Going Gluten-free: Helpful or Hype?
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You know, lately it seems like everybody is...something! Vegan. Paleo. Low-fodmaps. Gluten-free. It's like we've formed little dietary religions.
"Our way is THE way! Eat our way and LIVE! The choice is yours!"...as they watch in disdain as you eat your chicken wings or your wheat, barley filled bun or your sugary sweets...SINNER!
But all jokes aside, there really are health benefits to every diet that I mentioned above--but every diet isn't for everybody! I know quite a bit about each (vegan, paleo, low-fodmaps, etc.) because I'm somewhat of a health and wellness junkie, but I don't subscribe to them all...well, because I'm Bianca.
The only one that I can fully speak to from a personal standpoint is following a gluten-free diet and I'll tell you a little bit about why I jumped on that train and have been riding ever since.
My Gluten-Free Journey
So, this may sound a little cray-cray, but for me, all of this gluten-free stuff started back in 2008 when I was trying to figure out why and how I could out-eat everybody around me and not gain weight. I mean, I could truly eat anything and never worry about gaining weight. Like, what is a calorie?!?
And while some might be reading and rolling their eyes, thinking, "That's not a problem!"--well, it was for me! I felt self-conscious about being skinny. I felt the need to explain myself and assure others that I DO eat. I felt like less of a woman at times, because I didn't have the big booty, curves or thick thighs that are so highly praised in our society...especially in these times of boob jobs and butt injections. So, yeah--I was trying to do research on how to get thicker than a snicker! Ha!
So how did this lead to me being gluten-free, especially when a lot of people think that going gluten-free equals weight loss? (And it doesn't necessarily, by the way, but more on that later).
Well, I started thinking, "If I can eat everything that I want and not gain weight, maybe I have like a parasite or something...or maybe I can't fully digest/absorb my food for some reason?". I even talked to my primary care doctor about it and she laughed (really hard, by the way) and gave me a diagnosis: Skinny Black Girl Syndrome. It’s both a physical and mental health condition. (Kidding)
After several google searches about what would cause someone to have difficulty digesting food, I came across all of this information about people with Celiac Disease (which I do not have) and this thing called gluten.
What the heck is gluten?
Just to clarify--because as popular and trendy as it is, some people think gluten is synonymous with "carb" or "bread"-- gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, which would explain why people may associate being gluten-free with not eating any bread or pasta or cereal at all.
Some people include oats when they talk about foods with gluten, but that is because oats are typically milled in the same factories as wheat, so it is easy for cross-contamination to occur--it's not that oats contains gluten in and of themselves.
So, in addition to trying to figure out how to gain some weight, I was also having issues with sinus headaches...to be more accurate, let's call them sinus migraines. And I had them every. Single. Day. I should have taken stock out in Tylenol at that time, that's how bad it was.
I would be fine, then I would eat, and shortly thereafter, the nasal congestion and sinus headache would ensue. Now, I also have seasonal allergies so my first thought would be to blame it on that, but I could tell that it coincided with something that I was eating, but I could not figure out what it was. I mean seriously, who thinks, "Maybe it was the wheat in the bread I just ate?".
But what I learned is that if you have sensitivity to wheat, it can cause nasal congestion--who knew?! I sure didn't.
Since I hadn't had an official food allergy test, I instead started with an elimination diet. An elimination diet involves, you guessed it, eliminating a food that you suspect you may be allergic to for at least 4 days and then gradually reintroducing that food back into your diet. If you re truly allergic or even just intolerant (as I am) to said food, you should notice some type of reaction or overall, just not feeling well once you reintroduce the suspected food.
What I quickly observed is that no gluten equals no migraines--for me. Overall, I just feel better and that is likely because I truly do experience an immune reaction when I consume gluten, and if your immune system is reacting, you're going to have increased inflammation which translates to a host of physical and mental symptoms.
Is Gluten the Culprit?
You know your body better than anybody and an elimination diet will tell you a lot. However, if you feel like you need clinical confirmation, you can always discuss your symptoms with your doctor who may order a food allergy test.
I personally had a blood test done through my OB/Gyn's office. Although she is an MD, she has a very holistic approach to health and offered food allergy tests in her office. It was as simple as giving a vial or two of blood that was sent off to be analyzed by a company.
If you're more of a DIY person, and you want to pursue food allergy testing on your own, you could always go through True Health Labs. They offer both food allergy and food sensitivity tests that cover anywhere from 80 to 200 common foods. You can check these tests out here.
You could also hop on over to my favorite place, Amazon (I need help), and purchase your own food allergy test. This is the exact test that I was given in the doctors office:
I really liked that the ALCAT Food Intolerance test covered over 200 foods and gave a thorough explanation of the severity of reaction your body has to each food. As you can see though, it's pretty pricey. I was fortunate enough to use my insurance to defer much of the cost. If you've really been wondering about whether food allergies are causing you issues, you could also check to see if a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) might cover the test.
If coming out of pocket is your only option, and dishing out upwards of $600 isn't in your budget, you might also consider this test:
I haven't personally tried this test before, but overall, it has pretty good reviews on Amazon. It provides all of the supplies needed to get a finger-prick sample of blood that you can then send into a lab to be analyzed.
Helpful or Hype?
Well, if you have come to any conclusion from what I've shared above, the answer would be...it depends on YOU! When I took that food allergy and sensitivity tests, it showed that I had a moderate immune reaction to wheat (with the scale being no reaction, mild, moderate or severe) and a severe reaction to barley and rye. Bye-bye Cream of Wheat? (Booo!)
I learned so much from that test, including that I also had a severe immune reaction to salmon! And almonds! I mean, seriously?!?
So you see, there can be foods that are healthy, but at the same time, are personally not good for you. Remember, if your food is causing an immune reaction in your body, inflammation is happening-and inflammation causes problems!
Am I going to go into anaphylactic shock if I eat gluten? Absolutely not! But I sure can appreciate feeling better (no migraines, less brain fog, more energy) without the gluten. I have tried on many occasions to psyche myself out and get back on the gluten train--"It's been a while...I can probably eat gluten now!"--only to try it and have those migraines come right back!
If nothing else, learn what triggers your body. To eat gluten or not, in my opinion, is an individual thing depending on how your body reacts to it. There are people who can eat gluten products 'til the cows come home, with seemingly no side effects at all. I won't lie...I'm a tad bit jealous of those folks. (Dunkin Donuts, please! )
What do others have to say on this topic?
I've shared my personal story in this post, but of course, there are so many others out there that have their own opinion about gluten. Check out some of these books and decide for yourself:
What do you think? Has eliminating gluten been helpful for you?
Tell us about it in the comments section below! And if you enjoyed this post, feel free to share using one of the social icons!