Give us this Day

Give us this day our daily bread…

Last month I wrote about my husband Jon’s decision to try a gluten-free diet. At the time, I wrote, “I don’t personally believe that gluten is bad for everyone. Most of us can eat it without consequences.” I would have agreed with Michael Pollan’s take, published a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times Magazine. When asked what he thought of gluten-free diets, he answered, in part, “Could it really be that bread, a staple of Western civilization for 6,000 years, is suddenly making millions of us sick? I’m dubious.” It just seemed far-fetched to me that a food that so many of us consume on a daily basis was evil.

'Local' bread close-up

In contrast to my husband, who has always had what he calls a bad gut, I’ve always had a stomach of iron. Other than morning sickness related to pregnancy, and the occasional case of the flu, I can eat pretty much whatever I want without consequences. As Jon gave up bread, and I started preparing gluten-free food for him, I gleefully noshed on full-octane pizza dough and took my daughter out for burgers. But then I had a strange experience, pretty much from out of the blue.

After not consuming gluten for about three days because I was eating with my husband, I met a friend for coffee and ate a cookie. In fact, it was one of the homemade oreos I immortalized in my post about working from a local café. It was good – every bit as good as I remembered. But within an hour or so of eating it I felt bad. I felt bloated and a little nauseous and just generally not good, and the next day I had a mild digestive upset. It wasn’t anything major, but it surprised me, because of me belief that I can eat anything.

I get a cookie to go

Since we were already mostly gluten-free at home, I decided to try going gluten-free for a few weeks myself, and then I bought a lovely loaf of locally-made organic sourdough bread. I thought maybe the cookie reaction was a one-off, or it was caused by all that sugar and fat, so I needed another data point. I am engineer, after all. Bread in hand, I sat down to a lunch of soup and half a loaf of sourdough. And man, did that bread taste good, all covered in butter. I ate it with relish. And then, about an hour later, I felt crappy.

I honestly don’t know what I’m reacting to – whether it’s actually gluten, or wheat specifically, or white flour, or what. I’m also fairly certain that if I started eating it again that I would stop noticing that crappy feeling within a couple of days. But I’ve noticed some positive side effects since I’ve gone off gluten, which make me inclined to stay off of it. For one thing, like Jon my sinuses are clearer now than they were. For another, my skin is also noticeably clearer. I don’t have Celiac disease, and my reaction to gluten is hardly life-threatening, but I also don’t think it’s all in my head, especially because I was never expecting this.

Successful sourdough

For the time being, the kids are still eating gluten. I’ve toyed with the idea of clearing it out of their diets to see what happens, but the truth is that I’m just not ready to make this kind of decision on their behalf. They’re not displaying any obvious signs of distress on their current diet, and asking them to give up wheat would be a big deal.

For instance, Hannah went to a birthday party just this past weekend and ate vast quantities of pizza and cake. If I were clearing gluten out of her diet I would have to provide alternative food for her to eat. And sometimes she would find herself in the position of having to abstain from having a treat the rest of her class got to enjoy, if I didn’t happen to get a heads-up that a mom was bringing in birthday cupcakes. It would be inconvenient for me, yes, but more to the point it would be a big sacrifice for a six-year-old to make. If she had serious allergies we would do it in a heartbeat, but she doesn’t, so imposing dietary restrictions feels extreme.

Milk and cookies for cranky children

I honestly don’t know how long I’ll remain gluten-free. Right now it’s working for me, and I’m mostly okay with it, although I do have my moments. I can bake gluten-free cookies and gluten-free cake and gluten-free banana bread and they’re all great, but gluten-free bread is never the same as actual bread. And when I bought two boxes of Girl Guide cookies out of habit and then realized I couldn’t eat them, I may have cried a little. But I’m committed, and I’m an adult, so I’m sticking with it for now, even though those Girl Guide cookies do look awfully good.

Have you ever given up gluten, dairy, sugar, meat or something similar? What was it like? And what would it take for you to try eliminating gluten from your own diet? I’d love to hear!

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  1. Yep, your guts are angry about the gluten.

    I’m at the end of 30 days of no-dairy, no grains and no sugar. Trying it out to see if it helps some minor ailments and gives me more energy.

    I’ve ‘cheated’ a couple of times in the 30 days and had a handful of my son’s crackers or a slice of bread. My cheat has been rewarded with serious gut rot. Like you I have a fairly strong constitution and rarely react to foods. But now when I eat things with gluten in them I get a headache and intense stomach pain.

