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What the Gluten

I’m not one to give into fads of any kind.  I find that when something is gaining a lot of chatter it usually makes me question the validity of it.  I’m also not one to jump on the band wagon with everyone else, because I believe diets are designed to fail.  If everyone is veering left, I usually end up going right. I kinda have a bit of a rebellious streak (can you tell?).  I like the idea of self discovery and organically stumbling into something–whether it be an article of clothing or a dietary change.  So when I kept hearing about going gluten-free for people with no real health issues, it was hard for me not to roll my eyes back into my head and think it was another dietary trend to lose weight.  It made me want to ask to pass the gluten my way at the dinner table and say, “See look guys, I’m eating gluten and I’m turning out just fine!”

I strive to keep healthy and try to be fit.  I work out almost on a daily basis and I am a predominantly clean eater.  What that means is that I tend to eat more “whole foods” and less processed ones.  So when I went in for my annual check up and had my thyroid reexamined (I have hypothyroidism), I was told I would have to mess around with my synthroid prescription yet again to balance out my thyroid.  For those of you who don’t know, your thyroid helps your body use energy and keeps your brain and the rest of your body working as it should. So, when it’s out of whack, it can cause a myriad of symptoms that leave you feeling less than stellar (including brain fog, dizziness, forgetfulness, dryness, weight gain or loss depending, tiredness or anxiousness, agitation… the list goes on).  It’s incredibly common to have thyroid issues, and hypothyroidism is something all the women in my family deal with.  I was sitting at my doctors and he suggested I go gluten-free to assist the regulation of my thyroid, it piqued my interest.  It also meant that maybe I could help treat the problem and not just the symptoms.  I figured, why not try for a minimum of a week? Ideally a month is optimal for an elimination diet, but I thought a week would be a fun way to document shopping, cooking, and snacking gluten-free on a manageable scale.

Aside from my doctor, I also reached out to my nutritionist who gave me an incredible insight into gluten and why it could benefit my health as well as others.   When I asked her about trying a week of no gluten she both encouraged and supported me in doing so, and stated that there was zero harm in avoiding gluten–so why not try going for it?  The new way of thinking is that the gut is the gateway to all things in our body.  It’s the wall that lets our nutrients in and keeps potential invaders out.  That’s one of the main reasons to also maintain a healthy microbiome. (That’s why you take those awesome probiotics, folks!  I could go on and on, but I’ll try and keep this succinct as I can!)

Now that a gluten-free diet had officially landed on my lap, I felt I had to take a hard look at my health, and started delving into the research.  First, what actually is gluten? Gluten is a protein that is found in grains such as spelt, wheat, rye, barley, and kamut.  A ton of foods contain gluten–bread, bagels, crackers, pastas, cookies, cakes–basically all the yummy stuff.  It’s light and malleable, which is why it’s often used in baked goods.  It can also sneak up and behave as a binder; it’s used in some meats to hold foods together. So it’s important to ask first and pay attention as it can tiptoe into other foods as well like soy sauce (tamari would be the gluten-free alternative).   

Upon scratching the surface of this gluten-free adventure, many sources (Wheat Belly for one) seem to think that one of the reasons gluten might have a negative impact is that it has been tampered with by human intervention as its been bred to be more resistant to pests and weather changes.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason why some people’s bodies have an inflammatory response to gluten.  From what I understand, gluten can behave like a disruptor in our gut.  When our bodies eat gluten (mainly those with a sensitivity–which a lot of us have without realizing), our bodies attack one of the components of gluten.  When this happens, our bodies produce an inflammatory response which can manifest anywhere from brain fog to bloating, depression, anxiety, autoimmune disease (such as Hashimotos, which is associated with the thyroid), migraines, bloating, weight gain or loss… (all very similar to thyroid problems as well).  

