The gluten dreams have returned. Last night in dreamland, I ate a Dunkin’ Donuts Boston Kreme donut, a buttery croissant, and half of a crusty, rustic boule slathered generously with Irish butter. It was glorious. Then I woke up.
Since giving up gluten about a year and a half ago, I have had startling specific, recurring dreams about eating forbidden foods — sometimes deliberately and defiantly, knowing they will make me sick, and sometimes mistakenly and to my regret. My sleeping brain, it seems, is still processing the dramatic change in my eating habits.
Our relationship to food is primal, tied into the core of our being. We need it for basic survival, of course. However, beyond survival alone, which foods we eat can be just as important. Food choices are tied into culture and self-identity. Dramatically changing the way we eat can feel like a traumatic change, particularly when the change is imposed upon us by necessity and not driven by inner desire. I’m Italian-American on my father’s side, and our family foods — deeply linked in my mind with comfort and safety, memories of my late father, and my family’s love — are heavy with gluten and dairy: meatballs, lasagna, myriad shapes of pasta, ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella, pizza, stromboli… the list goes on and on. Living this gluten-free, dairy-free life severs that nostalgic tie for me, cutting me off from the comfort foods of my childhood. No wonder I dream of gluten.
There are many new gluten-free products on the market which do approximate their wheat-based counterparts, but too often they are highly processed and overloaded with simple starches and sugars, which are also verboten on my anti-inflammatory diet. I’ve given up on bread entirely, gluten-containing or otherwise, and resort to gluten-free pasta only sparingly. So, it’s not just a matter of finding gluten-free replacements for wheat-based foods, but rather, adjusting to a diet that relies far less on refined grains altogether in favor of whole foods.
There is an up side to all of this dietary change. It has largely restored my health, for one thing. I feel better; I have less joint pain and more energy. And recently, I got some welcome confirmation from my doctor that I’m on the right track. My annual blood panel results showed that my c-reactive protein levels and inflammation markers have dropped down into the “normal” range for the first time since I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome. My rheumatologist is cautious about attributing this improvement solely to my diet… but he has also strongly encouraged me to stay gluten free.
These tangible, positive changes keep me focused on the now and keep me looking forward. Sure, I could keep looking backwards with regret, but how much healthier (emotionally and physically) it is to see the adventure before me. I have tried so many interesting new foods, with new flavors and textures. Some of my new favorites, which are both nourishing to my body and satisfying to my palate, include black bean noodles, brown rice mochi, chickpea flour, creamy cashew-based sauces whizzed up in the Vitamix, and this Coconut-Cardamom Millet Pudding.
I can’t stop my sleeping brain from dreaming of gluten, but my waking mind is resolutely turned towards nutritious whole grains like buckwheat groats, teff, and wild rice, and all the potential new ways I might prepare them.