What is gluten free and why is everyone and their damn mother seem to be trying it? Is it a fad? Something sorority girls do to get attention? Or could this whole thing actually be legit?
I fully confess, when people asked, “Is this gluten free?” my only response was one of out pure annoyance. I almost could audibly hear that voice in my head respond, “ohhhh maaaaaa gawwwddd, would you just SHUT up!”
And now? Ashamed by that judgmental outlook, I can promise you this: going gluten free was the most critical step in healing me from chronic illness. Let me tell you why this irritating little “fad diet” is actually changing the lives of many, including myself.
What is Gluten? Why Does It Cause Such Turmoil?
Gluten is a protein found in three types of grains: wheat, barley and rye. However, as I’m sure many of you are aware, going “gluten free” doesn’t just mean cutting out these three breads, but anything and everything with which these grains come in contact. That means: soy sauce, salad dressings, faro, some oats, beer, some wines and liquors, pasta, anything battered or fried (or even, GF foods fried in the same oil as battered foods) – just to start the list off!
But before you get overwhelmed with all of the “can’ts” (I reaaally hate focusing on this part), I think it’s important to talk about the why. Whenever starting a new diet or lifestyle change, I believe the most important mindset to have is to not one which focuses on the things from which you are restraining yourself, but rather, the hope of healing that will come from your persistence and faith.
What Gluten Did to Me, Without Knowing It
For years, I lived most days bloated and uncomfortable. My waist would grow upwards of 4-6 inches in diameter after every meal, so much so that at times, I was concerned others might think I was hiding a second term pregnancy. My friends joked with me as they asked the “baby’s” gender.
Don't worry. The bump didn't stop me from getting my groove on.
I laughed along, but of course, it was frustrating. With a clean diet and strict work out schedule, I found myself withered and dismayed by my fatigue and candidly speaking, my growing waistline. Amidst my passion for fitness, my search for answers towards my chronic illness, chronic bloating, immune deficiency, bruising, cystic acne, and sinusitis continued onward. Gluten sensitivity, a growing buzzword in the holistic medicine community, was a top suspect. However, blood draw after blood draw, every result for celiac or gluten sensitivity came back with flying colors: negative.
There was no sign of celiac or gluten sensitivity anywhere in my body. My skin did not react, nor did my blood. There was, however, one last examination that could completely rule out the possibility of celiac: a biopsy through endoscopy. My doctors assured the likelihood of having celiac after negative blood results was slim due to the lack of a genetic presence in my family. With ease, they claimed the procedure would be a waste of time and anesthesia before it would ever be a step closer to an answer. And I believed them blindly; how would I know more about celiac than a GI who studied at Stanford? Besides, I was eating gluten multiple times a day and didn’t seem to notice a difference all that much, if at all.
Little did I know, my lack of reactivity to gluten consumption was due to an overall and constant extreme level of inflammation across my entire body. With every bite of that destructive protein, my body continued to turn against itself with more and more fervor. It didn’t matter how many supplements I was taking or kale I was eating – I was compromising my entire intestinal track, making it impossible for my stomach to digest and absorb any nutrients.
Why I Went Gluten Free
Oddly enough, it was not some homeopathic doctor who told me to finally do the damn thing. In fact, I was cleared by two homeopathic doctors (and 3 Western trained doctors) to eat gluten. Instead, it was my roommate at the time, a beautiful soul named Noelle, who told me to consider a strict gluten free diet. Noelle had battled and nearly lost her life to gastroparesis. Passionate about natural medicine and an advocate for simple diets, Noelle encouraged me that it didn’t matter what the blood tests said: gluten is inflammatory to the human body. That’s that.
“Just give it a chance, why not?” she persisted with a sly smile.
She knew she was right. Three years into looking for answers, emotionally exhausted by every dead end I faced, tired of spending thousands of dollars on doctors and diets, I truly had nothing to lose. In fact, a gluten free lifestyle would be easy compared to the other things I tried.
With one fell swoop, I donated all of my beloved rye manna bread, my crackers and pastas. My soy sauce, my powders, my power bars… I threw out my toothpaste, mouthwash, and lipsticks… Everything that had gluten, I nearly considered the dark, dark enemy of health and wellness.
Month one brought no change.
Month two didn’t bring a tangible change, but I felt lighter. I was stronger. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but I felt more myself.
Month three, I was working out longer, harder and with more joy. My stomach stopped imploding outward after every meal.
Month four, I looked myself again. My abs came out from hiding, and my energy was the highest it had been in what seemed like a very, very long time.
Month five, I was convinced this was the real deal. I was finally digesting food. My legs finally didn't have bruises for the first time in four years. My skin was clearing.
Month six, I accidentally ate some tortilla chips that I had been told were corn, but instead, were blended with wheat flour. With just four chips and two minutes later, my stomach, quite literally, imploded. For two days, I was sprawled on the couch in an absolute cacophonous symphony of abdominal pain as my stomach stretched to make me look 6 months pregnant. Most interesting, however, was the effect the gluten had on my brain. It was the most obscure sensation I’ve ever experienced. For days, I felt as though I was in a dream world. Noises sounded faint and others' sentences felt like a jigsaw puzzle I had to solve. Likewise, my brain and mouth searched with fatigue and confusion to find words and form them to a response. My eyes glazed over and I couldn’t recall words I wanted to use for a few days (typically referred to as “brain fog”).
Four chips. Two minutes later.
Whether celiac or severely allergic, I knew now that gluten simply had no place in my life anymore. While I had never undergone the final procedure to test for celiac, six months of healing and four misinformed tortilla chips taught me otherwise.
