Going Gluten-Free

My husband Jon has always had what he calls a bad gut. His mother says that his digestive issues started at around age three, and he’s been plagued by them ever since. There have been times when Jon’s digestive issues were milder or more severe. Sometimes there were obvious triggers that set off a particularly rough patch – like undertaking massive renovations to our house, and all of the associated expense, work and stress. But through all the ups and downs, he’s always had a touchy stomach.

IBS Diagnosis

Over the course of his life, Jon has undergone a whole lot of diagnostic tests and seen a whole lot of specialists. He’s seen family doctors, gastroenterologists, allergists, dietitians, psychologists and alternative health care providers. He’s taken various medications, exercised, worked on his mental health, kept food journals, read books and adhered to special diets. Some of it seemed to help for a time, but none of it really solved his problem.

Since no obvious cause could be found for Jon’s stomach issues, he was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. As I understand it, this diagnosis means that you regularly suffer from lower abdominal pain associated with diarrhea or constipation, but that no physical cause can be found. People with IBS are often told that it’s “all in their head” – or at least made to feel that’s the case – because nobody can identify a clear reason for their digestive issues.

Suspecting Celiac Disease

At one point about eight years ago I read about Celiac Disease, and recognized some of the symptoms from my daily life with my husband. Jon went for a blood test, and his test can back negative, which was both a relief and a disappointment. It was a relief because I was concerned that removing gluten from our diet would be hard, and a disappointment because it would have provided both an explanation and a solution. At no point, though, did we actually try eliminating gluten.

The past few months have been hard on Jon, for a number of reasons, so his IBS has flared up. We were out of ideas for what to do about it, though. And then about a month ago I was on a playdate and my friend Roxanna made an offhand comment about how diet can affect us. I was in the middle of my two weeks sugar-free at the time, so I was going through a dietary experiment of my own. This meant that I was in a place where I could see that eliminating certain foods may be difficult, but it’s also totally do-able if you’re motivated enough. I thought maybe it would be worth experimenting with some dietary changes to see if it helped Jon’s IBS symptoms.

Going Gluten-Free

I did some reading, and found some more information on gluten sensitivity, and proposed to Jon that he try going gluten-free. While he did have a negative blood test, there is increasing evidence that some people are sensitive to gluten, even if they don’t have a Celiac diagnosis. So he committed to going gluten-free for two weeks to see what effect it would have, and I (mostly) joined him.

We are now past the two week mark and it has made a definite difference for Jon. His digestive issues have significantly improved. He’s even noticed that his sinuses cleared up. For my part, I’ve found gluten-free cooking is far easier than I anticipated. Since potatoes, corn and rice are all gluten-free, dinner is really quite easy. My first experiments in gluten-free baking – chocolate chip cookies and brownies – worked out beautifully. My kids can’t get enough of them, and I’m honestly not sure you could tell the difference if you didn’t know. That’s all positive.

Of course, there are some sacrifices in going gluten-free. There are fewer convenience foods that Jon can eat, and we can’t just call up and order pizza or run through a drive-through. Gluten-free baked goods and baking supplies are more expensive and harder to find. But really, we can do this.

Hoping for Continued Improvement

Going off gluten hasn’t completely solved all of Jon’s problems, but we’re still the relatively early days. Many people report that it takes weeks or months for all symptoms of gluten sensitivity to clear. Perhaps a month or two from now we’ll be saying that it really is a miracle cure. All that I know for sure is that right now, for Jon, the slight inconvenience of going gluten-free is outweighed by the noticeable improvement in how he feels. He doesn’t need a diagnosis, he has personal evidence.

The kids and I still eat gluten, mostly because of the cost of gluten-free. By reserving the really expensive bread for the person who needs it, we can reduce the expense. Plus, I don’t personally believe that gluten is bad for everyone. Most of us can eat it without consequences. But for those who can’t, I think it’s really unfortunate that they can go decades without realizing that it’s causing them so many problems. Hopefully, as the research advances and more people go gluten-free, we’ll have the tools and the awareness to pinpoint gluten sensitivity earlier, so that people don’t suffer unnecessarily for so long.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. I’m still in the early days of gluten-free cooking and shopping, so if you have any tips on how to make it work, I’d love to hear from you! I’m also curious as to whether or not you would ever try giving up gluten. What would it take for you to pass up the French bread and opt for the rice crackers instead?

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  1. My daughter (almost 3) has been gluten free since she was 18 months old. I suspected that she had some food irritations, and I started to eliminate foods to see what it could be. The first thing I eliminated was gluten (b/c of a family history of gluten intolerance), and the changes were almost immediate. She slept better, was less cranky, and the persistant dark circles under her eyes cleared up. She is pretty used to not eating gluten now, and knows that certain foods “hurt her belly”. She is usually pretty good about not having bread at restaurants and birthday cake at birthday parties (we always bring her a special treat), and often asks, “this cake hurt my belly?”. We sometimes give in to her requests to try something with gluten in it. She is okay with a little sample, but if we give in too much, we are soon to regret it….she can get an upset stomach and her behaviour changes (and not for the better!!). It is amazing how common gluten intolerance is now. I have heard it is on the rise b/c 1. there is more awareness, and 2. the processing of wheat has changed. Because of the rise, there are a lot of gluten free products now available. Our major grocery store (Loblaws) has a great selection of gluten free products, and many pizza places now offer gluten free crust (it is worth asking about this!). Going gluten free can cost more, but we feel it is well worth it. Eating gluten or any food irritant can cause serious inflammation in your body leading to disease and behavioural difficulties. We feel it is better to endure the food costs than the health costs.

