Almost three months ago my husband and I decided to go gluten free. Just for a few weeks, at first, to see what would happen. We both have a lot of joint pain and stiffness, and we knew gluten often causes inflammation, so we wanted to see how removing it from our diets would affect our joints. Then our two weeks turned into a full month, as we wanted to give it thirty days to get out of our systems. Plus, it was a lot easier than we thought it would be, so we just went with it.
And outside of my own observations about my body, how I felt, what I wanted to eat, etc, I learned a lot about how our nutritional decisions would affect our social relationships.
Many people in my life were supportive, but quite a few were also bemused when I told them what we were doing. Some were perplexed, others were horrified or apologetic (What?? I’m so SORRY!), a few may have been disappointed (because it kind of makes you less fun to eat with), and a few were downright condescending. And to be honest, I totally got that. Because that’s how I have reacted whenever a friend or acquaintance has made a restrictive dietary change.
And because going gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, processed sugar-free, alcohol-free, carb-detoxing, juicing, any of it, all of it, is sort of embarrassing. It’s trendy. It’s pretentious. And I made fun of it. Until I did it.
So back to our thirty-day trial period of embracing the GF (let’s get on board with the abbreviation now, shall we?) lifestyle. As for our joint pain, I noticed maybe a little difference, but I’ve heard that often takes a bit of time. But here’s what happened immediately: we both began dropping pounds like crazy, and the acid reflux that has been plaguing me for over six years disappeared. Like, gone.
At the thirty-day mark, I had two bites of my kid’s bagel. We were getting ready to go to Disneyland, and I figured I better prime my system for the beignet, macaroon, fried food explosion that was coming. I ate the bagel, no big deal. The next day, my stomach swelled up as though I were in the second trimester of pregnancy and I was up all night with heartburn. It seemed the disappearance of my reflux was not coincidental.
I did not eat any beignets on vacation. Or any gluten at all. To be honest, just typing out those wheat treats above just now made me feel like weeping. But heartburn wasn’t worth it. I was so tired of dealing with irritating minor reflux multiple times a week, and major up-all-night episodes at least once or twice a month. If gluten had to go to get that relief, so be it.
At almost the three-month mark now, I have lost seventeen pounds and I haven’t had any reflux episodes since that night before Disneyland. We have accidentally glutened ourselves on a minor scale a few times, and I quickly feel that day-after bloating and a flicker of would-be heartburn that I immediately squelch with Pepcid. But any actual heartburn has completely disappeared. I didn’t want to go gluten free. But here I am.
Before and after. Me on gluten, then me today. Yes, a crappy post-yoga selfie was the best I could do.
I’m not here to talk about the evils of wheat and tell you guys you should all get on the GF train right this minute. (Although, I will be honest, it’s difficult for me not to become some kind of gluten-free evangelist these days, and after reading Wheat Belly, I pretty much want to wander around handing the book out to strangers while I proselytize about how messed up modern wheat is. Shudder. I digress.)
If, however, you have questions or want to try it yourself, I am totally here to support you. Shoot me an email or leave a comment. I love helping people get resources and figure this stuff out.
But here’s what I do want to talk about: judgment. Let’s start with my own. I really was a huge dick, if not overtly, inside my own head for sure, when friends or celebrities or sisters-in-law of cousins when gluten free. Or sugar free. Or dairy free. For real, I was. I mocked any kind of obsessive or prohibitive diet or fitness plan. (Inside my head now, I am hearing my husband’s affected voice droning, “Ohmygoddd, is this water paleo?” while I laugh and laugh. OK, it’s still pretty funny.)
But you get the idea. I cringe listening to myself ask for gluten free menus at restaurants. I hate scanning the ingredients on a label at a BBQ with friends. I feel super high maintenance. I feel like a fad-driven, pretentious asshat. I do. But.
I am healthier. My reflux is gone. I am happier. I have my old body back, something I had pretty much given up on. So what do I care if people are slightly mean to me because I have crunchy Boulder, Colorado vibes leaking out my pores? I mean, that’s a pretty lame problem, and don’t think I don’t feel like even more of an asshat for whining about it. “Oh, it’s so sad that people don’t support your modern, woo-woo nutrition plan!”
But there’s no getting around it: There is a stigma attached to healthy eating, clean eating, and really any kind of elimination diet. And gluten may be the most annoying stigma food of them all.
What stings the most is that I used to be such a biotch about it, behind everyone else’s back. Because I didn’t want to try it, myself. Because I kept believing my years-old rhetoric that I would rather be happy and have a few extra pounds than remove anything from my diet that brought me pleasure. And because I didn’t really want to look beyond the obvious for solutions to health issues.
And ahem, not one of the FOUR GI specialists I have seen in the past five years ever once suggested to me that I might try removing gluten from my diet. Let that sink in.
We have come a long way, we Gen X-ers, since our own 1980s childhoods. We know more, we practice tolerance and compassion more, we are anti-bullying, we identify our own privilege and support rights for all people. We have evolved.
But discussing nutrition in a sincere, non-mocking way—beyond the stupid food pyramid and the basic (cough, outdated) crap our kids’ pediatricians hand out at well visits—isn’t quite there yet. Our doctors don’t have backgrounds in nutrition. Our insurance, if we are lucky enough to have it, doesn’t cover consultations with nutritionists. Not to mention, it’s f*cking expensive to eat healthy!
Plus, really obnoxious, self-involved New Agey folks are super-obsessed with removing toxic shit from their diet, and we grew up eating Froot Loops and we’re pretty much fine, right, so why would we want to go down that road??
Ugh. I get it. But here’s what I’m trying to say. Let’s stop labeling people as obnoxious when they modify their diets. Even if they make a choice we wouldn’t make, or, more accurately, probably don’t want to make.
We don’t make fun of people who are allergic to nuts for not eating peanut butter, and we don’t mock diabetics for monitoring their insulin and sugar intake. But it’s still pretty tempting to make fun of people whose diets consist of coconut milk products, lean protein, and turmeric.
But I’m thinking this is a great opportunity for us to practice the tried and true STFU technique and open our minds to a different path. Again, do we need more reminders to be empathetic, to be happy for others, and to abstain from judgment?
If you want to try going gluten free, you should absolutely go for it. And like I said, I’m here to help. If you have no need, no interest, and no issues with your own diet, that’s fantastic!
I for one am going to try to crush the critical inner monologue the next time someone I know tells me about a nutritional change they are making, a holistic healing effort, a new fitness plan (unless it’s CrossFit, because eff that. Oh, just kidding. Maybe.), or some other attempt to get healthy that I don’t understand or doesn’t appeal to me. It won’t be easy, but as a formerly GF-mocking, currently gluten free, always sarcastic and hopefully empathetically evolving human, it’s my duty to try.
(And pssst, you guys should totally read Wheat Belly. Just do it. xo)
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