I declared the month of October my “test month” – an experimental season of life without gluten. During the last week of September, I limited my gluten intake significantly. Once October hit – complete removal. It took some time for me to adjust to the new way of thinking in the kitchen – strategically selecting recipes to be gluten-free friendly but still hearty enough for my hungry husband and picking up various pantry items that previously had no place in a gluten-friendly kitchen. I’m becoming savvier at deciphering food labels and more creative with how to adapt old favorites to fit this new structure.
For a girl who routinely ate cereal for breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and whose favorite comfort foods are fresh-baked bread, pizza, chicken pot pie, and homemade cookies/cakes, the thought of removing gluten from my diet was challenging. Depressing, really. Gluten-filled foods are some of my very favorite things. Giving them up seemed impossible.
It’s been about a week since I completely removed gluten from my diet. Well, at least I tried. There have been a couple of slip-ups – absent-mindedly ordering Orange Chicken at a restaurant (no more fried chicken!) and sneaking a piece of garlic toast (homemade spaghetti sauce requires it, right? I did remember the g-free pasta…). Overall, I’ve made it through without too much temptation. And I already feel a change. There’s been a noticeable boost in my energy level. I used to be so exhausted after work – it was all I could do to come home, make dinner, and tend to the household chores without collapsing into a heap. That’s starting to go away. I have more energy to exercise, run around with my puppy, and just live life.
How did I come to this decision? It wasn’t easy…and it took a long time. As many of you know, there is no test for gluten intolerance/allergy. You just have to give it a whirl and see if the change helps you. I read lots of research articles and consulted a few friends of mine who have lived without gluten for years. As I consulted lists of symptoms, I tried to play it off, saying that stress/anxiety could be causing these things, not sweet little gluten. More recently, I began to pay closer attention to what I ate and how I felt afterwards. Sure enough, after gluten-heavy meals (homemade pizza, pasta, etc.) I would just feel nauseous and awful. My stomach would puff instantly. My fingers and feet would swell. I had a hard time concentrating. I just felt plain lousy. Noticing the pattern is what led me to this experiment. I began acknowledging my body’s reaction to what I ate.
Perhaps I had just gotten used to feeling pretty awful most of the time. It had become my new normal. And let’s be honest, the thought of giving up many of my favorite foods was a huge hurdle for me. I resisted it as long as I could. But living life feeling exhausted and queasy most of the time is no good.
Why now? I’m not doing this because it’s trendy. I’m doing this because I want to take better care of my body. Taking care of myself will allow me to have the energy and well-being to pour into others, to be a better wife and a better friend.
In a way, this little experiment has been liberating. For so long, I figured that my health issues were due to the various stressors in our life, and that once other external circumstances became more favorable and less anxiety-ridden, I’d feel better. Ha.
I’m going to follow through with my goal to live life without gluten for the rest of the month. I’m still coming to terms with what a gluten-free lifestyle means and trying to find ways to adapt my cooking and baking habits to accommodate this change. It won’t be easy, but if it means that I am in better health, it is more than worth it.
Gluten-free aficionados: I’d love to hear your recommendations for resources, recipes, and grocery shopping. I’m a gluten-free newbie and would appreciate your wisdom and experience.