Livin’ La Vida Gluten and Dairy Free

Try avoiding wheat and dairy for a few days, she said. It’ll be good for you, she said. She is the acupuncturist I went to seeking relief from back pain about 2 months ago. Besides acupuncture and “cupping” (look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s) she also advises on nutrition. After asking me what I typically ate, she noted that I consumed a lot of wheat and dairy. I had just discovered the bliss contained in full fat Greek Gods honey flavored dairy, was a dedicated cappuccino drinker and an avid pizzaiola, so not surprising. Wheat and dairy are associated with inflammation and may play a role in your back pain, she said.

Ok, I’ll bite. At this point I’m trying everything in phase one of treatment for lingering back pain before I move on to phase two which involves an injection of slow, long acting steroids into the back (Epidural Steroid Injection). I have nothing against modern medicine and am confident my pain management Dr. will do a good, safe job of it, but still….let’s just hold off a bit on the poking of the me with big needles, shall we?

Thus began the gluten-free, dairy-free lifestyle. It started with a period of adjustment wherein I realized several times after the fact that, d’oh! that has wheat in it. I talked to a few people and got a few pointers and started looking and thinking more closely about what I was eating. Found some stuff that didn’t taste so good and some stuff that was DEElicious (Outside the Breadbox chocolate chip cookies, for one).  Had a few cranky moments (ok, hours) when, working late, starving and with a few errands ahead of me, I couldn’t just drive through the Wendy’s and get a burger or grab a slice of pizza at the Costco.

Outside the Breadbox, a Colorado Springs company, is dedicated to gluten free baked goods and they have quite a few good substitutes like their Brown Rice Bread. Toasted, with peanut butter and jam, it is a wonder.  I have reacquainted myself with rice noodles and, luckily, my husband is a great cook and up for a challenge. We learned how to cook and love brown rice as a side dish or with a little almond mile and raisins, a good dessert. I’ve upped the servings of veggies and fruit.  This regime cuts out a lot of options and generally wipes out the dessert menu, which has an upside. I am fiercely triumphant when I point out that meat, potatoes and dark chocolate have neither wheat nor dairy.

There are tough moments though. Monday night is our Pasta and Prosciutto night tradition, and now I cannot participate easily. Either I fix something else entirely or substitute wheat free pasta. So far I have found only tolerable substitutes. Sometimes the home chef (aka spouse) finds it easier to pop a pizza in the oven and directs me to the freezer for some gluten-free boxed dinner. Sometimes I am signed up to provide grilled pizza at the company picnic even though I can’t eat any. I will have to learn to make a gluten free dough and find some good cheese-free toppings. Sometimes the place I am eating does not have very good options–a sandwich bar and a salad bar with cream-based dressings and a dessert table where everything has wheat, dairy or wheat AND dairy except the fresh fruit salad. Nothing against fresh fruit but I wanted a decadent dessert–the best I could do was add maraschino cherries and colored sprinkles from the ice cream bar.  The hardest test ever was when they brought freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and milk around in the first class cabin. I managed, but just barely.

I bought a couple of paperback gluten-free cookbooks but I have to eliminate all the options that call for dairy. I’ve begun amassing the gluten free flours and other baking aids like xanthan gum but I haven’t quite put it together to try. I DID make an almond flour orange cake recipe I found on the recipe after reading about the Starbucks gluten-free brouhaha. It was pretty tasty but came out a bit too moist and, like Starbucks, developed mold before we could finish it all.  More to come!

After one particularly disheartening set of meals on a business trip, I came home to find a phone message from my Dr’s office with my annual exam lab results. The nurse sounded VERY happy with my labs–all good stats, in normal range and mentioned a cholesterol level of 169. This was down from last year’s 224 so a very good, unexpected result. I have to assume it is related to the regime.

What have I learned so far:

  • I can turn down bread, pasta and other wheat products
  • I can turn down milk and other dairy products
  • Trying to do both gluten AND dairy-free is more than twice as hard as either one of those
  • Gluten-free substitutes for wheat products are quite expensive
  • Cooking gluten-free substitutes takes special flour, baking powder, etc and requires something new: Xanthan gum

Back to Back: Sleep Off

On twitter more, on Facebook some, I have lightly tracked the progress of my attempt to use mattress modification as a method of addressing persistent back pain. And why not? I’ve tried NSAIDs, adjustments, massages, physical therapy and acupuncture. All have helped some, none have proved the magic pill to save the day. Why not try a new mattress? After all I’ve hated my mattress since we bought it…it is too firm for me, just right for the loved one.