    Not a medical type at all but a friend that has been reading up on gluten intolerance told me that your gut starts healing when you go off gluten for a few days. When you then have a slice of pizza or some animal crackers it’s like ripping a scab off. And thus the intense stomach reaction.

    Damn that cookie looks good.
    Rachel’s last post … One Simple Thing: No JuiceMy Profile

  2. i would be very wary at diagnosing a gluten intolerance based on rexposure to dietary gluten after a period of avoidance.
    yes, you may have a subclinical gluten sensitivity but you may also be experiencing what we all go through when exposed to a novel foodstuff again. i experienced similar after a week off gluten but in no way am i gluten intolerant.

    the intestinal mucosa produces digestive enzymes which can up- or down regulate according somewhat to dietary constituents. try steering clear of pulses in the diet for a week and then having a bowl of bean chilli – flatulence, stomach cramping and bloat. likewise, eat a steak after an almost total vegetarian diet and see how your gut handles the protein.
    pomomama’s last post … fibre friday: framedMy Profile

    • I eat beans infrequently, and don’t suffer when I have them after a few weeks without. Whereas my husband is absolutely sensitive to novel foods, I would say that I am not. I can go out for a big Indian meal, for instance, and even though it’s a rare occurrence I don’t pay the price. This is why I’m surprised – I eat novel foods often enough, living in the multi-cultural city that I do, that I can say I don’t typically react to them. And when I didn’t eat refined sugar for a couple of weeks I noticed no real difference between how I felt on or off the stuff, and I was fine when I started eating cookies and ice cream again.

      Quite honestly, I’m not entirely sure what to think, and I in no way have the necessary background to make a diagnosis. I would say that I am typically skeptical of people who make claims of low-level dietary sensitivity and are constantly eliminating certain foods from their diets. It’s one reason I was really not expecting this reaction – I am not a food sensitivity believer. But the fact that my skin hasn’t been this clear in decades is the stand-out for me. It’s at least interesting, if not exactly rock solid evidence.

  3. I had to go off dairy for a while because E showed a dairy sensitivity when she was teeny… since I eat cheese as a major protein source, and consume dairy in other places (hello, cream in my coffee!), it was really hard. I could eat goat cheese (yum!), but finding an acceptable half’n’half alternate that wasn’t soy or fake sugar based was pretty difficult.

    I wonder if my DH might benefit from a gluten-free diet tho.. he has chronic reflux and lower gastric issues that don’t seem to be resolved by medication.
    Katie B.’s last post … Wordless Wednesday: Snacking on the GoMy Profile

  4. I was always skeptical too. In August my husband and I followed a “paleo” diet. Which was gluten free since it was grain free. I had more energy and my skin cleared up also. We’ve since gone back to eating normally (or paleo inspired I guess you could say, ha ha) but I’d like to do it again. No idea what it was that made the difference for me (dairy/sugar/gluten) but I really did feel great for that month. I didn’t notice a dramatic change once I started eating all of those things again though. So maybe it was all in my head. More experiments needed, lol.
    Amber’s last post … a post about my best friend…and breast cancerMy Profile

    • We were toying with trying the paleo diet to see if it helped Jon, but that felt like a really big leap. By just going gluten-free I can still eat chocolate and ice cream, so it’s must more manageable (to me).

  5. Freeze those GG cookies so you can have a treat every once in awhile if you decide to go off (or cheat) the GF lifestyle!
    Jen’s last post … Where in the WorldMy Profile

  6. Ok you had me all skeptical until the “better skin” part. What is wrong with your skin? I ask because of my acne issues which make me very self-conscious, to the point where I’d try anything that might even mildly help!

    • I have acne, too. I’ve been washing my face with honey for a few years, and that helped a lot, but going gluten-free seems to have helped even more. Quite honestly, I’m a little skeptical about the whole thing and I’m living it. But my husband has confirmed that I have fewer zits, and I’ve had several people tell me I look great, so I don’t think it’s all in my head.

  7. Oh dairy, how I miss you.

    I was dairy free for about four days last week and I felt a lot better. Then Darren ordered pizza for dinner on Friday and I succumbed.

    And then I felt like crap all weekend. Unfortunately, this week I have a pile of events and it’s been difficult to be completely dairy free (see: getting up at 4am and forgetting to take your soy milk along with you for the coffee thing. Also eating lunch at the firehall with the firefighters who made pasta that I am sure had butter in it).

    My sinuses are killing me, btw.

    We also tried a paleo diet – Darren liked it. Just make sure you keep some metamucil around (or similar).
    Nicole’s last post … Dairy Free FallMy Profile

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