Up till about a month ago, I was wolfing down my favourites like it was the end of all good food – Ban Mian, Gem biscuits and my personal sweetheart, Rotiboy – A uniquely Asian bread bun with a thick sweet coffee crust that makes your heart melt as much as your mouth.
That is, until I received this diagnosis, effectively making me one of the unhappiest people during meal-times: Celiac Disease, aka. Gluten intolerance.
Along with being the (self-professed and proud) metropolis of Southeast Asia, Singapore is also the gluten-metropolis of foods – Snacks included. What with tasteful mee, crispy sweet and sour pork bits rolled in flour, deliciously deep fried banana fritters, and a ton of other salivating gluten-filled goodness, growing up in Singapore and surrounded by gluten galore has been sinfully glorious (that’s a lot of Gs for one sentence).
Fattening too, but we’ll get to that in another post.
Then one typical mid-week mid-day, I started hurling chunks right after my usual Rotiboy breakfast. It struck me as highly unusual, given the last time I threw up was during The Great (and highly whined-about) Food Poisoning of 2016. I was either down with another bout, or pregnant – neither of which was an appealing thought.
2 hours, a friendly chat with an old lady in appalling Mandarin and a blood test later, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease which demonstrates the bullshit that is my immune system. In simpler terms, my body is severely allergic to gluten, wreaking shitstorm after shitstorm (pun intended) on my digestive system when ingested. Depending on the amount of gluten consumed, the severity of side effects vary – From mild stomach discomfort to Mount Vesuvius.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. How does this manifest in an semi-adult of twenty-something? Apparently, this genetic shit storm can sometimes hold itself back to give you a chance to survive puberty, only to body slam you a la Hulk Hogan style in your twenties. Life probably also realised that it hasn’t thrown you a curveball in a while, and decided it was time.
For a (very, very) fleeting moment, I was thrilled at the diagnosis. What better way to control your diet than having an overbearing auto-immune disease forcing you to eat better?
Over the next couple of months, I realised it wasn’t just a matter of eating better, but rather a total dietary overhaul. Mainly, because everything flour in my diet had to be replaced by gluten-free options. Also, if it hasn’t occured to you by now, I’m Asian. We eat many many flours. And soy sauce. We have flour in the form of noodles, bread, cake, sugary dough balls, and most importantly – Chinese New Year snacks. And moms here on this side of the world buy them in bulk.
It was a total lifestyle modification – Even the ability to use the typical white-girl catchphrase ‘Is this Gluten-Free?’ wasn’t a good-enough perk to distract from the inconveniences of what came next.
1. 2am Stomach Aches
It was the end of all good sleeps. Having a gluten allergy is not dissimilar (my first double negative!) from playing Russian roulette with your small intestine. There’s no pre-approval system when it comes to gluten allergies – You’ll only know if the foods you consumed earlier during the day gel with your body later on during the day. Sometimes, much later. It could well be 2am and you’re finally about to hit the hay after binge-watching Cable Girls (Season 3, we’re still waiting) when your stomach suddenly acts up and demands you pay the eerily silent toilet a visit.
(All good things come to an end)
Gosh, my Chinese-speaking colleagues will sure beam with pride at this point – I finally used a Chinese idiom. Bravo, Tish.
Forget your favourite dishes, midnight snacks and period cravings – It’s all over. Instead, say hello to a tidal wave of suffering – the hate-child born from the union of your Celiac Disease and unabating laziness (and thriftiness) to scout for gluten-free snacks at Cold Storage, the rich man’s FairPrice.
Don’t even think about Sheng Siong, you’ll never find anything gluten-free there.
3. Everybody’s a Doctor
Since being diagnosed with gluten intolerance, my salad-lunch frequency had been upped from twice a week to nearly five times a week. Additionally, I have traded in my morning oats, cereals and doughy delights for fruits. Horrible, mulchy, squishy fruits. Believe it or not, Singapore’s cuisine just wasn’t meant to cater to the 3.1 percent of the Singapore Celiac population.
