Don’t ask how I did it. But I did. Had my first ever g-free Thanksgiving. Thanks are largely due to my mother, who agreed to make a portion of her famous stuffing with gluten-free croutons. I’ve been GF for months now, on and off at first, and now fairly steadily with few (and regrettable) exceptions, since end of summer. (Truth be told, I would have violated that rule for this special holiday, because passing on stuffing would have been sacrilege.)
For me, the shift to g-free living was prompted by ongoing and relentless digestive discomfort–and vanity. WHY did I have a pooched out belly at the end of every day? Why was I just that much puffier than I needed to be, given what I ate and my level of physical activity.
“It’s just part of my getting older,” comes the complacent refrain. NOT FOR ME. NOT NOW, I thought. I’m not going to just chalk it up and keep on bloating.
I had gone off gluten for weeks at a time before and felt noticeably thinner and lighter, but refused to believe that I had a gluten intolerance. I railed against the GF trend as being misguided (“Only 1% of the population has Celiac,” and “This is all a huge racket”).
But since then, I have interviewed a range of experts on the topic, including my friend and colleague Dr. Brooke Kalanick, a naturopathic physician, author, and founder of betterbydrbrooke.com, who routinely takes her patients off gluten to address a range of issues–not all of them digestion or even weight-related.
She told me this series of stats that stay stuck in my head:
About 30% of people have some kind of gluten intolerance. Of that crowd, 40% have digestive issues (bloating, constipation, diarrhea, do I really need to spell that out)–but 60% have non-digestive symptoms, such as foggy-headedness, anxiety, and depression. Meaning: The way you feel could be linked to this aspect of your diet–and you won’t know til you try coming off it a bit.
Integrative physician, advocate, and educator Mark Hyman, M.D., isn’t shy about damning gluten and its negative effects in his provocative post on HuffPo, “Gluten: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You”in which he cites recent research that points to gluten sensitivity and celiac as a key contributor to a range of very serious diseases, even death.
Can’t Argue With Results
I fully admit now that I was in denial. How do I know? Because you can’t argue with results. And since I’ve been off gluten (which, again, means off wheat, barley, and rye in all of its forms, namely pasta, bread, and beer, but also in all the many processed foods we eat every day), I have lost just shy of 10 pounds. The jeans I almost tossed now fit like a dream, and the shiny satiny pants I bought on my 30th bday that went unworn for years now slide on like it’s 2003. Boo-yah.
My friend Adelaide went off gluten for Lent last year–just because it presented an interesting challenge she wanted to take on. She had not had any previous digestive issues. But when she lost 20 lbs and her allergy-induced asthma all but cleared up, she was like, whoa hold up. And that was it.
(Check out the g-free scones that she made when I came to visit this past weekend, at right). They were light and buttery, perfect crumb, and you, my friend, would not have known the difference.)
Does this mean EVERYONE should go off gluten? I didn’t say that.
Nor do I mean to vilify whole grain products. I wish I could eat them. But nothing tastes as good as I feel when I skip the short-term wheat-induced high. If you have started connecting the dots and thinking, hmm, I wonder if it would work for me? Then why not try it? No test is as accurate as simply going off the food and seeing how you feel. (In fact, that’s the first thing any nutritionist is going to have you do.)
Cravings Can Change
I won’t lie–those first few days and weeks of passing on the bread dipped in oil at a restaurant felt…sad. Brunch was joyless. But as experts tell it, cravings are learned–and can be unlearned. I’m over it now and don’t wriggle around when the bread basket appears. And I may not do pancakes, but I do plenty of eggs and potatoes (and bacon). Plus, more and more restaurants are coming out with gluten-free menus–and there are ever-improving g-free products on the market.
Warning: You CAN, however, get addicted to how you feel without gluten. I know I am.
There are scads of articles online about the stuff, so I don’t need to go on about it here, but suffice it to say that I feel different. Simple as that. Sharper, lighter, more energized. Sexier. There. I said it. AND you don’t have to go without–Udi’s makes gluten-free bread that toasts up nicely, and there are tons of GF pastas.
(Check out this fab new online magazine Easy Eats for delicious ideas, whether you’re gfree or not.)
Giving up gluten may be the best decision you make, but it can’t be a decision you make for just one day–simply because you won’t get a real sense of what it does or doesn’t do for you in such a short span. Most experts say give it 2-3 weeks at least.
Perhaps going g-free will be the best decision you make all month–see what happens. Maybe you suffer no real change and run screaming back to pizza and pasta. Fantastic! Or you may make another discovery that you like even more.