My battle with a gluten allergy
Written by: Natalie Yeo (Photos by: Zann Lee)
In secondary school, my daily habit would be to pack about three to four slices of Gardenia enriched white bread in a zip-lock bag, hide it under my desk, and pinch on them throughout the day. It may sound strange, but it was a simple treat that brought much comfort to me, especially when I was stuck at solving an Additional Mathematics question. I guess stress-eating began early for me…
But never did I ever think that there would come a day where I wouldn’t be able to eat bread. That’s not all: biscuits, pastry, bao (steamed buns), noodles (prawn mee, bak chor mee, wanton mee), pasta, waffles — these are the numerous food items I’ve had to reluctantly leave behind.
The starting point for my gluten allergy seemed innocuous: In 2011, I had discovered tiny blister-like bumps on my fingers which — over a span of few weeks — itched, dried up, and peeled off as dead skin. It soon developed into rash outbreaks on my neck and collar bones, which likewise itched, dried up like mini-scabs, and left obvious dark-toned scars on my skin.
When I told my mother about my condition, she shared that I could be allergic to wheat flour and gluten, because she had very similar symptoms and ever since had to drastically make changes to her diet. Taking her advice, as I began to purge wheat and gluten from my daily diet for a whole month, the itches and rash outbreaks did not return!
It has now been eight years of practising abstinence from a long list of my favourite food items. Even though this allergy cannot be compared to grave or terminal illnesses, it affected my life more than I had expected.
Watching my diet has become a thing, due to the restrictions, since wheat and gluten are just found in so many food products. Supermarket visits are no longer grab-and-go incidents, but protracted (and sometimes frustrating) time periods of studying food labels between the kaleidoscopic aisles and weighing the costs of purchasing an expensive gluten-free option. I remember feeling rather flabbergasted when I found out that something so ordinary like soy sauce contained wheat! The supermarket would shrink considerably if it had only sold gluten-free products!
Illness, allergies, and physical deterioration often creep up on us — unexpectedly like a rude, unwelcomed visitor. Safe to say it is akin to being in the wilderness where there seems to be no way out, and the only way is through. I have spent many years questioning God on why I have to live a life plagued by such an allergy, punctuated with moments wrestling for healing. Through this arduous process, I have come to realise that this condition is a portal through which He seeks to heal me both physically and spiritually.
I recall vividly in 2015, my faith in God for healing was broken, limp, and weak. I simply didn’t dare to believe that this allergy could be healed, and resigned to the defeated mentality of “bopian (it can’t be helped), what to do?”
However, God has been faithful in the healing journey. He has continually challenged my heart to trust Him and His leading, holding fast unto the finished work of the cross. Through tears of unbelief and travailing prayers of friends, I have become starkly aware of this truth: Our bodies are temporal “homes.” Whole and eternal, our future renewed bodies are the final destination.
It has been a journey of learning to say “no” countless of times to my flesh, which craves for food that I am unable to consume. And it took a long while before I could finally grasp of the spiritual reality that this limited, sickly body is merely temporal.
Carrie Underwood has captured the truth of the matter in her song Temporary Home:
“This is just a stop,
on the way to where I’m going,
I’m not afraid because I know
this is my temporary home.”
Every day — some days more than others — I grapple with Paul’s exhortation: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 NKJV). As I saw my body helplessly react to wheat and gluten, my heart easily grew helpless and discouraged because there was simply nothing I could do to make it stop or disappear.
Yet, as I chose to take heart by focusing instead on the renewal of my inner man, I became less bothered by my condition. I better grasped the fact that even though our bodies will perpetually deteriorate and perish as a consequence of sin, we can daily renew our minds by remembering and memorising truth of God’s word! My spirits are now not dampened when friends tease me about how many products and food items I can’t eat!
Although I am not yet fully healed, my heart has grown confident in who God says He is. He is still good, and He still is a healer.
If you are currently jostling with physical illness and allergies, trusting God for healing, I encourage you to meditate on 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NKJV): “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Oh, may our faith grow daily through this process of living in a sinful world, on our way into glorious eternity with our Father!
God is never negligent in this process of pain. His promise to never leave nor forsake you remains forever true — even in the darkest moments where breakthrough for healing seems impossible. The Holy Spirit is ever kind, patient, and forgiving towards us. We must learn to boldly bring our vulnerabilities and pain before Him so we can testify to His overwhelming goodness.
In my personal journey, as an act of mustard seed faith, I’ve never cut wheat and gluten entirely out of my diet. From time to time, I would take moderate portions of it so that my body doesn’t grow intolerant to it, and I would stop when the rash outbreaks occur. Through it all, my prayers and petitions to the Lord have continued to rise like incense, in which I would (sometimes awkwardly) place my hands upon my neck and collar bones to declare victory over this allergy.
I await the glorious day where I will sit at the table with the Lord — feasting in a wheat- and gluten-filled meal with Him — and look Him in the eyes to say, “God, I was gluten-free to Your glory.”