I did as she recommended. Two years came and went. I never saw any sign of a menstrual cycle. Nothing. Nada. During this time I also became fairly thin, diagnosed with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), but the lack of cycle preceded the EDNOS. I feel that’s important to note. And at that time, I did NOT exercise. (I know . . . right? If you know me now that’s hard to believe.) Many people tried to blame my weight and my exercise habits for my infertility. (That was incredibly unfair to blame me. It was hurtful every time I heard it. People said these things to me off the cuff, without knowing my history. I’ve heard these comments as recently as this past year. And I am no longer skinny – not even a little. I’m smack-dab in the middle of the normal range for my height and weight. I know plenty of women who are much thinner than men who successfully bear children, and athletes who do as well. And, by the way, at that time, I ate meat. All of the meat. Red and white.)

I tried to give blood one day at the local blood bank. Typically my iron had been borderline acceptable, but that day, after testing my iron, one of the women there rushed over to me. She said, “Honey, are you on your period?” I said no, I hadn’t had one in over two years. She asked me a couple of other questions. Then she said, “You need to get to a doctor right away. Your iron is very, very low and it’s not good.” She recommended seeing my GYN.

I called my GYN that day and scheduled an appointment. The blood work came back and confirmed what the tech said. My iron levels were super low. I was referred to a local hematology/oncology office for treatment. My doctor told me that there was only one immediate solution: IV iron therapy. For the next 6 weeks I spent 4 hours on my Friday afternoons with the chemo patients, hooked up to an IV. After that, I went on daily doses of iron and had frequent follow up appointments. The threat of more IV treatments was always on the table. I took my pills daily, ate my meat, and did what the good doctor told me.

It was a struggle to keep my iron even at the bottom limit of the acceptable range.

During this time, my iron levels were the top story. The lack of a cycle was on the back burner. The docs felt that balancing out the iron should fix the lack of a cycle. After a couple of years, though, it hadn’t. At 26 years old, no one could really give me an answer. But now I was with my new boyfriend (now he’s my husband) and we weren’t ready for a baby. The doctors couldn’t tell me I WOULDN’T get pregnant, despite my lack of a cycle, so they recommend the pill again.

I went back on that thing, and it forced my body to cycle regularly. By this point I had eliminated red meat. My iron crept up ever so slightly, but not enough to really mean anything. Shortly before we got married, I cut out meat altogether. My iron crept up again, but still not significantly.

In 2009 we decided we were ready to start trying for a family. I went off the pill in November and, you guessed it, nothing happened. Usually your GYN tells you to wait 6 months before calling them, but because of my history, they said to call if nothing happened after 3 months. I really don’t think they had any hope that anything miraculous would happen. And it didn’t.

By the spring of 2010 I was at lots of appointments with my GYN and an infertility specialist 80 miles from my home. They did a battery of bloodwork and xrays and diagnosed me with Hypoestrogenic Hypogonadism. If you have ever been diagnosed with IBS, you probably went through tons and tons of tests, with lots of negative results, and in the end were told you had IBS . . . pretty much because there was no other answer. That’s how I felt here. I read the definition of my diagnosis and really didn’t feel like it answered my questions. I don’t have any of the disorders that cause it. So if kind of felt like this was the diagnosis because nothing else fit. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I probably am; I don’t have any fancy letters after my name.

Then we adopted. Let me tell you again that the adoption had nothing to do with my biology.

During my husband’s final trip to Ethiopia, I decided to play around with my diet. I was, at this point, fully vegetarian. I was having lot of gastro-intestinal issues and wondered if a food sensitivity was to blame. I had already been tested for the common food allergies and had no positive results. I decided to follow the Thrive Diet for a few weeks. Thrive is fully vegan and corn, soy, peanut, wheat and refined-sugar free. Yes, it’s very limiting, but honestly there were plenty of tasty things to eat. I felt really good while on the diet, so I knew that something (or some things) that I had eliminated was causing me issues.