A Year Later…
In May of 2019, I passed the one-year mark of a strict gluten free lifestyle, enduring only two instances of cross contamination. Praises to God, it was also around the 1-year mark that my chronic sinusitis and chronic PND finally, for the first time in nearly four years, became dormant. Never would I have imagined something with my sinuses was related to my diet. It took an entire year (and will continue to take more), but my stomach lining heals more with every month. My body's inflammation lowers, and my body and Spirit, in response, are finding peace.
Why do I tell you this whole backstory? Truthfully, it’s because I want to paint an accurate picture of what this process can look like. This journey is filled with profound messiness: two steps forward, one step backward. Saying “I can’t, I’m gluten free,” and having to dive into the questions behind why, or maybe even judgment from others who think you may be doing it for attention. Looking up the menu before going places to check if you need to eat at home before going out. To feel like a burden at dinner parties or nights out with friends is never fun. To press on through the months when you don’t see results right away can make you discouraged and bitter. Contrary to what your doctors claim, you might not feel a difference in two weeks. You might not even see a difference in two months! You may not fully heal for a year, or two years.
But that’s okay! Life is imperfect. I’m a year in and we've got a lifetime to go. That should be EXCITING. What matters is you’re trying and you have a deep desire to heal. Sometimes there requires a certain patience and hope in places where it makes absolutely no logical sense to be hopeful. This is not dissimilar to having faith. Even when five doctors told me that the tests proved otherwise, I chose to try something against the odds. Even when it’s crazy, have faith, and have grace on yourself in the process.
If you are considering going gluten free or want to become more educated on behalf of those with celiac disease in your life… Here are some points of information that may prove useful.
Why does going gluten free heal someone who has a gluten sensitivity?
For those with celiac, eating gluten causes an inflammatory and severe immune response in which the body attacks its own intestinal track. In the process, the villi, which are tiny fingerlike organisms that make up the lining of the small intestine, are attacked and destroyed. The villi are a main component in nutrient absorption.
For any celiac, it is precisely this damage to villi and malabsorption of nutrients that cause severe fatigue, easily bruising, undigested food, and a compromised immune system.
Left completely untreated, celiac disease can also cause: anemia or iron deficiency, lactose intolerance, miscarriages or infertility, GI cancers, vitamin and mineral deficiency, or neurological disorders.
When someone with celiac or a sensitivity avoids gluten, in time, their villi will begin to rebuild and renew. However, in severe cases, it is unfortunately true that some who suffer from celiac disease will never find fullness of healing. In a study done by Mayo Clinic in 2010, out of 241 celiac patients, while all experienced relief from gluten induced symptoms, only 2/3rds were fully recovered after five years into a strict gluten free diet. This is likely due to a more consistent gluten exposure over time via cross contamination and eating out at restaurants. Finding out the level of severity of one's celiac vs. another is important. Bioindividuality is critical to understanding allergies!
If you are struggling with any inflammation, digestion, allergic, or immune related chronic illness, AND EVEN IF YOUR BLOOD TESTS COME BACK NORMAL FOR GLUTEN, I could not encourage you more to at least try going gluten free for 2-3 months. There are so many budget efficient resources out there to help you, including Thrive Market, Amazon and Trader Joe’s. (And of course, countless online blogs and recipes to inspire your lifestyle change, including BoldnBeloved!)
I promise, the healing you may find in taking a gluten free diet seriously is absolutely worth the effort it will take to change your diet. And remember, finding a new groove takes time, but soon, you won’t even think twice about what does or doesn’t contain gluten. Sometimes, you won’t even have to ask at restaurants because half the time, you’ll know more than they do about it. ;)
The Christian Perspective.
Truthfully, I don’t know why God allows autoimmune diseases. It seems silly to think He created every fiber of our being, and so easily, our bodies might turn to attack themselves as we try to nourish them? I agree; it doesn’t make sense. But what I do know is that scripture is clear: God wants us to prosper and be healthy. And even more, Jesus still heals. While going gluten free and finding my own diagnosis played an insurmountable role in healing of chronic illness, I cannot tell you how many times I received the laying of hands in prayer over my throat, stomach and head. I have no doubt that my pleading and moments I stepped out in faith to ask for healing played a profound role in rebuilding my body. Though my healing was found over time, in every prayer, I felt encouragement; a physical warmth bubbled in my torso and I felt an overwhelming sense of assurance that He held me closely and dearly.
However, I also believe that God can heal immediately. While that was not my story, it is many others’ stories. I have seen the bold prayer from others heal believers plagued with Lyme disease, another chronic illness characterized by a strict gluten free diet and impossible fatigue. I encourage you to ask God what the healing path may look like for you. While if it had been up to me, I may have chosen immediate healing similar to the ones I’ve witnessed for so many, I am confident the Lord allowed my path to look this way because He knew I wouldn’t be able to rest unless I use what I’ve learned in order to help others along this journey. With whichever way He chooses to bless you, remember, even when the going gets tough and you reach another dead end, it is all, indeed, a blessing.
Happy healing, my friends.
“Adult Swim, Mostly for Millennials GIF.” Giphy, media.giphy.com/media/2YdkwzLKcj3W89zw7R/giphy.gif.
“Excited Saturday Night Live GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY.” GIPHY, GIPHY, 22 Mar. 2018, giphy.com/gifs/funny-dance-qdgV0s2gm7QY0.
Rubio-Tapia, Alberto, et al. “Mucosal Recovery and Mortality in Adults with Celiac Disease after Treatment with a Gluten-Free Diet.” The American Journal of Gastroenterology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2881171/.