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The Pancake Year
Written by Ruby Ratcliffe. Monday, January 9th, 2012
I’d always been the little chub at school, the one with the puppy fat, the one who was cuddly. To put it bluntly, when I was in primary school and Disney’s Lion King was released, and we played the characters on the playgroud… I was Pumba! Here’s Pumba if you aren’t aware (the pig, not the scrawny meercat!!) So, it’s safe to say, I was typecast!
Don’t get me wrong, I was a super-happy kid, had loads of friends and did lots of activities. I was always at dancing, netball, tennis, football, hockey, brownies, guides… anything going, i’d be there… so it wasn’t as if I was fat and lazy, I was just what my family referred to as ‘solid’!
So, I went through all of my childhood and up to the age of 18 without knowing there was any kind of problem! I remember suffering really bad tummy aches as a kid and constantly having this big pot belly, but this was just me, I was the one with the belly! No one ever thought to question it. Even when I went to the doctors for my asthma, one told me, AGED 15 that I needed to lose some weight (great… how impressionable do you think I was at that age? Correct, very!) Anyway, it was hard as I never had a bad diet – full of healthy food, we rarely ate take-out food and literally I can pin point the times I ever had a burger from the well know golden arched restaurant! So, we were at a bit of a loss.
When I moved out of home to begin my foundation course, I decided enough was enough. My stomach was actually hurting now! So, off I went to the doctors, to be put on a reduction diet and be given a bottle of Gaviscon (which made me gag so I had about 1 tsp and didn’t even contemplate the rest!). The reduction diet was brilliant and showed what was making my stomach bloat up… wheat, gluten, rice and white potatoes! And, the doctor was able to confirm that I had IBS! Relief! But… no help?! No prescriptions to help me know what to eat? Reading material… nope! Nothing… just cut out these things and see how it goes.
And so began the pancake year… Yes, this is exactly as it sounds! At this point I had no clue of what to do, i’d just moved away from home and the supermarkets weren’t exactly over-flowing with gluten free products. I didn’t know about blogs and online communities so I felt so alone in everything, plus, I was kind of embarassed to have to follow a ‘special diet’ as I didn’t know anyone else in a similar situation. So, I made what I knew – pancakes – using gluten free flour. I was too shy to take over the kitchen as I do now as I didn’t want to be in the way of everyone, the oven was so rubbish I didn’t dare to try baking anything, and, I didn’t want to live off salads as, as much as I knew that was healthy, I was a student dammit! I was going to enjoy myself. I had pancakes with cheese, pancakes with crabsticks, pancakes with syrup, jam, just margarine… anything really! But over that year, I gained my ‘Fresher Fifteen’… and some! I was seriously out of control as my body had gotten so used to the fatty, doughy ‘treat’ that all other food was boring and alien to me.
I moved back home at the end of my Foundation year and before starting University and my mum helped me to get everything back on track. We got me back to healthy food, salads and vegetables we important to me again, and I felt better, so I thought I was okay to re-introduce wheat and gluten again, and, it didn’t seem to be too bad…
Well, this time, thankfully it worked out! I was able to go ‘back to normal’ after four months on the reduction diet. And, the best thing was that I could enjoy my month long trip to India without too much trouble… or so I thought! Within a week of being there, I was bloating, hurting and this time the weight was just falling off me as I was unable to keep anything down. I spent the rest of the trip on a diet of plain bread, mashed potatoes and bananas (not great if you’re wanting to enjoy some of the most delicious food you’ve seen, but the only thing for me as I couldn’t figure out what was happening!) I returned home, and after a couple of weeks of fairly plain food, I was okay again, not brilliant, but I was able to keep food down and, I started running… this should have been a sign to me that exercise was important to my stress management, but, as it was the summer break, I wasn’t especially stressed and I had the start of University to look forward to, so everything was under control.
A year later and I got hit by Swine Flu, at the same time as this, I was on a work placement with a 2 hour commute there and another 2 back, I was moving out of my flat and generally the stress was piling up (I can feel myself panicking just writing this!). One week away with the family confimed everything for me, I had to cut out the wheat and gluten again. And this time for good. During the week away I was really careful, I ate wheat and gluten free products, lots of fruit and vegetables, cut out the rice and potatoes as I had done the year before, and within a few weeks my body was feeling good again. I went back to the doctor who confirmed all of what I had been worrying about and from this point on, I knew what was wrong.
It hasn’t been the easiest time for me, I’ve spent the best part of three years trying to understand what my body is telling me, and everyday I get a panic about what’s going on. But, I’m learning to control my stress through exercise and my body through diet and I am getting there bit by bit. I’m not going to lie and tell you everyone has been amazingly supportive – I’ve had people saying horrible stuff about my IBS, someone who constantly questioned me about my weight when I first got diagnosed, to the point of accusations, I’ve had to re-educate the whole family (no mean feat when I was explaining to my grandparents as they are meat and two veg and a shed load of potatoes people, so that’s been hard), not to mention having to adapt everything I know, but it’s really shown me who my real friends are, in a non-cliche way! I’m lucky I have a family who loves their food and are willing to sit through countless trials of my cooking, I have a boyfriend who has supported me through everything – from accompanying me to hospital, to listening to me moaning on about my tummy, to supporting my baking and being a massive help in the kitchen and I now have a whole new bunch of friends on Twitter and here who every day offer such fantastic support and encouragement to the point of me actually applying to competitions with my recipes! I cannot believe how far I’ve come with everything and how much of a future this has created for me. I hope that through my blog and twitter I am able to help even one person see that being intollerant or allergic to something is not the end of the road with food, it’s the start of a far more exciting and adventurous journey!
So… now I know that when ‘big things’ are happening and i’m likely to be stressed, I need to stock up on peppermint tea, charcoal tablets and weather it out… I’m ready for all the challenges i’ve set myself and that my wonderful twitter and blog followers have set me, and the ones my family and friends have set me too. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter in my wheat and gluten free life, as so far, it’s been amazing! And do I now hate pancakes after eating them so much? No way! I love them more… just maybe not every night?