About three years ago, I eliminated gluten from my diet.
I had just given birth to my seventh child and was struggling to lose the weight I had gained during the pregnancy. Truth be told, I had struggled to lose the weight I had gained during every pregnancy.
Before having children, weight was never something I struggled with. I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I had exercised my entire life, so I thought that gave me a free pass to indulge. And since I never seemed to gain weight, it only served to solidify my belief.
After having children, I quickly learned that this lifestyle wasn’t going to work for me anymore. For the first time in my life, I struggled with my weight.
More than that, I struggled to feel like me. I was tired. My joints were achy. I had headaches all the time. I was moody. My tummy hurt most of the time.
I blamed all this on my current season of life at the time. I was a momma to lots of little people and was adding a new baby to the mix every 18-20 months. I was breastfeeding, changing diapers, giving baths, doing laundry, working full time as a professor, and trying to get Maple Tree off the ground.
I suppose that is enough to make anyone tired….but I also felt that the symptoms I was experiencing went deeper than that.
I hated the way I felt. It wasn’t how I pictured I would feel when I was a little girl imagining myself as a grown up. I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I always knew I wanted to work. But I never imagined I’d feel like….this.
I knew I had to make a change. So I tried everything – literally, everything – and no matter what I did, I couldn’t lose the weight. I couldn’t improve my energy. I still had aches and pains and headaches and belly aches. Every. Single. Day.
That was when a good friend suggested I eliminate gluten from my diet.
At first, I shrugged her suggestion off. It seemed like everyone I knew was giving up gluten, and I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon. I didn’t even really know what gluten was, and I was pretty sure that taking it out of my diet wouldn’t solve any of my problems.
She challenged me to try it out. “Just as an experiment”, she suggested. Give myself 30 days and see if it made a difference.
If it didn’t work, no problem. Just go back to my normal diet.
If it did work…well then that would just be great, wouldn’t it?!
Now I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I decided to give it a go….After I did some research on the topic first, of course. If nothing else, I’ll always be a researcher at heart 🙂
Here’s what I found out. Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in cereal grains, breads, and basically anything containing wheat, barley, and rye. It is what is responsible for giving dough its elastic texture, making it rise, and giving it that gooey chewy goodness that we all love.
In some people….not all… gluten can trigger an inflammatory response, producing a broad spectrum of gluten-related disorders.
One of these is an autoimmune disease called celiac, affecting around 1% of the population. Another is non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which affects around 10% of the population.
In those with celiac, gluten intake causes inflammation of the intestines and damage to the lining of the gut. Untreated celiac can lead to malabsorption, iron deficiency anemia, and osteoporosis.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is characterized by a host of symptoms, including:
- Abdominal cramping. Especially after eating things like bread, pasta, cakes, or cereal.
This is linked to the second symptom……
- Bloating. A belly that is swollen and tender. This is one of the most common signs of gluten sensitivity – affecting nearly 90% of people with gluten sensitivity!
- Dry, flaky, and red patches of skin is very common in individuals with both celiac and gluten sensitivity. This takes on several different forms, including dermatitis herpetiformis, chronic urticarial, and psoriasis.
(Side note: this one FLOORED me! I always had red patches on my upper arms that I HATED. However, after just a couple of months after removing gluten from my diet, they were gone!!! I had no idea that skin issue was related to my gluten intake!)
- Inability to focus and concentrate. Brain fog is a real thing! People have described being forgetful, having difficulty thinking, and having mental fatigue. I always called this “pregnancy fog” or “mom brain”. However, it is possible it was due to my gluten intake.
This symptom affects approximately 40% of gluten sensitive individuals, and is thought to be caused by a reaction to certain antibodies found in gluten.
- Mood changes… Particularly increases in depression and anxiety. This may be linked to lower levels of serotonin (i.e. the “happy hormone”), which is often found in lower levels in people with gluten sensitivity and celiac.
In addition, gluten exorphins, which are peptides formed during the digestion of certain gluten proteins, may interfere with the central nervous system and enhance the risk of depression.
Finally, changes in the gut microbiota caused by digestive problems with gluten is also linked to an increase in the risk of depression.
- Fatigue. This was my number one symptom! Apparently, I’m not alone… Feelings of fatigue affect approximately 82% of individuals with gluten sensitivity.
Research indicates that this fatigue may stem from the malabsorption of nutrients brought on by gluten sensitivity. In addition, iron-deficiency anemia (often the result of gluten sensitivity and celiac) can also cause tiredness and lack of energy.
- Headaches. People with gluten sensitivity are 10-12% more likely to suffer from migraines than the average population.
- Joint and Muscle Pain. This is believed to stem from inflammation, as well as an over-excitable nervous system. Therefore, gluten sensitive individuals may have a lower threshold to activate sensory neurons that cause pain in the muscles and joints.
- Weight loss. Also (as in my case), weight gain. I know. It’s confusing!! For some people, gluten damages the GI tract and causes diarrhea, malabsorption, and muscle wasting…leading to weight loss.
For others, gluten can cause the immune system to attack the muscles and joints. This leads to chronic pain and inflammation. Overtime, chronic inflammation causes degradation of these tissues, as well as muscle atrophy and arthritis. In order to manage this chronic damage, the body releases an anti-inflammatory hormone called cortisol. Excess cortisol leads to an increased visceral (i.e. abdominal) fat, and – you guessed it – weight gain!
In my experience, I had many of these symptoms and I didn’t even realize it! I had become so accustomed to the way I felt, that I just assumed it was a part of my normal life. I knew I didn’t like the way I felt, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it.
Within one week – actually, in just 6 days – of eliminating gluten from my diet a crazy thing happened. My bloating was gone. My tummy aches were gone. My headaches were gone. My fatigue was gone. My achy joints were gone. I started losing weight for the first time in nearly 12 years. And my mood? I was pleasant as pie!
Maybe you’ve experienced some of these symptoms as well. Who knows if gluten is the root cause of these issues. Perhaps if you tried eliminating gluten from your diet, it might help? Of course, talk with your doctor first – especially if you are currently undergoing treatment. However, don’t be afraid to give it a try – you might be glad you did!
Give yourself a week and see if it makes a difference.
Here is some guidance to help get you started:
|Eat this….||Not that….|
|Fruits and vegetables||Wheat (including the varieties of Durum, Einkorn, Emmer, Kamut, Spelt), milled wheat (usually in hot cereals), and semolina (the part of milled wheat used in pasta and couscous)
Beans, seeds, nuts in their natural, unprocessed form
|Bulgur, Barley, and Rye|
|Lean, non-processed meats, fish, and poultry||
Enriched flour with added vitamins and minerals, and self-rising flour (also called phosphate flour)
Oats (in some cases – read the label)
|Corn and cornmeal||Breads and cereals|
Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato)
|Hot dogs and processed meats|
Cakes, pies, cookies, and crackers