Before we start, no, this isn’t another rant about gluten and how bad it is for you, or why you should stop eating it.
But this one today, is close to my heart.
If you’ve been around a while, you may have noticed that I don’t label Simply Real Health as gluten free blog or business, or even call myself as a gluten free person.
Even though I am. I have been for more than 4 years, actually.
Until this point.
If I’m being completely and totally honest with you, I’ve wanted to keep my gluten-freeness sort of low-profile and in the “my-personal-life” box, and let the absence of it in my recipes speak for itself.
That there are so many other amazing , nutrient-dense real foods out there that are much better for all of us, even if we don’t have a sensitivity or allergy, on a daily level.
After all, I have built my entire business around the mission that real food is good food, and that trendy fads and diets can lead us down a scary path AND give us more negative relationships to our food.
Which I guess is the first problem I want to clarify.
That being gluten-free is not a fad. It’s real. And legitimate, if you’d done any research into the modern production and processing of grains in this country, especially wheat [see Wheat Belly and Grain Brain if you are curious about this topic].
And just because some people use it as a fad or way to lose weight, or marketing companies are capitalizing on it the way they did with the low-fat movement, doesn’t mean that it’s not serious and doesn’t have huge impacts on people’s quality of life.
The second problem with me being under the radar on this, when it’s changed my life completely?
It’s selfish of me not to tell my story, because it’s such a highly debated and emotional topic for people.
Because even if one of you lovely readers feels frustrated and stuck and blah in your own body right now, and you read this story (or your friend reads it and tells you about it), and it inspires you or encourages you to make some changes or do some more research, that is more than worth it for me.
I’m ready to let you all in. On why I stopped eating gluten, and why I’ll never go back.
4 years ago, I was in a stressful place. Not from the outside stressful, but a lot of inner turmoil that I almost couldn’t fully see at the time. You know how you look back and can see it so clearly? It was one of those times.
The job I was in wasn’t fulfilling or inspiring anymore. The relationship I was in, with a nice guy, ditto. A little of that soul connection missing, just like in my job.
My living situation at the time, was also a little stressful. Where was I going? What was I doing? What kind of person did I want to marry? You know, all of life’s big questions, all just floating around in my head- popping out to scare me often when I thought about it.
For the most part, I did a pretty good job of just powering through these things as they would arise. Or, so I told myself. Until I started to notice that I didn’t feel as great as usual. It was the end of the summer, and I just assumed that I’d been drinking too much wine/eating too much (organic full fat) ice cream as I mourned the encroaching Fall, as I always do.
I started to feel extra tired, like I wanted to sleep in most days. My hair started to break a little bit. I’d lose a lot of it in the shower. My skin was dull. My digestion was slowing. Energy, way slower than it use to be. I drank more coffee to keep up. I started to gain a few pounds and felt a little more puffy. So, I did what any “healthy” twenty-something year old did to get myself back on track: I did a cleanse, assuming all my problems would be cleared with a little reset.
Until I weighed myself at the end of the 7 days and I was up a pound. Within 3 weeks, I was up 7 pounds! Cue the freak out. Working out even harder and confused. Being really clean with my food. And still, I felt worse.
I went to the doctor. A naturopath first, who ran some blood tests said my thyroid was off. But not in the classic way. We tried the natural supplement route until my symptoms got worse, not better.
I went to my general practice doc. Another test. Hyperthyroidism, they called it. I was happy to have it called something so we could “fix” it and get on with it. On the heavy hitting medications I go. And there I stayed, for a year, while they drew my blood every month and upped and lowered my dose. Nothing moved.
I was up 10 pounds at that point- with an almost sleeping metabolism, with none of my clothes fitting, advising others how to lose weight and get healthier. Have that picture clear in your head?
It felt like I was living a lie. But with so much effort and stress and time trying to beat the odds and find the one thing that would get me back to normal again.
All the things stressful in my life, because more so, because when you don’t feel like yourself, you lose your confidence, your sass, your motivation and spunk. After my 12th blood draw, I started getting mad. Why wasn’t this working? People had hypothyroid all the time and the meds worked for them, even though they were lifers.
But more so disturbing for me- why did this happen to begin with? I was a healthy person. I cared. I made the effort. I ate good quality food. I worked out every day. I think I even counted calories for a short time, which is crazy if you know me.
Why was my body betraying me? What was wrong with it? Would I just have to be this way forever?
