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Family Story: Peter Bronski, No Gluten, No Problem

The Active Gluten-Free Life

We’ve been a gluten-free household since a pivotal day in early 2007 when a doctor looked me in the eye and said, “Your problem is gluten.” For me, the de facto diagnosis with celiac disease means I’m on a strict gluten-free diet for life. My wife, Kelli, voluntarily went gluten-free, too, at least in the house. It was the most surefire way to avoid the chance I’d get sick from cross-contamination. Besides, we’re old-fashioned romantics that like to cook meals together and enjoy the same food.

The arrival of our daughter Marin in 2008 and then Charlotte in 2010 gave greater purpose to our gluten-free lifestyle. Marin had pretty severe early digestive issues. We suspected gluten could be the culprit, and when she and I got sick from the same meals at restaurants or friends’ houses, it only strengthened our suspicions. We preemptively kept Charlotte gluten-free since she was in the womb. At the age of two and a half, she’d never had so much as a lick of gluten.

Marin, Kelly and Charlotte Bronski
My wife Kelli with my daughters Marin (left)
and Charlotte

But our girls didn’t want for anything. From bagels to bread, pizza to fresh pasta, cakes to cookies, if you can make it with gluten, we can make a tasty gluten-free version from scratch at home. The girls fully embraced their gluten-free diet. Even at the tender ages of four and two, they’d confidently ask when visiting family, “Is that gluten-free?”

We’ve exposed them to relatively few store-bought, prepared gluten-free foods, in favor of primarily fresh, whole foods made at home. I’ll admit at least a small upwelling of pride when we ask Marin what snack she wants to bring to pre-school class when it’s her turn and she replies, “Hummus!”

Peter Bronski and Daughters
Me and my girls approaching the finish
of a recent ultramarathon

We’ve likewise exposed them to the active lifestyle that defined our marriage before I got very sick from 2005 to 2007, and the active lifestyle that has once again defined our life since I’ve regained my health on a gluten-free diet. I’m an ultramarathon-distance trail runner, and Kelli and I together love the outdoors—camping, hiking, rock and ice climbing, skiing, mountain biking. Our girls, thankfully, love the outdoors, too. They’re as familiar packing a backpack full of gluten-free snacks and portable lunches as they are helping us whisk up a batch of our gluten-free flour blend on the kitchen counter at home.

The latest evolution of our gluten-free journey, though, has perhaps been the most interesting and challenging for us as parents. Now that our girls are old enough to give us reliable verbal feedback about how they’re feeling, and as they approach school age when social situations and pressures will become more prevalent, we wanted to get some definitive (if possible) answers about whether or not they have active celiac disease.

The Bronski Family
Self-portrait of the whole family on a hike

And so we embarked on a deliberate gluten challenge earlier this year. For them and us, it was a tough mental shift. After so carefully avoiding gluten for years, we now had to focus on making sure our girls were eating enough gluten each day to get as reliable test results as we could. Despite how prevalent gluten is in the Standard American Diet, making sure Marin and Charlotte got their requisite “dose” each day was a surprising challenge when your household is gluten-free.

We expected the worst, but both girls seemed to handle the gluten well. Marin, who we suspected to be the more sensitive of the two, had seemingly no problems, including no diarrhea. Charlotte, who we thought had the “stronger” stomach, also did well but broke out in rashes over her body.

Then the test results came in. Both girls tested positive for the celiac genes, but negative for active celiac disease, at least for now. With their positive genetics and my active symptomology, they’re in a high-risk group. So, we watch and wait. We’re more relaxed with their diet outside the home, but we’re still a gluten-free household (remember, my problems remain unchanged!) and our active gluten-free lifestyle continues as robust as ever.

- Peter Bronski
No Gluten, No Problem

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