What Celiac Disease Taught Me About Fitness
This post is written by Nima community member Marissa McCaw. Marissa is a health and fitness enthusiast who lives in Chicago, Illinois. She has been fighting celiac disease for about 10 years and is an active member of the Nima (and gluten-free) community. You can follow her on Instagram (@marissamccaw) or learn more about her in her Breaking Bread interview.
Hi. My name is Marissa. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease a few months after I ran my first marathon. I’m still amazed I trained and ran 26.2 miles on a gluten-filled diet. After my diagnosis, working out became very challenging. My body needed time to heal, lots of time. Running became discouraging, moving became discouraging.
Looking back, I realize how the marathon prepared me mentally for the disease of my life. I hit what they call ‘the wall’ at mile 20 and I wanted to give up. Giving up made the most sense in that moment. Everything hurt. No one was around. I couldn’t find my family, spectators were scarce, and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get to the finish line. In that moment of pushing through the pain, my life changed. Anything was possible!
Celiac disease hits your heart as much as your gut. When I was first diagnosed, things fell apart before they could come together. Changing my diet wasn’t enough. Plus, what was this diet? I had so many restrictions, the nutritionist at the time could barely help me. It was up to me to figure out this disease. I found out I had other food intolerances, a peanut allergy, Hashimoto’s disease, and obviously depression. Some days it felt like I was back in that marathon at mile 20. Some days it felt impossible to workout. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t give up. I pushed through my pain. I started working with a personal trainer. I started cleaning up my diet and I started really listening to my body. I could barely lift weights. I had never gone to the free weight section of the gym. I had never done squats or deadlifts.
I was uncomfortable. And the truth is, this gluten-free life can be uncomfortable.
But getting out of my comfort zone was also what got me into the best shape of my life. I began weight training twice a week. I started out slow, nothing happened over night. Week after week, I gained strength. I learned that weight training is important for building muscle mass, but it can also strengthen your immune system. I started making goals. I started focusing on the things that really bothered me, like my stomach. My gluten- free diet alone wasn’t making the years of bloating and distention go away. I had to specifically work on my abs and lower back. I had to educate myself on muscle groups and the way the human body works. I had to work on my endurance. I had to get up and go to the gym even when the fatigue felt unbearable. I had to eat simpler, cleaner, gluten-free foods while increasing my protein and water intake.
I slowly, but surely started figuring out what worked best for me in both my exercise routine and my diet. It took a while, and it was hard. I can’t say that my routines and specific diet will work perfectly for you – every person’s body is different. But here are a few things I’ve come to firmly believe in my journey…
I believe it’s important to move every single day.
Go for a walk – some days I just take my little yorkie for walk around our neighborhood. Join a gym, take a class, invest in a personal trainer to understand the importance of your workouts. Talk to them about what you are struggling with and what changes you want to make. I was lucky enough to find a trainer who wouldn’t tolerate excuses. He never let me believe I couldn’t accomplish a goal. He never gave up on me and I never gave up on myself.
Sign up for a 5k! Having goals keeps me motivated and excited! As long as I have a goal, I’ll keep pushing myself and reminding myself that this is all worth it. You are worth it.
Find a workout buddy.
Sometimes we need some support and someone to help us along the way. Someone who can relate to our gluten-free life. Who we can talk to about our challenges and more importantly our victories.
Fuel your body with simple, organic, healthy foods. Protein is everything. I’m currently obsessed with OWYN – “Only what you need” plant-based protein company, free on the top 8 allergens.
Find something you love and keep doing it! Not everyone loves running, but there are so many other ways to get your heart rate going and your endorphins flowing.
When gluten gets you down, get up and get moving! We do have added challenges to our lives, but all you have to do is start somewhere, anywhere. I’m here to help you out in anyway I can.