Hi, welcome to Zest and Lemons! I’m Lauren. I love finding ways to be creative in the kitchen, and enjoy sharing my food with friends and family. I spend much of my free time taking pictures, writing, and eating (of course)!
Oh, and I have Celiac Disease: an autoimmune disease where the body sees gluten as a toxin. I’ve been gluten free since October 2016, and am on my way to a full recovery.
Being a former college swimmer, I love to eat. I was always known as one of the best cooks on the team – people would stop by just to smell what was going on in our apartment. I’ve always cooked fresh for myself, but realized I needed to have a plan set up for when I graduated….As our senior year started winding down, I realized I was still eating “portions for three” all to myself (I needed the extra calories… don’t ever try to deprive a hungry swimmer from food). I knew that once I was done swimming, my body wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t change my diet. It took a few months after ending my swimming career to learn to eat normal portion sizes. My mind kept telling me to eat more, but my stomach said no way! So I got back in the pool three times a week, cross-trained every other day of the week, and organized a better meal plan for myself. It was all going extremely well.
Fast forward a few years, when my life turned upside down and I started suffering from a mystery illness. Among many other things, I was having frequent headaches, shortness of breath, constant pre syncope, and started having nerve problems in my legs. After months of living in a nightmare with countless other symptoms (read my full story below), I finally got a diagnosis. I have Celiac Disease.
This is my road to recovery. I started this blog as my way of sharing my love for food and cooking with others. But most importantly, it’s a way for me to document my transition to cooking gluten free (not to mention maybe my family members will get some new ideas for our next holiday dinner…hint hint). This blog is my journey through food – my way of finding a little zest and excitement in a life filled with lemons : )
I’ve been an athlete for most of my life, and started swimming at the age of 7. I’ve always loved the dedication and motivation I needed to continue to succeed in swimming; I was just that type of person. Eventually, I was privileged enough to continue swimming through college. A few years after graduating, I had everything I had finally looked for in my life. In April 2016, everything changed.
It all started one Spring night when I randomly blacked out. I remember opening my eyes and leaning against the wall, with my head and ears buzzing. I assumed whatever it was, it would just pass. Needless to say, next 6 months were a living nightmare. I had a constant feeling of being faint, as if I was always going to pass out. I was lightheaded and dizzy, and the feeling never seemed to go away. Every week, something different would come about. I was exhausted all the time, and even sleeping 10 hours a night plus a nap couldn’t keep me awake. I had massive headaches, was exercise intolerant and had trouble breathing, and my chest was always tight. I couldn’t go anywhere or walk around without this feeling of pre-syncope.
As the summer months continued on, I noticed I was extremely heat intolerant. I’d sweat every minute, and couldn’t find my balance when I walked around. My legs would tingle and my feet would fall asleep. My right leg would give out on me, forcing me to stop in my tracks and sit down. I had bruises all over my arms and legs, my hair was falling out (in clumps), and I just looked like I was sick. My vision worsened, getting blurry and harder to focus at times – especially at night. Walking, driving, and even standing became intolerable. I truly felt like I was dying of something.
After countless doctor appointments, nothing could be concluded. I had iron deficiency anemia as well as some orthostatic hypotension, but nothing that seemed too “off the charts” to concern them. My doctors dismissed any concerns, but my iron levels still bothered me. I was taking supplements, eating iron-rich foods, and nothing happened….it’s like my body refused to absorb it. Eventually, they had concluded that I had anxiety and it was all in my head.
I had gone through 6 months of this living nightmare, practically bedridden and refusing to go on with daily life. That was 6 months of doctors telling me I was having panic attacks and should medicate for anxiety. Eventually, after just 3 days at Mayo Clinic, they figured it out. A simple blood test revealed a (very) positive result for Celiac disease, and one week later a scope and biopsy of my small intestines revealed the extensive damage. I didn’t have many stomach symptoms, or at least none to raise concern. I didn’t understand how having Celiac Disease could cause every system in my body to go haywire. However, I realized through a lot of research that I wasn’t alone with the symptoms I was having. I found that more than two thirds of people with this condition are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, and all for that reason – no one seems to have the exact same symptoms, and the list of potential symptoms is extensive. I could have had this for a long time without knowing, but I feel lucky that it only took 6 months of me being very ill to figure out the cause.
I knew it would be a long road to recovery for me with my symptoms, but I was ready for it. I loved to cook in college, and loved to eat – let’s just say that “Michael Phelps 12,000 calorie swimmer diet” isn’t a joke….I’m thankful I got to eat what I wanted in college! I had always wanted to start a food blog, and had actually started getting one ready just before my diagnosis. So I re-did my recipes and started cooking gluten free. Creating recipes and learning to bake from scratch was my way of coping with my new diet and figuring out what I could eat. It only took a few months for me to start noticing a difference with how I felt, and decided it was time for me to turn my blog into a reality. It would be a way to keep my friends and family in tune with my recovery, and help them to choose “me-friendly” recipes for our next holiday gathering. Most of all, it would be a way for me to continue to have something positive to look forward to on my road to recovery. And so, my gluten free blog became a reality.