Friday, 8 March 2013

Breaking Free From Gluten

The other night I wrote a memoir-sized post about my journey with food and weight, from small child to the present, and how its affected the decisions I make today about what I eat.
It was pretty interesting. You guys are missing out.
That's right, you're not going to read it. Why? On the internet there's this weird line that is so easy to cross, and on the other side is a gross, murky bog called TMI. I felt like that post was dipping its toe in, and that's a line I don't want to cross. It was probably therapeutic to write it all out though!

So this means you don't get to hear all about my dark and mysterious past ;)
You do however, get to read a less in-depth version on a topic that is becoming more common every day.


Growing up, I did not know what this was. I knew my friend K had Celiac disease, and that meant she couldn't eat bread, or most breakfast cereals, or...well pretty much anything. She always brought her own snacks when she knew she would be out during meal times, which were usually fruit bars, rice cakes, or sesame snaps. I felt sorry for her as I consumed delicious gluten-y "normal" foods.

Fast forward a number of years, and I was doing my culinary arts practicum at lodge in the boonies, staffed by hippies and world travelers, half of whom seemed to be "gluten free". Suddenly I was responsible to cook for these people. I needed to keep them safe from the dreaded protein that would make them sick, or even potentially kill a few of them. Talk about intimidating! Needless to say I double-checked every last ingredient   on every sauce, mix, or paste that went into my culinary creation of the day. I learned what was and was not inherently glutinous. I picked up tricks and tips on how to use gluten-free flours and thickeners.
There was only one incident that was a close call in the entire 4 months I worked there. Luckily we caught it before it did any damage to anyone, but I ended up in tears with my confidence badly shaken. As it turns out, wheat has crept its way into most  of today's food, and even drinks. Unless it is raw or unprocessed, it is likely to have wheat in it.

So, if you have Celiac disease, or a wheat/gluten allergy, it can be a bit tricky.
Sucks to be you, right? The rest of us are ok.

About a year ago I started reading a book that had recently been released and was being sold in the health food store where I was working. I was too cheap to buy it, so on my break I would wander over to the book section and read a chapter. (Heh heh heh...I know, so sneaky)

It was fascinating! It was written by a doctor who urged people to stop eating wheat. He wrote about the history of wheat, and how it has been genetically altered over the last 50 years to produce more wheat in a cheaper way (as a means of ending world hunger, btw). The proteins have been manipulated so much they no longer even resemble the original! Because this happened so quickly, there were no long-term tests on human health before it was released into the world marketplace. We can grow more wheat, at less expense? Why not?

Now suddenly (and by that, I mean in the last 50 or so years) North Americans are suffering from a wide range of health issues, and Celiac disease is becoming more common every year. 50 years ago, this wasn't a problem.

The author links the consumption of wheat to obesity, diabetes, and (the most shocking to me) mental health issues, among many other health problems. I am no expert, but this author actually is. He sees this stuff every day! And he sees the results of a wheat-free diet. And it can be quite drastic!

The book I am talking about is called Wheat Belly, by Dr William Davis and I highly recommend it.

Because I read the book over a long period of time (my breaks weren't very long, and I did have to eat my sandwich within the time frame) I was able to absorb the information slowly, which I think is the best strategy. If you read this all at once, it will be overwhelming and you won't have time to let it sink in.

It took me a while to change my mind about wheat. I was "that" person who declared  "I will never give up wheat! I love pizza and donuts too much!" But the more I read, the more sense it made. Besides, I was curious. I had remained the same not-fat-but-still-carrying-that-extra-chub for years, and no matter what I did, I couldn't seem to get the number on the scale to budge. So, in April of last year, I gave up wheat. Not all gluten, just wheat.

It is hard. But I had unconsciously been avoiding wheat while reading this book because suddenly in the face of all the destruction it could do, it didn't seem so appealing. When tempted, I thought about what wheat was  doing to my body, rather than how it tasted. It works pretty well. "Hmm, I really want that donut. But that donut will destroy my body, so I'm going to pass". ha.

Was the change drastic? No. However, I did notice considerably less bloat, I dropped a couple pounds (which I rapidly gained back during my its-too-hard-to-be-gluten-free-while-camping vacation) and I felt generally lighter. I was still eating bready products made with spelt or kamut.

Then, in Spetember of last year, I took the leap. I spoke to a naturopath about some health issues, and gluten was said to be one of the things that was doing me some damage. Or rather, it was blocking the good things from getting into me. So out it went. I packed it all up and sent it away (literally).

Within a couple weeks I was noticing my body changing. I am not a large person, so a little weight goes a looooong way on my shape, and I was happy to see about 10 lbs drop off without really trying (read: exercising. I hate exercising). Miraculously, it has stayed off. Now I just need to work on the exercising thing!

The thing that made this bearable was that it was by choice. Hypothetically, if I wanted to cheat, I could. I didn't, but knowing I could made it easier. Then December struck. Christmas baking! I decided to get into the Christmas spirit by eating some of my mom's delicious boeter koek. This was the first time white flour had passed my lips in 9 months!!
Within 5 minutes my guts were in knots. I curled up in the fetal position, ran a fever, and felt like dying all night. I could feel the "grip", for lack of a better word, for 3 days afterwards. It was brutal.
I can't prove that it was the wheat, but I'm not very willing to put it to the test. They do say that you need to be off wheat for a while, and then try it, to test for allergies. I have had traces of gluten since, so maybe its just wheat flour that I have a problem with? I'm not sure. I should probably get officially tested at some point.

The hardest things to give up have been pizza and Krispy Kreme donuts (I didn't have them often, but they were my favorites). However, I am getting used to the GF pizza crust (Boston Pizza has a decent one), and donuts are just one of those things that you dream about and you're better off without them.

So am I glad that I am gluten-free...yes. I know it is better for me, and I am healthier this way. However, if I was magically transported to Germany and that big mug of beer and giant pretzel were placed in front of me again...I can't guarantee I wouldn't run the risk of the dreaded wheat belly :)

Coming Up: My Tastebuds are Changing


kristieinbc said...

I'm happy to hear you are having success with your gluten-free lifestyle! The most surprising thing to me when I went gluten-free was the reaction from certain people. As in totally negative, never mind the very obvious benefits I had from staying away from wheat. Hopefully you haven't encountered the same problem. Interesting post!

Amy A. said...

Good for you, Jill. I, too, have gone gluten-free for good as I have tested positive for Celiac Disease. I dabbled in GF for a year or two before so it wasn't much of a stretch to go all the way. The only thing I find hard is not being to out. Everytime I eat out I react. I just don't trust anyone but myself to prepare my meals right now and that sucks. It also doesn't help that I've developed an allergy to corn, too. Anyways, I could blabber on but I will save that for when I see you this summer and we go GF camping, right??

Jill said...

@Kristie: Yes, actually I get that too! People are very defensive about their bready items, it seems. I was explaining to the nicest girl at school that I don't eat gluten,and she went all attack-mode on me! I get it...change is scary. Wheat is so deeply ingrained (forgive the pun) into the North American diet, challenging it's safety gets people very worked up. I also happen to think its a bit of an addiction, but I'll get to that when I do a post on sugar ;)

@Amy: Corn is another biggie! That sucks, but in the end its another one of those nasty GE foods that you're better off without anyway.
Eating out has definitely become more of a challenge. For me its a bit easier because I'm not actually Celiac, so I don't have severe symptoms with mild cross contamination. I usually end up getting salads, but many of those aren't guaranteed GF either.

netablogs said...

You neglected to mention that nobody else got sick from eating my Christmas baking, so it was definitely the gluten ;)

Love that hilarious pic, Jill!