While Simply Wrapps laughs to themselves at the outrageous markup I’ve been forking out for their salads, the other people around me have taken it upon themselves in playing Doctor, Doctor. Seeing me armed with the (now) usual fruit and salad, they usually turn to one of the default few:
“Ah! Healthy lunch I see!”
“Is someone trying to lose weight?”
“Did you know that having TOO MUCH salad is a bad thing?”
“You need carbs in you!”
“A growing girl of twenty-odd needs proper food, not salads!”
“I have never liked salads, they aren’t good for the body you know!”
“People who eat salads live longer, are YOU trying to live longer?”
As delightful as it is to hear everyone’s unsolicited opinion on my limited lunch options – or in a desperate attempt for small talk – I can only say that there are plenty of other subjects that I would be more than happy to chat about. These include:
Apple Versus Samsung – Why I will always be avid for Android
Contouring Horror Stories – The Worst (and most hilarious) I’ve encountered to date
Ready Player One – Why I believe the upcoming movie is bound to let me down
It’s about time someone made a movie of Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde
The Incredibles 2 – Why it took so infuriatingly long to make a sequel
Coke tastes exactly like Pepsi – Let’s debate
Basically, anything movies and I’m conversationally yours for a good 20 minutes. And if truly in despair, there is always the weather.
4. Playing a Dangerous Game of Tight Dresses
It’s not just tight dresses. Tight-fitting tops that accentuate the waist line have now become a very dangerous hit-or-miss, given that the wrong foods could bloat me up to the unrecognisable point of looking like I’m 4-months pregnant.
I shall refrain from posting such a delicate photo of myself looking pregnant here; shan’t give my Asian parents the heart attack they’ve been trying to avoid with red wine and their regular fish oils. But I shall post good reference here which I often use for motivation to get me through the tough times:
For those who don't already know, I have struggled with a complex case of IBS since I was 11 or 12 (I am now 33) I am currently having a flare up. First pic was last Thursday (58-59kg) and today (Monday) is my big belly which has grown daily since Thursday and I weigh 63.1kg. When I have a more serious flare up like this I get a huge amount of water retention. The pressure in my tummy makes me feel incontinent due to the pressure on my pelvic floor, I can't lift, my joints hurt etc so I just walk. So glam! You never know what goes on behind the scenes. I have spent most of the day today sulking to my husband and feeling feral. You learn to manage it and do what you can and know that eventually it will pass. Some of my flare ups last 2 days, some 8-12 weeks if i am unlucky. I have spent literally thousands of dollars on medical consults, functional medicine tests, behavioural therapists etc. No one or method really gave me much guidance. IBS is generally poorly managed. I got to the stage where I educated myself and managed my own condition as best I could as I gave up hope of finding someone to help me. In 2013, I found Professor Whorwell. At the time I was living in Sydney and flew to Manchester (UK) to visit him. I learned more in that one hour consult than I had in years prior as to why I was still unable to manage my IBS. Since then, following Professor Whorwell's guidance my IBS is SIGNIFICANTLY more manageable (not cured) and my quality of life in INFINITELY better. I remain under his care for the ongoing management of my condition. If you have IBS – look no further. You must read this book and implement (do the work!). (Continued in first comment)
Note: @AthleticFox (Rachel Guy) is actually pregnant now, so kindly refrain from assuming that all her current posts are bloat-related.
Being a Celiac is no joke. People (myself in 2014 included) usually dismiss the issue as a mere ‘dietary constraint’, comparing it to being allergic to shellfish or an inability to stomach veal. It’s all-around hard to find food, and you’re constantly seen as the picky one in the salad queue going: (cue white girl whine) “Is this Gluten-Free?”
The Singapore Celiac and Gluten Intolerance Support Group (did you think you’d ever see the day?) does some great work in providing information on places to find food and how to cope with Celiac disease. But until they discover an X-Men-like mutant cure for gluten-tolerance: