Gluten Free – by choice?

I do not have Celiac Disease. I won’t even go so far as to say I’m gluten intolerant. I personally know people who have tested negative for Celiac yet a gluten filled meal will send them running for the bathroom or leave them plagued by various symptoms. They might still indulge from time to time but they know the consequences. Thankfully, I have never experienced a reaction that extreme. For me, it’s more subtle and eating gluten free is a voluntary choice.

Last year’s birthday pancakes made from a gluten free mix.

The question of Celiac inevitably comes up, most often by inquiring friends or waitresses when I venture out. My response in the negative is usually followed by a somewhat quizzical look until I explain that I’ve had some health issues and I just feel better when I don’t eat gluten. I make a conscious effort to surround myself with people who respect my choices even if they may not fully understand them and I’ve been fortunate that my family and close friends have automatically fallen into that category.

I don’t make a big deal out of my dietary choices, in fact, my instinct is to stay as far under the radar as possible with things like that. I’ve never been one that likes to draw attention to myself and declining a piece of pizza is definitely attention grabbing. It’s something I’ve had to work on. You playing small does not help anyone. It prevents you from bringing awareness to areas that need it and potentially helping others who might be in the same boat as you.

I still get uncomfortable from time to time talking about my health issues and my food choices. Many people just don’t understand. Judgement has always been a fear for me but one I’ve made great strides towards overcoming and continue to work on. My blog has created a platform that has allowed me to be more honest and more authentic, with others and with myself.

I stopped eating gluten around April of 2017. Both the D.O. I was seeing at the time as well as my naturopath later on, encouraged it. I was experiencing a lot of nausea and stomach trouble and through my research had learned about gluten and at the minimum, the distress it can cause in your gut. Within days of completely eliminating gluten from my diet, my bloating decreased and my stomach issues improved significantly. Coincidence? Maybe. Worth steering clear of most things gluten? For me? Absolutely.

Before we go any further, let’s break it down…

What is gluten? Taken from the Celiac Disease Foundation, simply put, “Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat… Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.” Wheat, barley and rye are the three main gluten containing grains. Non-gluten containing grains include amaranth, buckwheat, rice (brown, white, wild), millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.

What foods contain gluten?  – Some common foods that typically contain gluten include pastas, breads, baked goods & desserts, cereals and sauces. Foods that you might not realize contain gluten but likely do include snack bars, chips, bouillon cubes, salad dressings, chili packets & other seasonings, soy sauce and more. Basically, if it’s pre-packaged, you need to check the ingredients. I was blown away with the amount of food stuff that contains gluten. Foods aren’t the only gluten containing items, many beauty products also contain gluten.

Is gluten bad for you? – I don’t think gluten is inherently bad. Our ancestors ate gluten containing grains for centuries but modern technology and farming techniques have ensured that the grains they ate were vastly different from the grains we eat today. This is a great article that goes more in depth.

Like with anything, too much of a good thing can turn bad. Unfortunately, gluten is now added to almost everything we eat and our bodies are on overload. Because gluten containing foods can be hard to digest, it’s often recommended that those with autoimmune conditions, especially conditions such as leaky gut, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohns, etc. remove gluten from their diet, at least temporarily.

Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity – There are a wide range of symptoms that can range from stomach issues, nausea, gas, bloating and vomiting to headaches, fatigue, brain fog and joint pain. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to do a quick Google search.

Some additional things to keep in mind:

– Eating gluten free has become so much easier. There are whole sections in the grocery store dedicated to gluten free food stuff, but don’t be fooled. Many gluten free products contain ingredient lists that are ridiculously long and very unhealthy. Aside from gluten free pastas, soy sauce and seasonings, and along with the occasional loaf of gluten free bread, I steer mostly clear of gluten free touting products. I aim for fresh, whole foods instead.

The best salad I’ve ever eaten – spring 2018, Washington DC. Who said gluten free or “healthy” for that matter has to taste bad?!

– Many people think eating out gluten free is difficult and it can be, at first. Once you learn a few tricks of the trade, eating out gluten free will be a breeze. Many restaurants now include gluten free sections or alternatives in their menu. I live in a pretty small town in north central Ohio where gluten free eating is not common. I have not been to a restaurant yet where I can not find something to eat. You might have to modify the menu a little bit (burger with no bun, salad without croutons, an entree with no sauce, etc.) but once you explain your situation, I’ve found most restaurants are very accommodating.

– An at home elimination diet (removing all gluten from your diet for, say, 2 weeks) is a cost effective first step and can be extremely insightful. If you think you may have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity or even Celiac disease and want additional resources and help, talk to you doctor. If they don’t listen, find someone that will.

– I want to add one last point. Aside from gluten, I’ve also removed almost all refined sugar but I think it’s important to emphasize that I don’t view the way I eat as a restrictive diet, I view it as a choice. While I choose to eat gluten free a majority of the time, I will indulge in the occasional gluten containing meal under special circumstances. This might be during a period of travel where an opportunity presents itself to try something that is not readily available back home (such as Maryland crab crakes!). Aside from those occasions, I prefer to eat without.

Those with severe gluten intolerance or Celiac have to eat gluten free. I don’t claim to fall into either of those categories. I eat gluten free most of the time because my body simply feels better without it. Everything in moderation. I enjoy myself and I enjoy my life. For me, as I’ve said before, it’s all about the balance.

More soon on the subject of “labeling” yourself and why that can be a slippery slope. It’s something I’m working to change in my own life and I look forward to sharing more thoughts on it soon. In the mean time, look out for a fun blog in 2 weeks with a gift idea that just might be the perfect fit for those special people on your holiday shopping list! 

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