one year gluten free, part one.

IMG_4889First gluten free donut, Charleston Market

At the beginning of March one year ago I became completely gluten free. I celebrated the occasion with bronchitis and two rounds of antibiotics. Well maybe it wasn’t a celebration so much as¬†motivation for finally removing gluten from my diet. It was a low point for me, low enough that I needed a big change.

So I made the change.

I’m not going to say it was easy. Especially since my family continued to eat gluten. I’d say there were several months of feeling generally bummed out about food and adjusting to spending a lot more time in the kitchen.

However. What made it all worth it was how instantly my health improved. Headaches cleared up. Congestion went away. My general feelings of achiness and sluggishness improved.

And I promise, gluten freedom did get easier. Over time your body loses its cravings for glutinous food (the hardest things for me to give up were homemade bread, pizza, cookies, and cupcakes). The more faithfully I stayed with my diet and felt my health improve, the less I minded not eating gluten.

I’ve learned tricks too, like to eat a meal right before I go to a party or dinner, and always carry snacks in my purse (almonds are a big favorite with me). I can honestly say I no longer feel sad at a birthday party when I’m the only person not eating cake.

I do let myself cheat sometimes. If there’s something I’m just dying to taste, I taste it. I’m not trying to win any awards here. But when I cheat, I always experience some sort of reaction. If I eat food with gluten in moderation it may only be a headache the following day. Several times I’ve gotten a migraine.

But here’s the shocking part, people. I’ve been a year gluten free and I’ve also gone an entire year without taking antibiotics. When I realized that I was so full of disbelief that I had to go back and check my calendar.

Do you know the last time I’ve gone a year without antibiotics? Not since high school at least. Maybe middle school. I’ve had chronic allergies and two to three sinus infections a year for as long as I can remember (and I do have to credit my mom for clipping an article about Celiac disease for me in college. You tried, Mom!).

I have a wonderful allergist in downtown Columbia, and I’m an anomaly in her office because I simply don’t need to come in anymore. Not only do I not get upper-respiratory infections anymore, but my daily, chronic allergies have all but disappeared. I almost never need to take Claritin. I’m able to keep my dust allergy under control without medication.

I’ve faithfully followed her directions and the directions of my nutritionist: replaced as many household chemicals as possible with natural alternatives (bleach was a big culprit), removed gluten from my diet, reduced packaged foods, began to eat more plants, reduced caffeine.

At each visit my doctor brings her office staff in to talk to me. She said, “Do you realize how rare it is in the United States for someone to radically change their diet for their health? At the very least people get defensive when I suggest it, some downright angry.”

I say, “I can believe that; I used to be one of those people.”

My health was in a bad place after we lived overseas. Even with big diet changes in South Asia the environmental allergies and antibiotic cycles pretty much wiped out my immune system. I felt a lot of relief just moving back to the States, but then I reverted back to most of my old eating habits.

After two rounds of bronchitis a year ago I knew I needed to change something again. This past year has been a process of making changes, figuring out what makes me feel better and beginning to feel healthier than I’ve ever felt.

I haven’t been to the doctor for an illness in a year. I’ve gotten two viruses and my body has fought them both on its own. For someone like me, who has struggled with a poor immune system for years, that feels like a miracle.

Part Two of this post will tell you the nuts and bolts of what I eat now, because I firmly believe the reason my health has improved so much isn’t just replacing everything that contains gluten with the “gluten free” version. ¬†Instead it’s been moving toward a whole foods diet filled with fruits and vegetables.

I’m excited about my diet now because I feel like it’s tasty, its sustainable (meaning it’s not so strict I get burned out and revert to my former diet), and it’s constantly evolving as I learn more.

I’ve done a little informal survey of my friends and family who have gone gluten free. I asked them what changes in their health they’ve experienced as a result, and if you knew some of the folks I asked you’d know they’re not the type of people to jump on the “food trend band wagon.”

Most of them experimented with a diet change with skepticism but also in desperation to feel better and were surprised with the results. I’m not saying this to convince you to go gluten free; but if you struggle with any of these symptoms you may be inspired to give it a try.

People I asked have reported big improvements in:

Allergies

Acid reflux in adults and in children (able stop taking prescription medication)

Migraines

IBS, GI problems

Behavioral struggles in elementary-aged son (agitation, sensory issues)

Less joint pain/inflammation/puffiness, both in under 50 and over 50 year olds

Skin break-outs (acne, rash, Rosacea)

Depression

Rheumatoid Arthritis

High cholesterol

Weight

Low energy/sluggishness

I’ll add this because it comes up a lot: dairy intolerances are also a big cause of allergies, upper respiratory infections, including ear infections, skin break outs, and stomach issues because dairy is mucus-producing. This is true for adults and children and I’ve had several friends who didn’t struggle with gluten but healed their allergies and ear infections by eliminating dairy. I’ve found the most success eliminating both.

Judah struggles with allergies and asthma and both are under control without medication by greatly reducing dairy in his diet (I haven’t had to eliminate it completely yet).

I’ll be back next week with a little more about what my gluten free diet looks like and some food changes our whole family has made.

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