Skip to content

The Great Gluten (Free) Experiment

August 26, 2009

n14301814_32133282_1196

If you read Alison’s post back in July about Celiac disease, you know that wondering if you have some kind of gluten sensitivity is no fun.

Like Alison, I have had stomach issues for as long as I can remember. When you’re a kid, you assume everything happening to you must be happening to everyone else too – as it turns out, not everyone else gets stomachaches after eating almost anything. Who knew?

My stomach just kind of always hurt, and by high school I was ready to do something about it. I went through the barrage of tests – IBS, Celiac – all negative. I was put on laxative powders (gross) and fiber supplements – no luck. I filled out a food diary for two weeks, writing down everything I ate and how I felt afterwards, and my doctor was thoroughly puzzled – how could I feel sick after a family-cooked meal of spaghetti and salad, but feel fine after eating a big pretzel and bag of M&M’s one night at the movies?  After a while, we just gave up. I was tired of going to the doctor all the time, getting no closer to a solution, so I figured I could just get used to the stomach pain, bloating, and constipation.

And that’s pretty much what I did. All through college I dealt with my “crazy stomach”, which would gurgle loud enough for my roommates to hear from the hallway, and send me to the bathroom for absurdly long periods of time. And until recently, it seemed that this is what life would always be like.

n1234920098_30086200_9241

But oddly enough, a possible solution showed itself in an unusual place, and I am now on the brink of an experiment. In the past year or so, I have been having terrible mood swings during the two weeks when PMS symptoms usually arise, something I had never dealt with before. I have always prided myself on being incredibly even-keeled, and feeling so out of control of my emotions was awful. I hated that I would get so sensitive about silly little things that would never usually bother me; sometimes I would feel depressed and hopeless; some days all I wanted was to lie on the couch.

After months of this, my doctor just recently suggested that I try a gluten-free diet – one that eliminates wheat, barley, and rye because they all contain gluten, a type of protein to which some people may be sensitive. According to my doctor, avoiding gluten has been shown to have a markedly positive effect on depression and other mood issues. I began researching the gluten-free lifestyle, and reading testimonials by people who have made the switch. I heard about people with depression who were also Celiacs, who discovered they no longer needed their antidepressant medications after switching to a gluten-free diet. Encouraging! I was also greeted by lists of familiar gastrointestinal symptoms that going gluten-free helped to alleviate, including many that I suffered from – though I had tested negative for Celiac disease. And again I wondered, how is this not what I have??

But as I read on, I discovered something that I hadn’t known before – that gluten sensitivity is actually a spectrum, rather than just a “you have it or you don’t” kind of thing. I can’t imagine how this could have escaped me before; I had many of the Celiac symptoms, but had tested negative – why had no one suggested that I might still be mildly allergic, and that maybe I should just go off gluten for a while anyway to see if it helped?

So, armed with this new knowledge and the possibility that going gluten-free could help both my mood swings and my gastrointestinal issues, I am launching my gluten-free diet experiment this week. Being a big fan of pasta, bread – and beer! – I’m a bit apprehensive to launch into what initially seems like such a restrictive diet. I mean, I work for the Whole Grains Council, and now I can’t eat wheat?

quinoa1

But the good news is, there are more grains that ARE gluten-free than aren’t, and I fully intend to play around with all of them. I already do a lot with brown rice and corn, and I recently got into quinoa, so I’m thankful to have those in my arsenal already. And I’m interested to see what kinds of things I can do with sorghum, millet, and buckwheat. For a full list of whole grains that are gluten-free, check out the Whole Grains Council website.

(Also, I’ve heard there are some really great gluten-free beers!)

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to keep track of what I eat, and how it makes me feel, both physically and mentally. I’ll record it all here, share my favorite gluten-free recipes, and post any relevant research I come across about the effects of gluten-free living, especially on mental health. Everyone’s body chemistries are different, and this is not the first nor will it be the last elimination diet I try.  Obviously I’m hoping for positive results – in mood, stomach, or both! – but regardless of the outcome, I hope it will encourage you to experiment as well!

Bon (g-free) appetit,

Molli

Advertisements
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie A Feltman permalink
    August 26, 2009 11:55 pm

    Good luck Molli! Great picture 🙂

  2. Emma permalink
    August 27, 2009 12:22 am

    Molli – I really liked your post, but I do have a bit of advice for you about going gluten-free. First, my story: I was just diagnosed with Celiac disease. I’m what they call “asymptomatic” – though I actually sound a lot like you, because I’ve always had a sensitive stomach and have recently experienced some mood changes (in the past couple of years). They found that I have Celiac from a blood test when I was having bad heartburn. Since heartburn is an unusual symptom of the disease, I was blood tested again, and then had an endoscopy to check for cellular damage in my small intestine. They’re never really sure until they do the intestine biopsy.

    So my advice: you shouldn’t go gluten-free until you find out for sure if you have Celiac. Once you go gluten-free, blood tests and endoscopies will be inconclusive. And then you’ll never know for sure – and why give up gluten products, with the risk of never knowing what the real problem is, without getting tested first? I know for me, at least, that I didn’t want to give up gluten products without knowing for sure. Gluten was that important to me 🙂 And honestly, unless you know for sure, it’s a hard lifestyle to choose. You have to be careful at restaurants, careful about sharing certain kitchen utensils with gluten-eaters, and careful about checking ingredients in any kind of packaged food.

    I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but I think this information could be useful for you and for other people contemplating going gluten-free. If you do stick with gluten-freedom: good luck! It’s an adventure and a good excuse for a new challenge in the kitchen.

    -Emma

  3. September 2, 2009 1:14 am

    Hi,

    I agree with Emma that you should definitely get tested BEFORE eating gluten-free (but it sounds like you were already tested once?) I went gluten-free for many of the same reasons as you (the stomach problems). I had no idea gluten could be causing my depression though (which had started suddenly about 2 years earlier), and found that as soon as I stopped eating gluten, I felt so much better. Within a few months, the depression had completely gone away. But I wanted to get tested for Celiac, so I went back to eating gluten for a month, and it was the worst month of my life. Truly. The depression came back worse than it had been before and I didn’t know if I was going to make it. The Celiac test came back negative, but as you said, gluten sensitivity can be on a spectrum and it was clear to me that I couldn’t eat gluten. After experiencing the amazing difference, I have no problem giving up gluten and never want to go back. I detailed my experience on my blog http://thedailydietribe.blogspot.com I hope you figure out what the problem is, and if it turns out to be gluten, at least know that you have a great support group out there in the gluten-free blogging world. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s