In September 2011, I was tired. I was in my mid-30s. I had three children ages 6, 4, and 1.5. I owned a 1940s home my husband and I were remodeling, and I taught high school full-time. I would tell myself every night, “Of course, you are exhausted. Look at your life!”
When my employer offered an insurance premium holiday for participating in a comprehensive blood work health check, I signed up, excited to save a few hundred dollars on insurance premiums. A few days later, I received a call from the lab’s physician. My thyroid function was practically non-existent, and the doctor urged me to contact my family physician immediately. “You cannot ignore this,” she said as I hung up the phone.
A few months later, after months of adjusting my medication and checking my TSH, T3, and T4 levels, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. In this autoimmune disease, your body attacks your thyroid. It was a shock to hear, especially when my doctor told me I would be on medication for the rest of my life, and I should immediately go gluten-free due to a gluten intolerance revealed in my lab work. I had no idea what gluten was, and I quickly discovered it was in many of my favorite foods (and in a lot of foods I never dreamed would have this little wheat protein in them).
I tried to go gluten-free for quite a few months. I’m sure I felt a little better, but I didn’t care. It was so hard avoiding gluten. I liked gluten. I had tried every gluten-free replacement I could find. They were all terrible compared to their soft, flavorful, and chewy gluten-filled counterparts. I quickly gave up and figured I would eat what I wanted and take my medication to manage my condition. I just thought my medication alone would make me feel better.
It is now 2022, and I am again focusing on my health through food. I was once again tired all of the time. Not a little tired–I was T.I.R.E.D. But why? My kids are older now–mothers don’t have to physically parent teenagers like we have to physically parent babies and toddlers. I was no longer remodeling a house. Yet, in my mid-forties, I was once again feeling exhausted at the end of the workday. Sure, being a teacher in the age of a pandemic isn’t easy or relaxing, but plenty of other people I knew were doing it without crashing into their beds at 5:30 p.m. I have my blood work done regularly as Hashi’s patient, so I knew my levels were in check.
Then, one day not long ago, I was talking to my co-teacher, a woman who is two decades younger than me and gluten-free. I asked her why she was gluten-free. It caught my attention when she told me that she went to her doctor because she was so tired before her diagnosis. She revealed that, like me, she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. She also had a biopsy that showed she had Celiac Disease.
I started thinking about gluten again. That little voice I had been trying to ignore for the past decade was getting louder. I decided that I would finally try to control my health through food. I looked over at my Rise Garden one day. I saw it literally overflowing with fresh foods, and not just any food but superfoods like romaine lettuce, microgreens, spinach, swiss chard, herbs, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. It suddenly made sense that this hydroponic garden was the key to going gluten-free.
The next day was Sunday. I made a fresh chicken salad with celery, apples, and grapes and harvested some scallions from my table to throw into the salad. Monday morning, I walked over to my Rise Garden and plucked off five gorgeous Parris Island Cos Lettuce leaves to act as my wrap at lunch. I continued to do this almost every morning throughout the winter, using my garden’s bounty to fill my stomach. The excitement of picking fresh lettuce each morning makes me not mind that my chicken salad isn’t on bread or crackers. It's such a beautiful way to start my morning. The spiritual connection I feel to the food I am growing in my kitchen–using modern technology to harvest Mother Earth’s bounty–feels a little miraculous. It also tastes a lot better than any pre-made gluten-free substitution.
The best part of all–my energy has returned. The weather is getting nicer here in Ohio, and spring is here. I will have the energy to hike, even after a full day’s work! I’ve also lost some weight through substituting fresh, healthy and delicious foods for the gluten in my diet. This is a win-win all around!