Going “gluten free” has recently become a trend, just as how going vegan or vegetarian has. Before I had conducted my own research, I had no idea what Gluten was exactly. To be honest, I just knew it had to do with grains and that was about it. But it goes a lot deeper than just grains. Gluten is a protein that can be found in wheat, rye and barley. A majority of the individuals who live a gluten free lifestyle do so because they are required to. What I mean when I say they are required to is that they have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity that can affect them more so than the rest of the population. This gluten intolerance/sensitivity is known as Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder, that causes damage to the smaller intestine by digesting gluten. Gluten damages the smaller intestine, not allowing our body to absorb the nutrients we are consuming daily.
Personally, I do not suffer from Celiac disease. However, I do believe I may have a small sensitivity to Gluten. I tend to be extremely bloated after consuming wheat. But I’m just self-diagnosing here (we all know how dangerous that can be). So when I made the decision to try going Gluten free, I did it for a couple reasons. The first being curiosity. I was curious as to how my body would react to the change, positively or negatively. Also, I’m always looking for ways to continue to better my relationship with food. In the past when I was deeply struggling with my eating disorder, my relationship with food was strained. I had foods that were off limits entirely, which generally led to binging and purging. Ideally, I wanted going gluten free to be the change I needed. I wanted to step away from the idea of a “diet” and more towards eating intuitively.
The following is a breakdown of how the first four weeks of living Gluten-Free were for anyone who is considering going gluten-free or is curious about what the benefits may be.
I thought going gluten free would be extremely hard. I’ve tried going without carbohydrates before and thought going gluten free would be similar as gluten is a protein found in grains. But I was extremely wrong. I found the transition to be extremely easy. Maybe because I was still eating the things I loved. I still consumed carbs (pasta, bread, etc) but gluten free versions. I didn’t feel deprived at all. However, my eating habits did change. My meals became more colorful (full of veggies, fruits, greens). Something that my Nutritionist Aunt used to always want for me as a child. Of course that was when eating enough vegetables and fruits was a daily struggle. My meals became smaller, but more frequent. As someone who still struggles time to time with her eating habits (due to my prior experience with an eating disorder), eating this often was extremely different for me. But my relationship with food began to change in a positive aspect. I looked forward to eating, even snacking. Two years ago I would’ve been consumed with fear and anxiety about how often I was eating.
At the end of the first week, I had lost 3 lbs. and was feeling great physically. No bloating, no stomachaches and I was eating all the time (score!).
This week was a little different than the first week. Mostly I think it was correlated with the fact that the first week I always had some sort of vegetable mix or salad prepped and ready to go in the fridge. This week, things went unplanned. I didn’t have the luxury of just going to the fridge when I needed to quickly eat something. I found myself eating less vegetables, fruits and greens. I still ate them, just not in such high quantity as week one.
Though my meals varied, I still felt incredible. My energy levels skyrocketed. My acne started clearing up (I also started a new medication, so that could def be the cause). I haven’t had a fast food craving. Granted, I did go to dinner with Coley (our editor) last Friday night where I did have a couple flour tortilla chips. Mostly because: balance. But also because I was curious as to how my body would react after almost two weeks without gluten. No huge reaction, just a little discomfort- something I hadn’t experienced since before week one.
Working out found it’s way back onto my priority list. Here’s some background information about fitness and myself: I used to be the girl who would go to the gym twice a day for at least an hour each trip just to do cardio. This, coupled with my eating disorder, destroyed any healthy relationship I had with working out. I was at my lowest weight of 128, but I was constantly tired. Since the end of my out patient treatment, I’ve dabbled on and off with the gym. Partly because I don’t think I was ready to look at the gym with a new set of eyes. Fast forward to the present, I have two gym memberships, and rarely go. Instead I’ve invested in some dumbbells, resistance bands and a stair-stepper so that I may work out at home. For the first time in a very long time, I feel strong and confident in my body.
I’m not a big drinker, so I hadn’t thought about alcohol as a part of going gluten free. It wasn’t until I was actually put into a situation with alcohol involved that I realized I had unconsciously eliminated most alcohol from my diet. Not a devastating loss. But still, I couldn’t enjoy a beer with Coley at a local Art Walk on Sunday. I hadn’t even realized that until she pointed it out to me! Though a lot of alcohol is not gluten free, there are some gluten free alcohol for those who cannot see completely eliminating alcohol from their diet.
For the most part, this week went just as well as the first two did. However, two experiences definitely outweighed the others.