In one great resource of gluten elimination, the book Grain Brain, Dr. Perlmutter states that “the nerve cells in your gut are not only regulating muscles, immune cells, and hormones, but also manufacturing an estimated 80 to 90 percent of your body’s serotonin.”  In fact, your intestinal brain makes more serotonin than the brain that rests in your skull.”  Wow, this blew me away–so I could also curb my anxieties with the help of diet?! Now I’m definitely intrigued.  The more I read about the gut, the more it seems so much is at stake with our diet.  As Dr. Perlmutter further explores in Brain Maker, “Today, much of the focus is on studies that show a link between gut dysfunction and the brain, and, more specifically, the link between the presence of inflammatory markers in the blood (indicating that the body’s immune system is on high alert) and risk for depression.”  It just goes to show how much we can heal and be preventative with what we ingest.  

While I am currently halfway through my gluten-free week and am desperately missing my flour tortillas and regular multigrain bread. I have to admit, I do feel a little less bloated and a bit lighter.  It’s obviously too early to really tell, but I am glad that I am trying this elimination diet out.  If the goal is to achieve a healthier lifestyle (especially with proper guidance and under the care of medical professionals), I don’t really see the harm in trying.  Long term, I don’t foresee myself being disciplined enough to do this every day and being so strict with every meal, but I could see how changing the way I look at food and paying even more attention to what I put into my mouth could have a positive impact. If I’m already seeing small improvements, then what’s the danger in feeling a bit better with the assistance of healthy eating? I also agree that a healthy balance and allowing small amounts of flour might need to be factored in for me in order to live in the real world.  I love all kinds of food too much to cut half out, but I do think I can focus more on putting gluten-free products and ingredients first when meal planning and ordering.

What I have found best about this “challenge” is that it has made me question what is healthy and why.  It’s not just good enough that food says “healthy” or “organic” on the label: the ingredients and how they affect MY body is what’s at stake.  And for the record, I am not a doctor of ANY kind, but I am passionate about my health and my family’s health.  And because of my passion, I have sought out multiple medical resources for help.  In no way am I saying that going gluten-free is is the only way to go, but I am saying, from my experience, that this is what was recommended for me and I wanted to give it a try.  Thanks for following along, hopefully I didn’t bore everyone!  I’m just hoping I helped shed some light on why it could benefit your health by eliminating gluten–whether it be for a week, a month, or for as long as you can resist.

Literature on Going Gluten Free

Here are a few books that have been helpful for me during the gluten-free week as well as an overall understanding of gluten and nutrition.

Grain Brain by David Perlumtter, MD

Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis

The Thyroid Connection by Amy Myers, MD

Gut by Giulia Enders

Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam

Gluten Free Family Favorites by Kelli and Peter Bronski

Eating Purely by Elizabeth Stein

Whole Bowls by Allison Day

Brain Maker by David Permutter, MD

 

Stay tuned for my Gluten Free Meal Plan and Menu!

 

All Photography by Angela Doran Photography

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36 Comments

  • Kali Desautels

    Thank you for sharing this, Gen. This is something I have done in the past, due to my
    Life long battle with Hashimoto’s and the fact that I passed this disease on to my baby girl. Your Gluten free challenge is inspiring me to go back to putting my health first, over the convenience of gluten-laden foods.

  • Jenn

    I have Hypo as well! I got diagnosed over a year ago but I think i have had it much longer…. It really is difficult to live with and all over the place. Good days and bad days. i am on nature-throid to treat mine as synthetic meds made me very sick. i have an appt with a naturapathic doctor tomorrow and i think she will mention gluten straight away. Its nice to read when someone else is going through it. Your post means more than you know. Thank you!

  • Jessica Matta

    I have Hypothyroidism as well. It’s so bad that I’m losing my hair. It went from super thick and curly to extremely thin and and even bald in some places. I never knew gluten could be a reason why my body is so messed up! (I was also one to roll my eyes at the gluten-free craze) I just figured my Synthroid dose was too low. I keep telling myself I need to see an Endocrinologist!

    This was eye-opening and really helpful. I hate dieting, like SO much, but if I could try some gluten-free stuff then why not? I’m sure my fat gut and depression brain would love it lol

    Thank you for this! I will have to check out those links and try it for myself!

    On a side note…You are an inspiration and a wonderful human being whom I greatly admire <3

  • Katie K.

