"Are you just trying to lose weight?"
That's the first question I am consistently asked when I tell someone that I am choosing a gluten free lifestyle.
There are many public articles voicing suspicions around this condition. Many think it's a fad, or a weight loss tactic. For some, it is, but not for all. If you ARE considering excluding gluten from your diet for weight-loss purposes, let me tell you first-hand that you WILL lose weight. The foods that gluten is most prominent in are some of the very foods that can cause bloating, and fat gain (such as bread). However, if you are choosing to eliminate gluten from your diet, you must be sure to do this in a healthy and non-drastic manner.
Most people are unaware of what gluten is (and trust me, I had to do my fair share of research to figure it out as well). Gluten is actually a protein found in most wheats and grains. It is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. If you've ever cut into a fresh loaf of bread, it looks as if someone stretched the dough and put air pockets in it. That "stretch" that you see is caused by gluten.
What happens when people are gluten intolerant?
People who can't tolerate gluten are unable to digest this protein. It then signals the body's immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. This can be painful and cause side effects such as severe stomach pain, uneasiness of the stomach (nausea), and diarrhea/constipation.
I've dealt with these side effects for my ENTIRE life! In addition to the stomach pain, there can be even more advanced effects, such as: fatigue, hair loss, bloating, unexplainable weight gain or loss, head aches, brain fog, breakouts of the skin, etc.
All throughout my childhood, and into adolescence, I had dealt with severe stomach pains after every meal I ate, and a constant struggle with my digestive system. There was no rhyme or reason to the madness. As I hit high school, I began to lose large chunks of my hair. When I got out of a shower, I would consistently pull out monstrous wads of my hair (it truly frightened me). When my mom found my hair in the shower drain one day she insisted that we go to the doctor and get some tests run. We did, and they found nothing.
I then began to gain significant weight for no apparent reason. My face was swollen, my clothes were too small, and I always felt drowsy. Being the active and athletic high school student that I was, I truly wasn't feeling like myself.
This continued into my first years of college. Of course the idea of a healthy diet in college with all of my new friends was completely out of the picture, so my stomach pains were intensifying.
One day, as a junior in college, I was attempting to catch a quick cat nap before my next class. After a 15 minute snooze, my alarm had just gone off, signaling it was time for my next dreaded lecture. Of course, I hit the snooze button and attempted to fall back asleep. As I began to close my eyes again, I suddenly heard a woman on my TV that totally caught my attention. "I've gone on a journey of stomach pain, constant digestive issues, hair loss, and weight gain, and I finally know what's causing it," she said. I truly have no idea who this lady was, but she was like an angel on my TV, haha. She began to explain this journey she had been on, followed by her recent discovery of gluten and her intolerance to it (at this time, gluten was pretty unheard of. This was before every item at the grocery store was marked, GF). I was glued to the TV, as all of the things she had explained going through were what I had been facing for years. It had never crossed my mind that anything in my diet could be effecting me this intensely. This was a life changing moment. There was someone else in the world that was facing the SAME symptoms that I was, and they actually had an explanation for it!!
I began to do some research on this mysterious gluten substance. I researched the foods that it was present in, and made a grocery list to buy everything that I could actually eat. At first, this was extremely hard. This gluten free fad hadn't really hit the shelves yet, so I had to look at the ingredients on everything I bought at the grocery store! If I wanted to go out to eat, I had to get a salad (and let me tell you, that got old REAL quick lol). Restaurants didn't have gluten free options, like they do now, but I figured a salad was a pretty safe option.
I began to get good at knowing what I could and couldn't have. If the ingredients list any of the following, I knew I couldn't have it:
Wheat (of any kind)
Flour (unless it's a corn base)
Anything that is "breaded" or "fried" is an absolute no-no. Think about it this way-if there is ANY association with bread, stay away from it (and yes, that means Olive Garden breadsticks, donuts, cookies, cakes, that yummy Cheesecake Factory bread basket, etc.).
One thing you should never do, if trying to transition to a gluten free lifestyle, is deprive yourself.
Replace what you WERE eating with a gluten free substitute. There are so many option in the grocery stores and restaurants now that it's way easier to recognize what you can have.
Here are some foods that you CAN have and SHOULD have to make sure you're providing your body with the nutrients it needs.
Corn of any form (anything that has a corn base is okay to eat!)
Flour made from an alternative grain (bean, corn, coconut, etc.)
and MUCH more...
My diet became a priority to me, and it really wasn't that hard to cut my favorite foods out because all of my side-effects were disappearing.
After several months of a clean diet, I began noticing major changes in myself. My clothes were fitting, and some were even too big! I was getting compliments on my skin and that I had a glow about me. I suddenly had energy! There was no more hair in my shower drain. My stomach pains were no more, and digestion was no longer an issue.
EVERY single side-effect that I had faced was now gone.
I am a pretty small person to begin with, so when I gained the weight it kind of became my new normal. I honestly didn't even realize how much I had gained until I got back to the size I was meant to be. Don't get me wrong, I was never severely over-weight, but I was definitely carrying around some extra lbs. and bloat.
I've truly never felt better that I do without gluten in my life. Yes, I do occasionally indulge, and sometime it doesn't effect me, and other times it makes me feel sick. That risk isn't worth it to me, so I do my best to avoid it. I feel healthy, I feel strong, and I feel empowered knowing that I have control of my body.
This lifestyle is all about substitutes!
I've found some amazing recipes and resources that I am sharing below!
Gluten is my Bitch
Simply Gluten Free Blog
Against the Grain
I hope this post is helpful to any of you trying to transition into a gluten-free diet. I'd love to hear from YOU about your gluten free journey, or any comments/questions you may have!