30 days ago I made a big decision. I decided, despite the snarkiness from all sorts of people who believe that the gluten free “craze” is a fad, to take the plunge – again – and ditch the grains from my diet. The reason? I went down the list of signs of gluten intolerance and, well, had a whole lot of them:
- Digestive pyrotechnics
- Serious fatigue and brain fog
- Chicken skin
- Migraines (mine go down the right side of the head, and require hours of rest to overcome)
- Achy joints
- Feeling like I had a sunburn without having been in the sun (usually attributed to fibromyalgia)
Basically, after a few weeks of eating like crap thanks to family members being in from out of town, and one big pot of beef barley vegetable soup that seems to have started the escalation (I didn’t know barley and rye contained gluten), I felt awful…just like I did before experimenting with the paleo diet five years ago. After that experience, I knew that there was a way to get relief and it was pretty strictly all about the food one eats.
The paleo diet is all about eliminating food that our cave-man like ancestors would not have eaten. That includes grains of all sorts. As a result, one of the many things eliminated on that diet is gluten, the glue-like substance that is in wheat, rye and barley that gives bread elasticity, and in people with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance coats the lining of the small intestine thus blocking nutritional absorption. The difference is the damage done. (Originally, I was going for the elimination of soy thinking that was the most likely culprit, but maybe not.) On the paleo diet, all of my symptoms listed above gradually disappeared. In addition, after my hormones reset, my hair got its curl back, my female functions returned to my teenage years, I lost weight, I felt like I was standing taller, I had energy. It was terrific.
One of the things you learn on the paleo diet, though, is the number of people who will roll their eyes when you make these claims. These are the sorts of people who do not understand why a member of an office staff will bring food to a catered lunch. (It did not go over well with the boss who insisted on buying me food I couldn’t eat.) The reality is that you just don’t know what is in catered food. At that point, about 2-3 years after my initial plunge, I really was not sure what the trigger was, but didn’t want to take any chances.
Fast forward to just after Easter this year, when the little cheats of eating grains from time to time had changed from being the exception to the rule, and all the old symptoms returned. No longer were my joints just swollen and sore the day after eating cheap Chinese – they were sore all the time. I was in a rotten mood, and speaking out of turn, which was not normal for me. The skin issues returned. I actually got a couple migraines, which had disappeared when I was eating paleo, or at least little to no grains. My hair was more or less straight. Estrogen dominance was starting to appear. I spent entirely too much time in the bathroom.
The return of the phantom sunburn was the last straw.
30 days ago, I announced to my family that I think gluten is the problem and went gluten free. Again. This time, though, thanks to three extended family parties where multiple relatives have done the same thing, I had support, and my own family accepted what I was doing without too much fuss.
Every blog post, and article you read on going gluten free says the same thing: do not go gluten free without consulting a physician and speaking to a registered nutritionist. The reason being is that gluten may not be the problem, and an elimination diet is the best way to figure out what the trigger is outside of blood tests (which are expensive and give a lot of false negatives). If a doctor suspects full blown Celiac Disease, they will order an intestinal biopsy as well. (For Celiacs this truly is a matter of life and death, I’m finding out, and does need to be done.)
In addition, in the American diet, products using refined grains tend to have a lot of nutrients like thiamine and niacin added in. These are nutrients actually found naturally in meats, which are discouraged, usually, due to fat and calorie contents. Taking supplements is not always the best route. (I actually knew someone who almost killed herself taking supplements without supervision.) Neither is just eating prepared gluten free foods. I took a chance in taking the plunge on my own, but after years of studying food, I wasn’t exactly afraid. I’d done this before, and at a visit to the doctor’s office my blood pressure had dropped ten points.
That being said, no diet like paleo or gluten free should be attempted without some serious research first. There are pitfalls to both, and the resources available online and in libraries everywhere pretty much outline them. A lot of times, I’ve found message boards to be a great resource. Since other people have done the same thing, and with a MASSIVE diet change there were bound to be disruptions. Usually, answers can be found if other people have had the same symptoms. Doctors also frequent a lot of the boards and will be up front about when a person needs to see a physician. (Most of us know when something is wrong enough. In that case, don’t hesitate.) Nutritional information on foods is readily available. All one needs is a computer and an internet connection.
After 30 days, the familiar standing tall of the paleo diet has returned. No more migraines and phantom sunburns. The GI issues FINALLY subsided between days 25 and 28. The extra weight is starting to come off. The moodiness is gone. The chicken skin will take a while as my body cleans itself from the inside out. Due to the weight loss, the estrogen dominance kicked up a little, but, hopefully will subside in the coming months. I actually have energy. I’m sleeping better.
I’ve also, for the most part, taken out sugar, and chocolate, and have cut back severely on alcohol. Any of these could have been contributing to the GI problems. I’ve added in homemade probiotic pickles in addition to plain whole milk yogurt. Fruits and veggies are my friends. (Still haven’t quite mastered the art of the Veggetti, though.)
Was gluten the issue? At this point, I don’t really care. I feel better, have energy, and my hair is getting the curl back. Something I was eating was causing the symptoms, and whatever that is is gone.
Now all I have to do is relearn how to bake…..
Cover image from the Huffington Post