    The perspective you are placing on going gluten free is so important and refreshing! You’re right, there are so many out there treating the gluten free lifestyle as a diet when it is truly meant as a healthier lifestyle for those facing medical issues related to its consumption. For those with Celiac and/or a digestive intolerance there is not much choice in making this a way of life. Personally, I have both a gluten intolerance and Hashimoto’s. I have been strictly gluten free for over a year and I credit this shift with helping my body prepare and maintain a healthy pregnancy after miscarriage and infertility. I have continued to maintain a gluten free lifestyle since delivery to avoid potential problems with postpartum healing and healthy breastfeeding. It may seem daunting with all that has to be eliminated but in my mind it has absolutely been worth it! Also, the number of alternatives available to replace the cookies and cakes and pastas have significantly improved and are really quite tasty!

  • Stephanie Rowley

    Thank you for sharing !! My mother also struggles with hypothyroidism and has debated on going gluten free! I can’t wait to share this article with her, your finds and your recipes!!

  • Dina Greiner

    I’ve also rolled my eyes at the gluten free barrage, but you’ve peaked my interest with the serotonin comment. Could I ease my anxiety with diet changes? Off to do some research! Thank you for the info!

  • Kelly M

    This is great! I love that you gave this challenge a try. I’m 19 and I’ve been gluten free for 3 years now and it has really benefited me, my family and my parents. My mom was diagnosed with hashimotos and hyperthyroidism, and that opened the door to a lot of different changes, lifestyle and diet wise. Anyway, I really love that you gave being gluten free a try! I’ve known a lot of people to be too intimidated by it to try, and you’re brave in giving it a shot! I’ve become more interested in taking care of my body and what I eat, and reading your blog has opened my eyes to a lot. Thank you so much! You’re absolutely lovely ❤️

  • Mikayla Oelschlegel

    First off: The fact that you were brave enough to drop the flour tortillas for a week is amazing! Being born and raised in South Texas, I live off of flour tortillas (sometimes literally!) Second off: As someone who also suffers from hypothyroidism, this really peaked my interest! I’ve been dealing with my thyroid problems since my freshman year of high school, and it never once occured to me that maybe I could help along my thyroid by watching what I eat a little more. This is definitely intriguing, and while I don’t know if I am brave enough to actually try gluten free for a week, I am very excited to see how your second half of the week goes with this.

    XOXO, Mik

  • CAROL

    Gen, Wheat Belly and Grain Brain are both great, eye opening books! I’m not gluten-free, but I now make better choices!
    For hypothyroidism and gut health, may I suggest you look into Plexus? Gut health is the main focus of Plexus supplements. At the risk of coming across as a weirdo, please feel free to contact me for information.

    Best wishes and happiness to you!
    Carol

  • Gifs Dee & Gen

    This is amazing 😍💕 thank you so much 💟💟💟
    You are the best 👑💟

  • Loreena

    I love this it’s an honest perspective from someone whose doctor sort of shook up her world. When my doctor told me I was 22 I cried as back then gluten free wasn’t a thing yet. I love the positivity and grit in this piece of her writing.

  • Katie Cox

    Omg! This is amazing! I have never thought about this before. I’m going to start doing this next week. I have been thinking about doing gluten free for a while now and after reading this, I’m all in.
    Thanks,
    Katie

  • mary bryant

    This is similar to the information I found while researching leaky
    gut , as I’m struggling with body wide inflammation.
    It’s great that you can introduce this information to the people that follow you ( many of whom are young ladies ), since many would not be exposed to this way of living and the reasons that necessitate it.
    Congrats on advocating for a healthier life, being open minded and brave enough to try Something new!
    Will you post any meal plans? This is where I struggle.
    I can’t make it such a strict daily affair either because it’s such a labor intensive endeavor.
    Have you found anything yummy?
    Tx
    Mary

  • Shandi

    I’m starting my gluten free journey but man is that food expensive. I can only get half a month of gluten free stuff because food stamps is stingy.

  • Jordan

    Thank you for sharing your journey! I’ve been gluten free for about 2.5 years for health reasons, and it’s not easy. I accidentally ate a small amount of barley the other day, which I discovered makes my anxiety disorder go crazy. (I’m still learning new things about my body despite being on this diet for so long). I’m in the process of trying to get diagnosed with Celiac Disease which will most likely mean that I have to eat gluten again for a couple months in order to get accurate test results.