I went into my crazy mode, googling all night, for all the obscure “natural” books I could on thyroid. I got to the 12th page in and found some ah hem, non-mainstream articles (aka, very alternative).
Well, nothing else was working, so why not? I booked myself an urgent appointment with a very non mainstream doctor and kept reading. Until the night before my appointment, when I saw this. And I am no doctor, but this is what I remember from all of that time:
The thyroid molecule is very very similar to the gluten molecule. Your body can confuse them.
Of course, in my year at the doctor’s offices, I had been tested for celiac. And they came back negative. And for gluten sensitivity. Zero.
My hippie doc (lovingly called, of course), felt my elbows during the exam. They’re dry and have bumps on them, he said. I said- well yeah, aren’t everyone’s? He said, no. It is usually a sign your body is sensitive to something you’re eating. Dairy, maybe. But gluten, most likely.
I looked him right in the eye and said- really? Ok. I’ll do anything. Can I stop taking these dumb meds? Let me try it. He said ok, but to give it 3 months.
Easy, I thought. I barely eat gluten it anyways. Maybe once a week for a really good pizza or flakey little scone on the weekend. Or a healthy barley bowl, as I was trained from all my years as a vegetarian and vegan.
So, it turns out, I was totally wrong. I had no idea how much gluten I was eating until I had to look for it. And that it didn’t matter the amount- any amount would cause inflammation in my body, which would take at least a week to heal and start over.
Long story short. Within 3 weeks I noticed I didn’t feel like I still had my whole dinner left in my stomach when I got up in the morning.
I started to get a little more energy back. My hair fell out less. My digestion was starting to come back. I didn’t crave sugar as much, and the foods that I thought I couldn’t live without, became things I didn’t even think about, compared to the feeling of getting my normal self back.
Those last 5 pounds just kind of melted off, the same 5 pounds I’d been killing myself at the gym for, taking double classes.
3 months later, I was BACK. To my normal size, attitude, and even more convinced that our bodies are always giving us signs and messages.
That I personally feel so strongly that daily medications just cover up the real thing that’s happening. That stress can really affect you, even if you think you’re ignoring it. And that the food we eat is powerful and influences so much of our lives.
4 years later, my infrequent migraines even went away. I tell all of my clients that suffer from thyroid stuff or autoimmune stuff or migraines or have trouble with fertility, get labeled as having IBS or are just fatigued as a general state of being, my story.
And guess what? I still have amazing joys in my life, food wise, so don’t feel bad for me or lament about how you could never give up your bread. You could. Because there is still wine, cheese, chocolate, great desserts and so many growing options if you did want something gluten-free (like pizza) once in a while.
So, let’s be clear. I’m not saying going gluten-free is the end-all, be-all solution for everyone.
We are all different, and in all different phases of our lives.
It’s that our bodies change with stress, with years and over time. What worked for you a year ago, may not be working for you now.
And if you’re not feeling 95 % everyday, there’s probably something more foundational that might be off- be it sleep, or something in your food, or water or energy or something else. That operating on a lower grade most days of your life is not normal. Or encouraged.
And so, for me, what would have helped me in that beginning stage, were earlier signs I was out of tune with my body. Things I thought were just kind of normal. Things like this:
>> digestion problems
>> inflammation going on anywhere in your body (auto-immune, joints, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes)
>> fatigue most days
>> sugar cravings
>> bloated + puffy even though you eat healthy and work out
>> Stuffy nose/ allergies that won’t go away
>> dry skin/ eczema
>> fertility issues
>> getting sick often
>> brain fog
>> heavy reliance on caffeine to get you through the day
And so, I ask you this- how are you going to give to the people around you? To love people deeper, and to live fuller?
How are you going to make this world better if you’re always feeling so-so with any of those above things going on daily?
It could be as simple as identifying the one food that’s giving you problems, or it could be a little bit of a soulful journey to learn yourself better and be completely honest about how you feel, and if it could be better. And what that impact would be on the quality of your life.
Either way, life is going to happen and the time will pass by. So you might as well make it the best it can be.
Love this post? You’d love the cookbook then too. And be sure to check out the seasonal meal plans (or the new easy DINNER ONLY plan)! Wanna know more about this real-food lifestyle made simple I always talk about? Be sure to check out this little podcast workshop I created for you, called: Simply Real FOOD: Real food, finally explained. Check it out here!
Photos by Carina Skrobecki