When S returned, I slowly started adding those common allergens back into my diet. Corn was no problem. Soy was fine. Refined sugar was okay in small amounts. Wheat and peanuts, though, gave me stomach issues. Cutting out peanut butter was tough, mentally, but in reality it was really very easy to do. I just substituted it with almond butter and called it a day. I can tolerate almonds and other nuts in small amounts, so this worked. But wheat was tricky. My reactions weren’t severe and I had tested negative for a wheat allergy, but there was definitely some sort of relationship between wheat and my problems. I decided to do my best to eliminate it from my diet.

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After a few months I was feeling better – a lot better. The craziest thing happened too: I had my first menstrual cycle in years (without medication). It was the most random thing, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Months went by without another one, but it made me wonder. I had been suffering from anemia and nasty, nasty bouts of fatigue for years. And the infertility. I wondered if there was a common link between them? So I did what anyone would do. I Googled it. And I returned an article showing a link between gluten intolerance and all of those symptoms.

Boom.

I was sold. I ran it by a doctor friend and she said to give it a shot. So I tightened up my diet and got serious about ridding my diet of gluten. I downloaded an app to track my cycle, and over the following 3 years, it became more and more regular. It was a slow process, but I could see progress. I started seeing my mom’s oncologist/hematologist, and ran this all by him. He was convinced gluten was the problem and encouraged me to continue down this path.

When my mom died I ate whatever was available . . . which, in the hospital, was often gluten filled crap. My cycle was off for the next couple of months, but I can’t say stress didn’t play into that a little. Last year I was very consistent in my diet, and even had 3 months in a row of 30ish day cycles. I was astonished. Those months were October (the month of my last 100), November and December. I found out I was 5 weeks pregnant in early January . . . you do the math.

So . . . the bottom line is that, for me, gluten seems to be the reason that I couldn’t get pregnant. If you would have told me this 5 or 6 years ago, I would have thought you were crazy. I didn’t understand the issues that gluten can cause people. I thought gluten was super tasty. But then I realized that it wasn’t for everyone. Sure – some people can eat bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, a plate of spaghetti for dinner and chocolate cake for dessert without an issue. But others cannot. Gluten intolerance manifests itself in many different ways for many different people. For me, the difference was life changing – no, life giving.

Edited to add: On a related note, my iron levels have been much better since giving up gluten and following a healthier vegan diet (by this I mean adding a greater variety of fresh veggies, beans and using predominantly cast-iron skillets for my cooking). I have not had any bouts of fatigue like I used to have either. Those bouts were awful. I would come home from work over my hour lunch and take a 45 minute nap just about every day. (I lived a mile from work.) If you know me, you know I HATE napping, but this was necessary for me to function. I had these bouts twice per year, just about every year, since I was a teenager. I had numerous blood tests done, and they always came out normal. The only downside to being a gluten-free vegan is it’s tricky to go out to restaurants!!

Delicious gluten free pancakes

It’s sad that so often we think that foods aren’t going to taste good, just because they are lacking “normal” ingredients. People often act like vegan food is going to be a disgusting pile of mush. Far from it! Vegan food can be amazingly flavorful and have wonderful texture, without eggs, dairy or meat products. Gluten free foods, though, are a little more hit and miss, in my opinion.

The prepackaged stuff I’ve tried is usually pretty good, but trying to recreate things from scratch hasn’t gone to well here in my househould. The good thing is that we do not need to be gluten free here. None of us have celiac or a wheat intolerance. I have noticed, however, that I feel way better if I limit the amount of gluten, specifically wheat, in my diet. For the most part, I just cut such foods out of my diet and didn’t bother with finding replacements. I don’t miss pasta, but at times, I do crave a good piece of toast.

I make lots of pancakes for Little Dude. I put all sorts of fruits and veggies in them and he chows down like there’s no tomorrow. It’s one of my ways of sneaking some extra nutrients into his diet.