  • Ana

    This is so amazing! Thank you for being so open to share such personal information about yourself. And thank you for showing the truth of how healthy diets should work. Having someone who can give solid, honest, and safe advice to many thousands of people is rare these days. You are truly incredible. You are so inspiring and I can’t tell you how much you have impacted so many lives. Thank you again for being so gracious to share with all of us, and know that we all truly appreciate everything you have to say ❤️❤️

  • Katelyn

    Hey Gen,
    It’s nice to hear about someone else who also has hypothyroidism as I have it. I’ve heard about this diet as well, but since I’m just starting on my journey, my doctor told me not to cut out anything yet because I am still young and growing. She suggested I wait until she has my medication regulated (basically on he proper dose for my thyroid) and then to take a look at my diet and see what I can cut. Now I’m a poor college student in a nursing program and have started hitting the textbooks I have for some answers. My entire moms side of the family also has hypothyroidism and it usually isn’t caught until your in your mid to late 30s. So, it’s a miracle they were able to catch mine while I’m 22. However the biggest thing they advocate it keeping active and eating healthy. One problem I have is that I’m currently restricted on physical activity due to a knee dislocation a year ago that is now coming back to haunt me, causing pain in my knee joint when I move the knee and sometimes making it impossible to get up some days. My doctor keeps telling me that I need to be healthy and active, but at the same time I shouldn’t be too active because of the knee problems. I would be interested to know what kind of work outs you do to keep in shape in order to try and become more active myself. I hope to have my movement restriction lifted once I visit my doctor and she orders the CT scan to look further into my knee problem. So, hopefully soon I’ll be back up and running like I used to.

  • Lorraine Yanick

    I’ve researched gluten (granted not in depth) and I panicked a bit because it seems like it’s everywhere! I felt like gluten free equated to starvation!
    I cannot wait for those recipes!

  • Jackie Bailey

    Thank you for bringing attention to this. Going gluten free has helped my auto immune issues. Gluten is so inflammatory. I found it is was easier than I thought it would be.

  • Holly

    Are your sons picky eaters? How has this been with them? I’ve come to understand you want your food to be colorful, and strive to stay away from white flour. My biggest worry is missing those tortillas and pasta! I have even tried wheat pasta and wheat flour shells because it’s definitely not the same.

  • Rachael

    You should read The Prime by Kulreet Chaudhary MD! It’s amazing and really focuses on cleaning the body and your gut 👍🏻

  • Kendra laytart

    You’re such a Beautiful and strong person. You make these life changing choices along with your children but you do research first. I love you so much!!!

  • Elena

    Can’t wait for your recipes. I have lupus and Crohn’s disease and have to eat clean. Eliminating gluten didn’t do much for me but I try to limit my intake for sure. Eliminating dairy, night shades, and high fat foods/fried/greasey foods/alcohol/caffeine/ spicy foods was super hard. But I feel so much better wrong clean.

  • Alexandra Rae

    Thanks Gen for this intriguing article. I too have never really thought too much of gluten free diets but I could definitely see the appeal. I’ll have to read some of the books you linked and maybe start to integrate it into my diet. We can all be a little healthier sometimes. 😊

  • Karen

    Thank you for sharing your story with us, and the resources to begin our own journey. I have Hypothyroidism and Hashimotos and I have had to increas my medication dosage almost every 6 months for years now. Going gluten free a chance can’t hurt, so I think I’ll give it a try! Looking forward to your menu plans

  • Kristen

    The first thing that popped into my head when I read “thyroid” was Hashimotos, how it’s often co-morbid with Celiac disease specifically, which you probably know from all of your research is a bit more intense on the gluten-free front than most cases of straight-up gluten intolerance. Hubs and 2/3 of our boys were diagnosed with Celiac 10 years ago, and let me tell ya, products (not to mention public education and awareness as well as medical research!) have come a long way, baby! Most things that contain gluten to begin with are probably not what would be considered “clean” but let’s face it-clean eaters need pasta too. And cookies. Ya know. Books have great info but sometimes you need to know what other moms have fed their kids without mutiny. 😉 So that said, crazy as it might sound, my email is attached to this post… if you find yourself looking for a product or brand the kiddos might embrace should you decide to reduce their gluten, we’ve got lots of experience to share, since the oldest was only 5 when diagnosed. He’s made it to 15, so we must have landed on a few decent gf offerings here and there! 🙂