So I embarked on a quest to try out the Tempurpedic vs. the Sleep Number mattress systems AT THE SAME TIME. My sister-in-law swears by the Tempurpedic, the bionic woman swears by the Sleep Number. Pretty even odds there. My accupuncturist highly recommended the Bragada mattresses which are very like the Tempurpedic but do not have the 90 day in home trial. And Tempurpedic would have it that memory foam does not a tempurpedic make. So I rounded up the loved one and a hunting we did go. Found a Tempurpedic model we liked, found a Sleep Number we liked. Ordered the Sleep Number for our master bed on a 30 day trial, paid $59 for shipping, set it up ourselves. Ordered a Tempurpedic for our guest bed for a $90 day trial, delivery and installation free. Advantage Tempurpedic: longer trial, free delivery and setup.

I tweeted and facebooked about my sleep off  to amuse myself and friends and immediately was contacted by two tweeters from Sleep Comfort (company that sells Sleep Number beds) wishing me well. Later I tweeted that Sleep Number beds were on sale for this weekend and hey why couldn’t I benefit by that sale in the midst of my trial. I was immediately assured that I could simply call the number and they would price match.  Never heard a word about nuthin on Tempurpedic and they never go on sale. Advantage: Sleep Number on social media and sales incentives.

Initial impressions: First Tempurpedic sales guy was a jerk; wouldn’t buy ice from him in a desert; 2nd Tempurpedic sales person very mellow and accomodating; maybe too low key. First Sleep Number sales person, good; Second one: better yet, and impressive store gadgetry to show you the improvement in your pressure points is a sell to the geek in me. Setting up the Sleep Number mattress was an interesting exercise but it all came together as per the instructions.  Not sure I could ever get it back in the box if I needed to send it back. And I’d have to pay to send it back. Tempurpedic promised to pick it up for free. Tempurpedic mattress was much taller than I imagined but mattress covers and sheets these days cover a wide range of mattress sizes. Yes, oh yes, the Tempurpedic emitted odors for the first 3-5 days. But leaving the windows open as much as possible, that ended quickly. Advantage: Pretty close; but sales edge to Sleep Number.

But at the end of the day it’s about comfort on relief from back pain. While neither mattress has cured my back pain, they both provide some relief from the aches and pains associated with whatever is going on with my back. But my back seems to feel a touch worse waking up on Tempurpedic than on Sleep Number.  Advantage: Sleep Number

There are some other considerations, some more important than others. Cost is a factor. Both mattresses are way more expensive than any mattress we have ever owned.  I understand that some higher end traditional “spring-loaded” mattresses are approaching this price point as well, but I haven’t investigated. That said I wouldn’t consider spending this much if I didn’t feel it was worth it. In the models I chose, the Tempurpedic ends up, with my sales discount on the Sleep Number, being $700 more. Of course I could have chosen different models of either line and paid less, and generally I’m still getting used to the idea of spending this much but …Slight Advantage: Sleep Number

Family consensus: Fuggedabout it, this is MY back we’re talking about…oh wait..yes OK if the loved one really hated the mattress it could cause marital discord and we don’t want that. He prefers for the Sleep Number over the Tempurpedic over concern that the Tempurpedic would get too hot. Well his back is fine and tolerates a wide range of mattresses but he does sleep hotter than me. While I am shivering under meager thin sheets and blankets as the nights cool down, he is on top of all covers and still complaining about the heat. That said the young one has taken an inexplicable shine to the Tempurpedic even going much easier on my initial obnoxious salesperson than I did and isn’t pleased not to have a full vote. Yeah well, he’s 10, his back is young and pain-free and he isn’t footing this bill. Advantage: Sleep Number

The -net-net: We are sticking with the Sleep Number over the Tempurpedic. Why? Ability to adjust firmness on each side of bed, cost, sales experience and sales follow-up; slightly better improvement of back pain. That’s how it played out for me. For anyone else though…your mileage may vary. I know a number of people who swear by the Tempurpedic and if it works for you and it alleviates back pain better and you can afford the model you choose, then who am I to say otherwise. It was interesting to try both mattresses at the same time but I don’t know if anyone else would sign up for that.

Nonetheless: The Quest for Back Pain Relief Continues….