It’s been a few weeks since I’ve fully committed to going gluten free in order to better support my body and heal my back pain (read more about that here), so I thought I’d share an update on how I’ve been doing. I’ve also got some tips for anyone who is interested in removing gluten from their diet, either permanently or as a self-experiment.
Overall, it’s been surprisingly easy for me to make this change. There were a few close calls where I forgot that I was eliminating gluten, like when I went to order lunch at work! We have a cafe in our building and when I go there I usually get a sandwich, so I was in a rush one day and didn’t think much about it until it was my turn to order – then I realized that I couldn’t get my usual order anymore! They mostly do wraps and sandwiches (I’m suspicious of their salad bar because it doesn’t look great) so I decided to get a wrap and just eat the filling without the tortilla. It wasn’t really a big deal, but I was proud of myself for sticking to my commitment and not using the fast pace of the day as an excuse.
Weight loss is on my peripheral right now, because I wanted to give myself a few weeks to focus on adjusting to gluten-free before I started changing my diet/habits even more. I have lost a few pounds just by default of eating differently though so that was a nice side effect. Because of my history of disordered eating, I have to be very careful in how I choose to lose weight. There’s a fine line between restriction and making healthy, sustainable changes, and I need to be very careful with that line. I’ve decided to wait until the new year for that part so that I can enjoy the holidays without any added stress on my part.
Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in following along with my weight loss journey and how I’m approaching it with respect to my eating disorder. For now… let’s talk about gluten!
What is gluten?
I guess we should start at the beginning. What even is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat (aka what most flours are made from), barley, and rye. It can be very difficult for people to digest, and can even have a negative impact on your digestive system over time by contributing to Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is when the lining in your intestines, which is meant to be a tight barrier, develops “holes” where food particles can “leak” through. When this happens, your immune system recognizes the food particles as “invaders” and goes on the defense. Over time, Leaky Gut Syndrome can lead to a variety of autoimmune diseases if it’s not corrected.
How do I know if I’m sensitive to gluten?
Being sensitive to gluten doesn’t just mean you get a stomach ache. Reactions can be anything; headaches, bloated feelings, gas, skin rashes, mental fogginess, or bouts of depression and anxiety can all be a symptom that you are not properly digesting gluten.
I have a history of disordered eating, and I feel the most in control of my wellness when I avoid eating gluten. I’ve learned through self-experimentation that it has a negative affect on my mental health; it’s easier for me to fall into depressions and bad moods when gluten is part of my diet. I didn’t notice this until I removed gluten from my diet, because that’s when I feel the most clear-headed and in control of my choices. Just like a kid who’s never been to Disney doesn’t fully understand what they’re missing out on, you don’t fully understand how gluten is affecting you until it’s removed from your diet.
How do I know if gluten is in my food?
How easy would it be if every single food product had “gluten” listed as an ingredient?? According to celiac.org, you can find gluten in the following common ingredients:
– Varieties and derivatives of wheat such as:wheatberries
– KAMUT® khorasan wheat
– einkorn wheat
– Malt in various forms including: malted barley flour, malted milk or milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring, malt vinegar
– Brewer’s Yeast
– Wheat Starch
How long do I have to avoid gluten to feel better?
This part can vary greatly, but a general rule of thumb is to start with 30 days and then incorporate it for one day to see how you feel. You may find that you feel so good without it that you don’t want to add it back at all, or you may be just fine with incorporating gluten-containing foods a few times a week without feeling negative symptoms.
Elimination diets are very much a “choose your own adventure” process – it’s ultimately up to you to determine if that food belongs in your life. However, if you already suffer from an autoimmune condition or are looking to reduce inflammation, then you will most likely want to avoid gluten indefinitely.
5 tips for going gluten free
Ok, now that we know what gluten is and why it may not belong in your diet, here are some tips that I’ve learned so far to make going gluten free relatively painless. Keep in mind, this recent change is not my first time avoiding gluten, it’s just my first time committing to it indefinitely.
- Clean out, and stock up your pantry.
- This one may feel obvious, but it is so much easier to make a dietary change if you’re prepared! Spend some time reviewing ingredient labels and get rid of the foods that are going to tempt you. If someone else in the house is still eating them, put those foods in a separate area (either a separate shelf or a different cabinet entirely) so that you don’t have to be confronted with them every day.
- Then go shopping! Find yourself some gluten free foods that you will be able to enjoy instead of your old staples. A few of my favorite gluten free items are Organic Brown Rice Pasta from Trader Joes, Canyon Bakehouse breads and bagels, Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 GF Baking Flour, and Simple Mills crackers and box mixes (they have awesome cake mixes and dairy free frostings!)
- Ask a friend for support.
- When I decided to go gluten free to help with my back, I told my husband to kindly remind me if he saw me going for something that had gluten because I knew I’d either forget or give up if I were the only one knowing I had made the change. And that sweet man took my words to heart because when he saw me taking a bite out of a coconut crusted shrimp he immediately yelled “GLUTEN” in a mild panic. The shrimp coating was gluten free, but it was nice of him to look out for me. 🙂 The moral of this story is to tell a friend, spouse, or family member that loves you enough to help you with your change. NOTE: Don’t choose someone who is going to try and derail you or make it about them. We all have that one family member that feels personally targeted whenever you try to improve yourself; don’t choose that person.
- Always pack a snack.
- Despite your best efforts, you’ll eventually find yourself in a position where it seems like everything around you is filled with gluten. Set yourself up for success by carrying snacks that you know you can enjoy and will keep you satiated for awhile. For me, that’s usually a form of jerky or meat stick. They’re shelf stable, easy to keep in my purse, and protein will keep hunger at bay much longer than sugary bars. My favorite brands are EPIC and Chomps – both of which are available at most grocery stores.
- Eat your meals at home whenever possible.
- It’s so much easier to control what’s in your food when you’re doing the cooking. Use this as an opportunity to treat yourself to a new cookbook, or find some gluten free recipes online that get you excited to be in the kitchen! There are a ton of resources online these days, so I’m sure you’ll even be able to find gluten free recipes to recreate your favorite dishes.
- When you do eat out, plan ahead.
- If you’re able to choose the restaurant, choose one that has gluten free options. I like using findmeglutenfree.com because it has an app (duh!) and lets you filter if you want chains or just local businesses.
- If the restaurant is already chosen, check out their website in advance. Many restaurants will have gluten free menus or allergen lists, even if they don’t have a special menu in the actual restaurant. I like to view menus ahead of time so that I have a few things in mind, and I know what questions to ask if necessary.
- Speaking of, don’t be afraid of asking questions! Your health is worthy of taking a few minutes to have a conversation, and if someone calls you picky or gives you grief, that’s their baggage to deal with, not yours. It’s more common than you may realize, and I’m sure the servers would much rather answer your questions and be helpful than potentially serve you a meal that you can’t or won’t eat. If they don’t know, they’ll ask the kitchen.
Interested in learning more about how to improve your health with nutrition, or want to work with me directly? Be sure to sign up for my email list to be the first one to know when I launch my nutritional therapy practice; you’ll also get an exclusive discount as a thank you for signing up early.