Food. The dictionary defines food as: “any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.”
So food is simply for nourishment, energy and growth right? Well, it should be. Yes, food can be pleasurable, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when it becomes more than that, turning into an emotional crutch, it becomes wrong.
Like most women, at some point in my life, food became something other than sustenance for life. It became my therapy when I was sad. My celebration when I was happy. My relief when I was stressed. My joy when I was excited. My friend when I was lonely. But really, it was none of those things. It was simply, food.
When I was in elementary school, I danced 6 days a week. Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Modern, Pointe, you name it, I did it. When I was in high school I was in 3 sports, all year round, and in the summer, I was staying in shape for field hockey in the fall. So when college hit, and all of the sudden these “built in” work outs weren’t a part of my daily life, I gained the stereotypical “freshman 15.” Only it was a few pounds more than 15.
Despite exercise being a semi-consistent part of my life, since the day I went away to college my weight yo-yo’d up and down depending on which diet I was trying. You name it, I tried it. And every time, I ended up failing and gaining the weight back I lost plus some. But it wasn’t because those diets were faulty, it was because I wasn’t realizing the true problem:
My relationship with food, and the effect it had on me.
2 years ago, I first heard of and tried CrossFit. That was also the first time I ever heard of the “Paleo diet.” (Now before you stop reading because you think I’m another crazy paleo-head, hear me out.) What I learned was that all you ate was meat/fish, veggies and fruit. Sounded a lot like South Beach. And I hated South Beach. But I tried it for a couple weeks anyway. Unfortunately, since it was also during my engagement, one bridal party or another sent that diet crashing and burning.
Then I heard of the Whole 30 Challenge. Basically, it’s where you eat a little more restrictive than Paleo, as a sort of detox for just 30 days. After the 30 days, you reintroduce the foods you eliminated to see how they affect your system. By this time, Stuart and I were married so we tried it together. I read the book, cleaned out our cupboards and stocked up on lots of meat and veggies. Problem was, we were traveling a bunch that month, so once again it didn’t work. I think I’ve tried it twice since then, both times bombing it. (Although to give myself some credit, it is nearly impossible to do if you don’t have 30 days to basically be a hermit and cook all meals at home and not go to eat out ever.) But again, I was really frustrated this was yet another failed attempt at getting control of my eating and losing weight.
At this time, we were living in Columbus, Ohio, near some really good friends who were very health conscious. One of those friends, Allie, was gluten free and started the blog Considering You, all about health, nutrition and fitness. She was one of the first people I knew who went gluten free despite NOT having Celiac Disease. (More on that later.) Learning from her, seeing my brother’s crazy fitness transformation mentioned here, and just being sick and tired of feeling like I had no control over my eating led me to going gluten free this past December, as a “baby step” towards getting myself healthy. And what I’ve learned and experienced since then makes me never want to eat gluten again.
Now I know a lot of people believe that wheat/gluten is only bad for you if you’re allergic to it or have Celiac Disease. That’s what I thought too. I would always get whole wheat toast and buy whole grain cereal, thinking I was making a much smarter decision than people who ate white toast and Frosted Flakes. Then I read Wheat Belly. Seriously EVERYONE should read this book. It has transformed the way I view wheat.
“Aside from some extra fiber, eating two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different, and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a sugary candy bar.” (pg. 33)
When I read that I was shocked! Seriously, that can NOT be true. But then I read about whole wheat’s glycemic index. The glycemic index of a food is basically the increase of blood sugar after eating a certain food, as compared to glucose. The higher the blood sugar, the higher the GI. Sucrose’s (table sugar) GI is 59. White bread is 69 and wheat bread is a whopping 72! (Incidentally, the GI of a Snickers Bar is 41. If only kids everywhere knew that Snickers is a healthier alternative to breakfast than whole wheat toast…)
Now, you may be thinking, “there’s no way this is true. I don’t believe it!” But think about times when you’ve had pancakes or a big bowl of cereal for breakfast. By mid-morning do you or do you not hit a wall of hunger and tiredness, feeling like you’re in a fog until you get something more in your stomach? (Usually craving something carb-y and sweet.)
When your blood sugar gets elevated, your body produces insulin, the hormone that allows glucose to enter into the cells of the body, which gets converted into fat. And not just fat, but visceral fat, which is fat around your organs, showing its ugly face in the form of a…you guessed it: wheat belly. (You may have also heard this referred to as a beer belly.) The more visceral fat you have, the worse your responsiveness to insulin, which results in your body demanding more and more insulin levels, eventually resulting in diabetes.
But maybe you don’t have a wheat belly. And maybe your daily bagel or occasional donut for breakfast is just too hard to give up. Did you know there’s a reason for that too?
I’ve had kidney stones 5 times. Yep, you read that right. On my 3rd time, the Dr. told me after experiencing that much pain that many times I’d breeze through child birth. (We’ll see how right he was when the time comes…) Anyway, twice when I was hospitalized for them, I was given dilaudid. If you’ve never heard of it, (which I hadn’t) my dad described it as “synthetic heroin.” I’ll tell you what, when you’re in pain, that stuff works. The second time I got it, I remember thinking, “I can totally understand why people get addicted to this stuff.”