I came across this recipe the other day and decided to give it a whirl. It was easy (requirement #1) and tasted good (requirement #2), and it even earned his seal of approval (bonus #1). He asked for seconds both mornings. Major score! Now . . . I will say this . . . they are great right off the griddle and reheat easily for convenience in the toaster (requirement #3), however they are a little on the dry side on those subsequent mornings. It’s nothing that a drizzle of maple syrup can’t fix, though.teff-flour

These pancakes are made with teff flour, rather than regular ole wheat flour. Teff is a teeny tiny grain from Ethiopia that is surprisingly packed with nutrients. It is used primarily for making injera, a type of sponge bread used to eat the various stew-like dishes in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  injera1

Teff is resilient, and can grow just about anywhere, in any conditions. It is the perfect crop for an area of the world that is not known for great weather. It is high in calcium and resistant starch, a type of fiber that aids in weight loss and blood sugar management. (For more information, check out this article.) It is also high in all of the B vitamins except for B12 (darn), and in protein.

Eating teff might not make you a superstar runner, but it’s a great addition to any diet – especially for someone on a gluten free or vegan diet.

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Teff Pancakes
(adapted from active.com)

1 flax egg (1 T flax meal mixed with 3 T water) or an egg,  if you swing that way
3/4 c almond, soy, rice milk (or milk of choice)
2 T canola oil (or melted butter)
1 c teff flour
1 1/2 T agave nectar
3 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
optional mix-ins: mini chocolate chips, blueberries, banana slices, etc

Mix flax meal with water for 1 minute. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes. (If using the egg, beat until fluffy.)

Mix together the almond milk, oil and agave nectar. Add in the flax egg. Add all of this to the teff, baking powder an salt until combined.

Heat a griddle or frying pan on medium heat and lightly coat with oil. (I highly recommend using a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.) Drop by large spoonfuls on the griddle. Flip when the top look likes it is starting to dry out, and some bubbles form. Be careful not to break them! Cook 3-4 minutes more.

Serve with some real maple syrup and top with some fruit!

Dinner for a hot summer day

Now I’m ready to post the recipe that got bumped yesterday when I decided I had to post about the hellish workout. It’s funny that I decide to post about a cold summer dinner, which is best enjoyed on a hot night, on one of the coolest summer mornings ever. Seriously, it was in the mid-50’s overnight. It was magical, except for the fact that I couldn’t get to sleep, and Little Dude couldn’t either. He slept with us, and then decided he was WIDE AWAKE early. What is it about kids that allows them to positively bound out of bed in the morning? I want that – whatever it is – bottled. Stat.

I ate a salad similar to this when we were driving home our mini-vacation the other week. I bought it at Trader Joe’s, and it was delish. My version was a little different, but still pretty good. You could add in tofu (or chicken, if you swing that way) for some extra protein. This dish is great for vegans and those avoiding gluten, as soba is made from buckwheat, which is naturally gluten free. This would be a terrific salad to take to a picnic too, since there are no eggs or dairy products in it to spoil!

Orange Soba Salad
Serves 4

1 1/2 oranges, juiced
1 T grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 T sesame oil
1 T soy sauce or tamari (for gluten free)
1/2 t salt
red pepper flakes or sriracha sauce (optional)
1/2 pack buckwheat Soba noodles
3/4 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shelled soybeans

Mix the orange juice, ginger, garlic, oil, soy sauce (or tamari), salt and red pepper/sriracha (if using) vigorously in a bowl. Set aside.
Boil the noodles per the package instructions. Rinse in cold water to cool.
Toss the noodles, carrots, soybeans and the dressing in a bowl. Serve immediately.

Grab your chopsticks and slurp away!
Grab your chopsticks and slurp away!

Zucchini Noodles and Guacamole Potato Salad

That title probably has some of my friends running for the hills. It sounds odd, quite frankly. (Though most of my friends would probably say, “Everything she posts is a little odd, so why is this different?”)Zucchini noodles? Guacamole and potato salad together? What is she thinking?

