I Went Gluten Free For A Month And Gained Mad Respect
by founder, corinne foxx
As a spiritual person, lent had never really crossed my mind. For those of you who do not know, lent is a religious observance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday that is characterized by changing your lifestyle (normally giving something up) for 40 days. My boyfriend is Catholic and I like to support him and his religion whenever I can. So, I found myself choosing something to give up for 40 days. My grand idea: gluten. I thought to myself, “Well, I have been eating a lot of pasta and pizza lately. This will be good for me.” Plus, I had a stigma against all those LA-trendy people always avoiding random ingredients for the sake of their health. If they could do it, I could do it. Being gluten-free is trendy, right?
First thing I did was turn to Google: “What is gluten found in?” Well, let me tell you… apparently everything. We all know that gluten can be found in breads, pastas, beers and just about anything else yummy & not good for you. But, did you know that it is even found in soy sauce?! Yes, my gluten free diet was even taking sushi away from me. Not to mention, matzo, chicken broth and barley. This news definitely set a damper on my day. So where do I turn when I need love and support, but also a cart full of food?
Trader Joe’s is A+ for being gluten free friendly. Most of Trader Joe’s packaging will mention if the product is gluten free. For a newbie, this was very much appreciated - as I was still learning what I could and could not eat. The store also has a large variety of options for gluten free diets too. Hello, gluten free breads! To be honest, without Trader Joe’s, I do not think I would be able to survive my 40 days sans gluten.
I was stocked up and ready to begin my journey into trendy, healthy bliss. Well, my first few days without gluten had a few surprises in store for me. On my 2nd day without gluten, I was extremely fatigued. Not only fatigued, I began to have terrible, lingering headaches (I never get headaches). I thought I was coming down with the flu. At one point, I could barely even drive my car because I was so unwell. I headed to bed early on the following days and hoped it would go away. After a few days, the fatigue and headaches went away; but I decided to look up, “Gluten Withdrawal.” Sure enough, “Gluten Withdrawal” or “Wheat Withdrawal” were REAL THINGS. If you do not have celiac disease, a gluten free diet could throw you into a real spiral at first. I was literally addicted to gluten and going through intense withdrawl. It definitely gave me some perspective into how much my diet effects my body. I would’ve never guessed that my body was addicted to anything - let alone gluten.
Luckily, my withdrawal didn’t last for more than a few days.
From then on, my meals looked a little bit like this… My usual breakfast was: scrambled eggs and fruit. I also found out that Honey Nut Cheerios are gluten-free so they were my saving grace, when I was feeling lazy in the morning. Lunch became my hardest meal. At lunchtime, I am usually running errands or coming out of business meetings. The ideal is to grab something quick. But, no sandwiches. No salads with gluten-containing dressings. Most of the time, I was eating gluten free bars that I had stuffed in my purse. Lunchtime was actually a dreaded part of the day for me. It was so hard to find something quick and easy to eat. Dinner was completely manageable if I planned it out. I could make some protein (salmon or chicken), with brown rice and veggies.
I have left out an important part of my diet for those 40 days. MY SNACKS. As you could see, I was not eating much during the day at meal times. Therefore, to sustain the inner beast in me (aka my hunger), I became the snack queen. I have never consumed more potato chips in my life than I did during those 40 days. Since chips are gluten free most of the time, I would tell myself that it was completely appropriate to eat large quantities whenever they were available. It was a low point for me definitely.
When I was out to eat with friends, I became “that girl.” The girl that I had always judged for being gluten-free. I would ask the waiter for a separate menu or to substitute an item for another. I had to double check everything on my plate to be sure that I was in the clear. I realized that I shouldn’t have been judging “that girl”, I should have been empathizing with her. A gluten free diet is so restrictive and often eating out can be a pain in the butt.
When Day 40 rolled around, I was ready to celebrate. Easter was going to be a celebration for Jesus and a celebration for me. That first taste of warm, fresh garlic bread was pure bliss. I could have fainted in that moment. I had never appreciated bread more in my entire life.
If I learned anything during those 40 days, it’s that no one can be gluten free just for the trend. Celiac disease is extremely limiting and restrictive. I have so much respect and empathy for my friends that have to live with celiac disease now. I sincerely apologize for misjudging gluten-free diets as the “next trend”, instead of a symptom to a larger, more complex disease. I am now way more aware of what I put in my body. So today, I smile to myself when I see “gluten free” on a food label… I understand how much that can mean to someone.
Disclaimer: If you do not have celiac disease, gluten-free diets may not be right for you. If you want to lose weight or eat healthier, choose more whole grains and avoid sugary desserts - but do not remove gluten from your diet. Also - always talk to a dietitian/doctor before a massive diet change.