Did you know once gluten hits your brain, your brain’s reaction is equivalent to that of opiate drugs? They tested this with the drug, naloxone, which, when injected into someone high on drugs, immediately makes them not high. It blocks the binding of opiate drugs to the receptors in your brain. When that same drug was administered to lab animals, it blocked the binding of wheat compounds to the brain. AKA, the very same drug that turns off the affects of heroin in an addict also turns off the effects of wheat compounds.
And just as drug addicts go through “withdrawal” when they stop taking their drug of choice, people who cut out wheat “cold-turkey,” will 9 times out of 10 experience some kind of withdrawal. Extreme fatigue, mental fog, irritability, sometimes even depression for the first few days after eliminating wheat. If I hadn’t experienced it when I went gluten free, I wouldn’t have believed it.
It gets crazier too. Studies are shown where people with Schizophrenia are given diets free of wheat, and their symptoms- hallucinations, delusions, detachment from reality- improved drastically. When wheat was added back into their diets, those symptoms came back. (This test was done during WWII time, and would obviously not be legal today.) One woman described by Duke University doctors as having suffered with delusions, hallucinations and suicide attempts for fifty-three years, experienced complete relief from psychosis and suicidal desires within eight days of eliminating wheat. Wheat is some serious stuff!
Another interesting find listed in Wheat Belly, is where hunter/gather cultures that eat primarily veggies, fruits, fish and meat are completely free of acne. Basically they consume little to no wheat, sugar and dairy. As Western culture introduced these processed starches into their diets, all of the sudden, populations in parts of Japan, New Guinea and Paraguay started breaking out like teenagers hitting puberty. (Have bad acne? Test it-give up the bagels and toast, and see if your acne gets any better. Worth a try right?)
But if people from New Guinea or people with Schizophrenia are a little too extreme for you to feel this could impact your life too, just hold on. I interviewed two of my friends who went gluten free for very different reasons. Allie, as mentioned above and my friend Angie, who went gluten free while nursing her son, Harper, since he was experiencing eczema as a reaction to gluten.
When and why did you go gluten free (GF)?
- Angie: I went GF in September because my son has eczema and it was really bad for awhile. I was frustrated that only a steroid cream would help, because I like more of a natural approach to healing. Since I nurse, whatever I was getting in my body, he would get. My nutritionist did a muscle allergy test and found that we were both gluten intolerant, and said that cutting it out would help not only his eczema but other issues as well.
- Allie: I went GF in February of 2012. I was feeling really tired all the time, getting migraines and constantly getting sinus infections. I was staying with my (at the time) 14 year old sister and she encouraged me to go GF for 2 weeks just to give it a shot!
What’s been the hardest thing to live without?
- Angie: cookies and pizza.
- Allie: beer and croissants.
Have you cheated, and what were the repercussions?
- Angie: Yes, the holidays were tough to stay GF. I get cramps and have less energy. Harper will also break out more.
- Allie: 3 times. Migraines, bloating and diarrhea. Totally not worth it.
What changes in your body, mood etc. have you experienced since going GF?
- Angie: more energy!
- Allie: so much more energy. I rarely get sick. Yay strong immune system! No more migraines. I’m much more pleasant and can enjoy life.
What’s been the hardest aspect of going GF?
- Angie: less desserts to eat!
- Allie: visiting close friends and family when they don’t have GF food. Usually it’s comfort food or you’re just sitting and eating all day. I hate salad and fruit never sounds as good as rolls.
Some people say gluten is only bad for you if you are allergic, what are your thoughts on that?
- Angie: I think GF can help a lot of people. It seems so bad for some reason and it’s in so many things. I think if a lot of people cut it out, we would make a lot better choices when it comes to eating.
- Allie: I don’t think that’s true. I think you can feel great and eat gluten, but knowing what I know about how we grow wheat in this country…yikes. It’s not the wheat our grandparents digested. It’s very genetically modified and I think that will affect us in the long run.
What are reasons you’d encourage a friend or family member to go GF if they’re NOT allergic?
- Angie: It may spare us from health problems in the future that we maybe aren’t struggling with now, helps with headaches and other things.
- Allie: If they mention weird symptoms, I usually encourage them to try it. I offer a free 2 week meal plan on my blog and suggest they give it a shot. Food can be medicine.
I know personally, I’ve experienced a lot of the same changes Angie and Allie mentioned when I went gluten free in December: more energy, less cravings (after the withdrawal), less moodiness, less sugar high/lows, and an overall feeling of being healthier. On Christmas Day I ate french toast, and other wheat-y things, and the day after I was in such a fog I didn’t know what was happening to me.
I don’t have Celiac disease, and don’t know if I’m even intolerant, but even simply the self-control I now experience over food has made me feel empowered and stronger than ever in regards to my personal health. I have lost some weight already, am getting in shape, and have more energy than I’ve had in years. And I’m finally starting to view food through the lens of a nourishing substance to sustain life, provide energy and promote growth.
If you don’t believe me, pick up a copy of Wheat Belly, or try going gluten free for just 2 weeks to see how it affects you. And if you have no idea what to cook, head over to Allie’s blog for her free 2 week meal plan. (Look for it on the side bar under her picture.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the gluten free debacle or your struggle with food. Feel free to leave a comment or email me with your thoughts!
**I was not paid to write this post. All opinions are mine and those I interviewed.