  2. Although no one in our house is sensitive to gluten, alot of our friends are. I am now pretty proficient at providing anything gluten free.

  3. both my sister and mother claim to be gluten- or wheat intolerant so i do have some exposure to life without the protein. sourcing baking, cooking supplies for when my sister visits is not too difficult and most gluten-free mixes can be substituted into most recipes without adding xanthan gum, etc.
    good luck in your new nutritional adventures, all the best to Jon’s digestive tract

  4. We’re not gluten free in our household, though I’ve given some thought to trying it to see if it clears up the trouble I have with excema. I have some experience with friends who have gone gluten-free with great positive results to their health.

    I agree that the gluten-free products are becoming more prevalent. About a month ago I noticed when flipping through the flyers in our mailbox that one of the nearby pizza places now offers gluten-free pizza. Check around and there might be a place near you. Or perhaps your asking will help spur your local pizza place into offering it in the future.

    • You betcha. We see it everywhere now (mind you, we look for it, since a family memeber has recently gone gluten free). Metro in Ontario (maybe Canada wide?) has a whole gluten free section. Here in Ottawa, we have several gluten free restaurants, and we were surprised that Zoe’s at the Chateau Laurier has a complete gluten free high tea!

      • I’m in Ottawa too, and I recently noticed that the Freshco (Sobeys’ discount grocery chain, formerly Price Chopper) now has a gluten-free selection also.

  5. I am amazed by the number of people I know that have gone gluten-free. I hope he continues to feel better.
    Capital Mom’s last post … Monday Moments: ArmsMy Profile

  6. Would love to see which GF recipes you’ve tried that were delicious, I haven’t had much luck with the ones I have found!

  7. Clare Adams says:

    I know that Luscious Creations in PoCo offer gluten-free baked goods if you are looking for a local producer. All their baking is nut-free too!

  8. I know quite a few people who have gone gluten-free with good results too, as well as a couple who tried it for their kids with Asperger’s and didn’t find a measurable difference at all. I”m impressed that your first baking experiments worked out well – I’ve heard that’s often not the case.
    allison’s last post … Mondays on the Margins: Book Review – Bloodlines by Richelle MeadMy Profile

  9. My father-in-law, ever since I met him, was always complaining about his upset stomach. He would drink gallons of milk, swear off food, and had some major mental issues with “eating”. His breath was always bad, and he was sometimes not a nice person to be around. Ok, a lot of times. I was thankful my hubby took after his mother. I tolerated him, and gritted my teeth a lot.

    Fast forward to last year, and him FINALLY going to the doctor about it, the inconvenience of being sick all the time getting to him. Doc did a test for Celiac. It came back negative, but he advised him to try going gluten and lactose free for two weeks to see what happened. He did it.

    Since then, I have (re) met a charming, funny, compassionate, and happy man, who no longer has horrible breath, sinus problems, excema, and stomach issues. He isn’t nearly as cranky, doesn’t suffer from SAD so badly he goes south all winter. He also finally realized how much he was making folk around him avoid him because of his attitudes and general a**hattery, and regretted many lost friendships.

    All he did was eliminate gluten. Amazing.

  10. My nine year old son is right in the middle of seeing specialists and having testing done to figure out his digestive issues which have been present since he was a wee babe. I was told he would outgrow it but at 8 his ped must have seen the light and started testing and sending us to specialists. He too was tested for celiac and it came back negative. If we don’t find a cause soon I think I too will try having him go gluten free for a few weeks to see if it helps. I also totally agee about people not thinking IBS is a real issue when when in fact it is and in some cases can rule your entire life.

  11. I’m glad to hear it’s helping Jon. I’ve been toying with the idea myself. We have a lot of eczema and psoriasis in the family (and a zillion different food intolerances). So, it’s worth a shot.

    Have you tried Quinoa? It’s gluten free, tastes fabulous and very versatile (+ cooks in about 15 min) and super duper healthy:


    Also, I thought I’d share this great flourless cookie recipe I found a while back. They’s so easy to make and taste delicious:

    Nadia @ Red, White and GREEN Mom’s last post … What my garden means to meMy Profile

  12. My sister has a fantastic and very popular blog: alldayidreamaboutfood.com

    She is pre-diabetic, so many of her recipes are gluten-free. I don’t think I could LIVE without sugar and carbs, but her baked goods are DELICIOUS, and mostly you can’t taste the difference. Thought you might want to check it out!
    Amanda’s last post … Wednesday of Few Words: We Get By With a Little Help From Our FriendsMy Profile

  13. Is there any update on your husband Amanda?
    I too have suffered with ibs for 20 years and just seen the connection between ibs and gluten sensitivity. I am just embarking on a gluten free lifestyle.

    • I think you’re actually asking me this question.

      The long and short of it is that giving up gluten seems to have helped, but it hasn’t been a miracle cure for him. So, it’s worth trying, but your mileage may vary.

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