I added alcohol back into my diet. Though a lot of alcohol contains gluten, I’ve found some that don’t have wheat or are considered to be gluten free because of how distilled they are. The alcohol that I’ve become comfortable with and find that most places have is Hendrick’s Gin. Like previously mentioned, most Gin is considered gluten free because of being distilled, but it doesn’t hurt to do your own research. At most restaurants or bars, it can be a bit more pricey, but I’d rather pay a bit more than deal with discomfort later. Because of my research, as well as the want of having balance in life, I was able to enjoy a Friday night out on the town with friends without having to be the one friend without a drink in her hand.
Though my Friday night had been great, Saturday was not what I was expecting. No, I’m not talking about a hangover. Saturday night I had to close at one of my jobs. Naturally I made sure I would eat before going into work. Instead of really making sure the meal I was consuming was gluten free, I simply assumed it was because it made up of things I normally eat that are gluten free. I had chicken, rice, and steam broccoli, made by my mom. Everything was so good, especially the rice. Carbs, I love ’em. So you can understand how I was extremely confused at the intense pain I was experiencing twenty minutes into my shift. I knew it wasn’t cramps from my expected period, because this felt different. I was in so much pain that when I tried to bend over to alleviate some discomfort, I couldn’t. I was experiencing shooting pain up my side and I felt like a balloon ready to pop.
As usual, I was cashiering for the night. Trying to not let this affect my attitude I worked through our current line before reaching for the phone. I quickly dialed my mom and asked if there was any wheat in our dinner. She checked the box of the rice medley she made and saw that it not only contained wheat but barley as well. It all made sense now. I had unknowingly ingested gluten, and caused this reaction. I was bloated, had incredible stomach pains and was sweating like I had a fever.
My manager saw me and immediately sent me to the restroom saying I didn’t look good. After, sitting in the break room for about 10 minutes and chugging a Sprite hoping that would help (As a child my mother always gave me sprite if my stomach hurt). Little by little I started to feel better. The discomfort I was feeling had been gas. This was my body’s reaction to have eaten just a small amount of gluten. I felt like a balloon that was slowly being deflated.
I’m not going to lie, I was sort of embarrassed. I had never experienced anything like that before. It really shocked me because this was by far the biggest reaction I’ve had since going gluten free. I’ve previously had small discomfort, but nothing compared to this. This experience is the one that really resonates with me. It showed me just how gluten can affect my body.
So for this week I’m going to focus on reviewing something that may be too TMI for some readers: my menstrual cycle. Yes, Aunt Flow. The week we all look forward to every month! So. Much. Fun. Normally, I suffer the week before my cycle and the week of with migraines, cramps to the point where I can’t even walk and one or two more painful than usual blemishes on my face. I wasn’t really expecting this part of my life to change too drastically just because of gluten, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. For the first time in months I have been migraine free. For anyone who suffers from migraines, you know the pain caused by these.
Unfortunately for me, medication is also harder for me than most. I’m allergic to aspirin, therefore I can’t take over the counter migraine medication. I have a special prescription that is aspirin free, but the major downside is that it impairs me completely. It completely knocks me out. All I do once I take the medication is wait in bed for it to kick in and sleep usually for 12+ hours and wake up without a migraine. This not only ruins whatever plans I had for the day, but also causes excess stress when trying to find a co-worker to cover my shift last minute because of a migraine.
I still had cramps, but by no means were they the same intensity of my normal cramps. Instead of intense cramps that have me doubling over, I’ve had what I would consider ‘normal cramps.’ Cramps that didn’t hinder me from my daily routine. A little discomfort throughout my cycle, but nothing some pain medication couldn’t solve. I’d gladly never consume gluten again if it meant never having such painful cramps every month, no joke.
Though I still received two more than painful blemishes on my face, they didn’t last as long as usual. Normally they appear the week before my cycle and last throughout my cycle until the last day. This time around, they appeared before as usual. But were only painful for about two days, and slowly disappeared on their own. Which was great, as I deal with Cystic Acne as well.
In summation, I’d like to believe that removing gluten has positively affected my life. Not only do I feel mentally better than ever, but physically I feel strong and empowered as well. For me, it’s eliminated the idea of a “diet” and replaced it with more of a “lifestyle change.” I don’t struggle with labeling with foods “off limits” anymore. Everything is great in moderation.
You really don’t miss out on life by going gluten-free, if anything, I’ve found I enjoy life a lot more.