  • Kim

    Hi,
    I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, which is a thyroid disorder. I found information online from Isabella Wentz who is a naturopath and thyroid pharmacist online. It was very informative. It was about leaky gut and the things that it sounds like you have learned. I also have Crohn’s disease. I tested negative for Celiac. However, I also tried going gluten free for 3 months to see if it would have a positive effect. It was hard and expensive, but I had to give it a try to see if it would help with inflammation and to feel better. For me, unfortunately or fortunately, however you want to look at it, there was no improvement; but now I do eat healthier because of trying it. Good luck! It’s not convienient nor easy, but worth trying.

  • Destinee Mercer

    This is so inspirational and so eye opening, sorry I don’t have too much of a paragraph to comment but I just wanted to say great job and you’ve inspired me to change my life in a better way now! Thank you!

    Kind regards,
    Destinee Mercer

  • Rachel

    This is really challenging even with candy in the house from Halloween but im trying my best😉

  • Kass Foley

    Been waiting desperately for this post and I am so happy you shared it with us! Although I personally don’t think I could go gluten free (I have a rebellious side too), you have definitely opened my eyes to the idea of what is healthy and why. I am definitely going to take more care about my food choices and what it will do to benefit MY body. Thanks Gen x

  • Brenda Lewis

    Well that was incredibly informative. You’ve piqued my interest in examining my own diet. As someone who middle-aged diabetic and hypertensive (what a cliché), I do try to eat healthier. Now I think there is some tweaking I could do. Everyone can improve right, thanks Gen

  • Christelle

    What I appreciate in this post is the fact that you are promoting the benefits of a gluten-free diet without demonizing other types of diets.
    I especially like the fact that you encourage people to try the experiment without feeling guilty and that any experience, no matter how small, can be beneficial.
    Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
    I love reading your posts, they are always full of little tips and kindness. Above all, keep going!
    Thank you Gen!

  • Jess

    I’ve been gluten free for 2 years now and it has been a life changer! I suffered regularly from chronic migraines and headaches, sometimes getting 2 or 3 on a weekly basis. After a month of going GF, I felt so much better! I had a ton more energy, migraines and headaches were gone and I lost 10 lbs! I tried to use organic wheat and bam I got a migraine. It’s been hard giving it up but gosh do I feel great! Some great websites for GF recipes – kimberlysnyder.com, foodmatters.com, thehealthyapple.com and makingthymeforhealth.com. I’m still looking for a recipe for homemade tortillas lol. Oat flour has been a great substitute for me. I even have a great pizza crust using oat flour. Love the site!! Lots of great info. Thank you!!

    • Tracey

      Hi Jess,

      I too suffer from very bad daily headaches, and 3-4 migraines a week. I have done a lot of research about migraines, but have never come across anything associating the migraines and gluten. So I am going to try doing a week gluten free, like Gen, because a week sounds more manageable than a month! Thank you for sharing your story! 😊

  • Jen

    Hey Gen!
    I have to say, I’ve been looking forward to reading this one. I, myself, have considered trying a gluten free diet for a period of time now but I have absolutley no idea on how to go about doing it. I enjoy my whole wheat breads and tortillas. I think that it would have to be a progression for me. This was extremely insightful and I am so glad that you enjoyed it and found some differences in your week. I look forward to what you come up with next. Much love to you and your beautiful family! Thank you for sharing!! xoxox

  • Tracey

    Hi Gen,
    Thank you for all this information! I was wondering if you had trouble finding a Dr that believes in thyroid problems? I have read a few books about it, and have learned that some of the thyroid tests aren’t accurate. And that some people can have symptoms even if their thyroid levels are “within the normal range”. But my Dr doesn’t believe anything I’ve told him. He says my levels are “in the normal range”, and that there’s no possibility I could be having symptoms!
    Thank you so much for this insightful, beautiful blog! I am really enjoying it! My only wish? That you could post more often! 😊. But I also have 3 kids, so I know there’s only so much time left for things like this. God Bless you and your family.

    Tracey

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