The Final Phase of Gluten Free: Beauty Products

I transitioned to gluten free eating almost seven years ago. It was a revelation! I suddenly had my life back. A year or two into my new diet, I vaguely remember someone asking me if my makeup is gluten free. In a panic, I googled by Burts Bees Pomegranate lip balm and discovered that I was safe, and that’s where my search ended. I figured if it wasn’t on my lips and I wasn’t getting rashes, I was probably fine.

As some of you may know, I’m getting married in August. A good friend of mine is a cosmetologist, and she’s agreed to do my makeup for the wedding. Always conscientious, she started our planning conversation by asking if I use gluten-free makeup. I said, “I’m not really worried about it,” but in the back of my mind I began to wonder. Now that I have a better understanding of exactly how sensitive I actually am, and how pervasive gluten is, I became curious about just how much gluten is in my daily regime. The sad news? A lot. It’s in my shampoo and conditioner, which is no big deal, except that I definitely touch my hair and my face during the day. But set that aside, because it’s possibly in my face cleanser. I say possibly because it’s not really clear if it is, or if it isn’t. And that’s just the beginning! When I actually listed out all of the products I use on a daily basis, I identified half a dozen products that make contact with my skin every day—and several of them either contain gluten, or may contain gluten.

I’ve been devoted to The Body Shop for years, so I did some research and found lists of their gluten-free and gluten-contaminated products. I was dismayed to discover that most of my favorite products weren’t on either list. Fortunately, when I contacted The Body Shop they responded quickly, and most of what I’ve been using is safe. I’m just grateful they know what’s in their products, because so many companies don’t have a clue. Honestly, I’m one of those celiac folks who accept some cross-contamination as a matter of course. I know that I don’t have the ability to remove all gluten from my environment no matter how hard I try. But if I’m using multiple products every day that contain gluten-based ingredients, I’m fairly certain that I’m ingesting a little bit along the way. I have some mild symptoms that I haven’t been able to eradicate, and now I’m suspicious that my face cleanser and eye cream are the cause of these nagging symptoms. (Vitamin E oil can be derived from wheat, just so you know!)

Eliminating gluten from my diet was a big step. Although the extent of the issue can feel overwhelming, I’ve made the decision that I need to care about my skin care and beauty products, too. It’s just too much risk and not enough reward. I’m a little sad to leave behind the face cleanser I’ve been using for years, but what’s the point of being so intentional about eating gluten free if I’m literally washing my face in it? A few small changes could have a big impact on my health, so it’s definitely worth it.

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The French Laundry

When I was diagnosed with celiac, my body was so run down that I was also diagnosed with sensitivities to dairy, sugar cane, garlic, blueberries, and eggs. Learning I would have to live without all of these foods for a year, on top of eliminating gluten permanently, left me at a loss. I called my mom, sobbing, and asked her in desperation, “What am I going to eat?” I wanted to be grateful that I finally had a way to feel better, but at 93 pounds I was so hungry.

At that point, learning to cook food that was healthy for me felt like a challenge, but eating out seemed all but impossible. What a journey that past six years have been! Two weeks ago my partner, Ben, and I got engaged. (Yay!) He said he wanted to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime occasion with another once-in-a-lifetime experience, and revealed that he had reservations for a celebratory dinner at The French Laundry. The French Laundry is a 3-star Michelin restaurant that was named “Best Restaurant in the World” twice (2003 & 2004.) It’s a seven-course meal, plus amuse-bouche and chocolates.

engaged!

engaged!

Here I was, celebrating a meaningful and wonderful life moment in a way I would never have imagined just a few years ago. It seemed like the French Laundry designed a menu just for me. For example, the amuse-bouche that evening was a salmon tartar served with a Gruyere pastry puff. Instead of the pastry, I was served a potato and black truffle dumpling.  It was rich and delicate at the same time, and a perfect accompaniment to the salmon. Course after course they brought out beautiful, delicious food. Sometimes the dish was a complete departure from the written menu, such as the beef I was served in lieu of squab.

garden at french laundry

garden at french laundry

I could try to describe each dish, (the fish I ate that night was the best thing I’ve ever tasted) but words will inevitably fail me. What I want to convey most of all is that a world-renowned chef, who loves and understands food to an incredible degree, fed me an unforgettable seven-course meal. There wasn’t a single bite where the alteration to my dish tasted like a sacrifice had been made. On top of that, Chef Thomas Keller had the confidence to design and prepare a menu of food I can eat, knowing that it would be up to his standard of perfection. I want to thank Ben, who knew how much it would mean to me to share this experience. And I want to thank The French Laundry for providing such a memorable celebration of our engagement.

map of the french laundry garden

map of the french laundry garden

I don’t have recipes to share in this post, but I can recommend the Topaz Late Harvest that was served with one of our dessert courses. It is available in 375 ml bottles (half-bottles), which is perfect for a dessert wine because a small glass is enough.

topaz

I promise more recipes to come in the week ahead. If you have a request for how I approach one of your favorite meals, let me know in the comments and I would be happy to blog about it!

My Body is Not My Enemy

One of the saddest aspects of living with a chronic illness was learning not to trust my body. When I would describe what I was going through to doctors, most listened only for symptoms, and my symptoms didn’t add up to a diagnosis. I could explain the things that would give me temporary relief, like scalding hot baths, and this seemed only to reinforce their belief that what was happening was psychological.

I didn’t really need doctors to disregard my experience; I was perfectly capable of turning my body into my enemy all on my own. The sicker I got, the more I resented having a body at all. It felt separate from me. More than separate—I felt divided into two. My body was sick, and “the rest of me” was trying to overcome the sickness to get better. I remember thinking that my body was keeping me from all the things I cared about—“it” made it necessary to quit my graduate program, “it” ruined dates with my then-boyfriend, “it” was vulnerable and weak, “it” was making me absolutely miserable. Even if stress was playing a part, I knew that what was happening to me had a physical, not emotional, root. That’s when I realized that in order to get better I was going to have to learn how to trust my body. My body and I are inseparable, and it was suffering, too. The pain was my body’s response to something, telling me to pay attention.

This shift in my perspective didn’t make me well, (after all, there truly was a physical cause of my illness) but it allowed me to notice small things that helped or hurt, even if I didn’t understand why. It gave me permission to rest more instead of resist the symptoms and deny what was happening. Listening to my body wasn’t going to heal me, but forgiving my body and accepting it as a lovable part of myself helped me see it as an ally. My body became my most reliable source for determining what was wrong and letting me know what it needed to heal.

The experience of illness and healing has indelibly changed my relationship with my physical self. I lived much of my life without a real awareness of how it felt to be in my body. I was aware of how my body looked, but I didn’t notice its strength, it’s limits, or its reactions to stress, exercise, and food. I didn’t feel gratitude for being able to breathe deeply, walk, swim, and eat chocolate. Now that I am well I live in a more embodied, more grateful way. My body is still my most reliable and trusted source for discerning what is good for me and what makes me sick. How I care for myself, physically and emotionally, largely impacts my enjoyment of life. This body is my only avenue for experiencing the world. So I listen to it, I trust it, and try to stay grateful for all of the amazing ways I get to live my life now that I’m healthy.