I’ll tell you what I’m thinking: I’m thinking yum. And I want more.

Our friends Bob and Melissa came in from DC to visit the other day. My husband invited them over for some food and drinks. I didn’t know what “food and drinks” meant to them, but to me it means a meal, not finger food. This girl eats.

I had three gold and green zucchini to use, plus a couple of pounds of potatoes and some avocados. I didn’t think I’d find anything that would work, but I was wrong. I found this recipe for Zucchini “Noodles” with Sesame-Peanut Sauce and this one for Creamy Avocado Potato Salad. I was 99% sure both recipes would turn out well since both bloggers are pretty darned good.

Let’s talk about the zucchini dish first. I don’t have a spiralizer (yet) so I used a neat little veggie peeler thingy my mother in law got me. It gave me long, skinny strands of (straight) noodles. I think my three zukes were more than a pound because the sauce didn’t quite go far enough. I made a second batch of the sauce and then felt happy. I used some sriracha sauce, and sat the bottle of it on the table so folks could add more if they wanted it (which all did). I was very pleasantly surprised with how well this dish went over. Melissa loved it, and fished every last zucchini noodle from the serving bowl. With hardly any calories per serving, it is a great summer dish.

I was very pleased with how the potato salad turned out. Basically this is a thinner version of guacamole (consistency-wise) mixed with boiled potatoes. For the win! It was delicious and filling. The only problem with it is that leftovers are visually unappealing since the avocado browns pretty fast. The solution is to force-feed your guests so there are no leftovers. I was unsuccessful in this endeavor, but we did a good job and only had a small amount leftover.

Both dishes are insanely quick and easy to prepare, but neither should be prepared much in advance. The zucchini weeps and leaves you with some excess water in your bowl, and the avocado gets brown. Aside from that, though, I think they are both summertime cookout picnic foods!

Lunch

I get stuck in severe lunch ruts. I will literally eat the same meal for lunch for weeks, even months, on end. I usually enjoy it so much that I will still be looking forward to it even after making it for countless days. Seriously. I went for months on end eating the same salad: baby greens, cannellini beans, toasted pecans, diced avocado, chopped dried figs and homemade dijon mustard dressing. I know that sounds weird, but it was so, so good. It got me through the day more than once.

Lately I’ve been trying to diversify my eating experience, unlike what I have done with my financial portfolio (mostly because I don’t have any financials to diversify). I know that I need to work on incorporating more variety into my diet to insure that I am getting the right balance of vitamins and nutrients. Blah, blah, blah. But it still needs to taste awesome. I want to finish my plate/bowl and say, “Man, that was so good. I wish there was more.” A tall order, for sure.

I am not trying to say that this dish is original or that it’s going to blow your mind. It isn’t and it won’t. But it is very tasty and very easy to make, so it’s worth mentioning.

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I know it doesn’t look fabulous, but I mostly blame my prehistoric phone for a low-quality photo. This dish is simple. It’s a bowl of baby spinach topped with 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup cooked black beans, 1/2 avocado (diced), and some chopped cilantro, all topped with a few heaping tablespoons of salsa and a drizzle of olive oil. The salsa is what really takes this up a notch. I am sure it would be fine with your run-of-the-mill red stuff, but I discovered this ridiculously delicious mango-hananero stuff at my local grocery store and am hooked. The mix of sweet and kick is awesome. It’s saucy enough to function as a dressing on this “salad”, keeping the calories lower. (I still like that drizzle of olive oil on this, though.)

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Like I said, this is easy. I make a cup (uncooked) of quinoa, which yields 4 servings of the cooked stuff. I cooked dried black beans overnight in my slow cooker, but you could use canned, of course. Other than that, it takes about 30 seconds to dice the avocado, another few seconds to tear up some cilantro, and 2.75 seconds to scoop out the salsa. Simple, easy, healthy and satisfying. Win, win, win and win.