Disclaimer: The following is an account of my personal journey with gluten intolerance and what I learned from both research and my own body.
All of my life, I suffered from terrible eczema. From as early of an age as I can remember, I had itchy little bumps popping up on my skin, which would turn into red blotchy rashes when I scratched them. Throughout my life, they migrated around my body: they started out on my knees, then my elbows, then by adulthood they covered my legs and hands completely.
I was always scratching, leaving my skin bloody and scabbed. I even scratched so bad in my sleep that I tried wearing gloves to bed. I went to numerous doctors, all of whom treated the symptoms but never questioned the cause. They prescribed me steroid creams and told me to use them as needed. As needed was all of the time, so for ten years of my life, I smothered my body in steroids. The creams kept the itchiness under control and the swelling down, but they never stopped the rashes from coming back.
Two years ago, a friend approached me about a new diet that she was trying out. My friend had suffered from horrendous migraines her entire life. The headaches would hit her every two weeks and last up to five days, during which time she would be throwing up and completely debilitated. They were so bad that sometimes her family would rush her to the hospital so that she could get morphine – and some relief.
Recently, someone had given her a book called Wheat Belly and told her to check out a website called The Bulletproof Executive to read up on how she could help her migraines with dietary changes. Both the book and the blog called for a change in eating habits. Anxious for any help that she could get her hands on, she decided to give it a try and gave up gluten, dairy, and sugar. In two months, she lost roughly twenty pounds, had endless amounts of energy, and – best of all – her migraines had completely disappeared.
As she was doing her research, she had noticed that many different sources mentioned that gluten intolerance and allergies manifested in different ways in different people, but one of the most common signs was skin issues such as eczema. I figured I had nothing to lose; I was sick of treating symptoms and medicating my skin with no real results. I cut gluten out of my diet that day. For five weeks, nothing changed. It was horrible at first – I had cravings for anything and everything that contained gluten.
At the six week mark, my skin cleared up. It was mindblowing. Seemingly overnight the rashes disappeared, the swelling went away, the scabs healed, the redness faded, and I had normal looking legs and hands for the first time in years. And it stayed cleared up. I kept to the regimen and my skin continued to stay perfect; even the pimples that I occasionally got on my face had vanished.
It was time for the ultimate test: introducing gluten back into my diet. I had a meal packed with gluten. As if I had flicked on a light switch, the bumps and rashes came back, along with the itchiness. Large, painful pimples dotted my face. My skin was a mess for two weeks. I stayed away from gluten again and my skin cleared up yet again. It was clear to me that my body came under duress as soon as gluten was introduced to my system.
Where am I at now? I haven’t used steroid cream in two years. I started reading everything I could on the subject and was horrified by what I learned. Apart from distancing myself from gluten, I’ve made several other dietary changes that have been truly life altering. Here’s a simple summation of the main points that I learned from my journey and some tips that I wanted to share with anyone looking to achieve a healthier lifestyle:
Step One: Ditch Gluten
Going gluten-free isn’t just another diet fad. We’ve gone over how to cut it out of your diet, but let’s go over some of the things it can do to us. Gluten can have a powerfully negative effect on the human body, regardless of if you have celiacs or not.
Reason one: Gluten causes gut inflammation. Sounds lovely, right? You might not know it, but 70% of your immune system resides within your gut. This means that to keep your immune system working properly, you need to keep your gut happy. Having a healthy gut provides you with a number of benefits including: reduced bloating and stomach pain, improved bowel function, increased attention span and focus, reduced risk of illness, and improved energy.
Reason two: When gluten is introduced to your body, it causes premature cell death in the gut. This leads to a condition called “leaky gut syndrome,” which alters and damages its lining. Wheat also contains glycoproteins called lectins that are capable of “unlocking” the proteins that determine which substances stay in your gut and which can enter your blood and lymphatic system. When this barrier breaks down and certain substances are allowed to enter your bloodstream, you can develop autoimmune diseases.
Think about it – do you want food particles and bits of bacteria leaking into your blood and dispersed around your body? Common diseases that have been associated with gluten consumption include rheumatoid arthritis, skin diseases, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and many inflammatory diseases.
Wheat also causes fat to build up around your stomach, which is why people who ditch gluten often see rapid weight loss occur. It also causes vitamin D deficiency, which can cause both your bones and immune system to weaken.
Step two: Ditch Sugar
Why? First and foremost: sugar has been proven to be fuel for cancer. Having high blood sugar also leads to conditions such as stomach fat, diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, and heart disease – to name a few! Just remember that if you are cutting out sugar, you have to think broader than simply avoiding the candy bowl: eating two slices of white bread raises your blood sugar more than several teaspoons of straight sugar!
Step three: Eat the Right Foods
Right about now you’re probably asking what should I eat? The answer is simple: eat real, whole foods. Fill up on meat, fish, vegetables, raw nuts, eggs, healthy fats, herbs, olives, and an occasional piece of fruit. Try to eat at least some raw vegetables everyday. Consume lots of healthy fats such as raw nuts, olive oil, avocados, ghee, grass-fed butter, and coconut oil.
Make sure the fowl you eat is free range and organic, the fish you eat is wild caught, and the beef and butter you eat come from grass-fed cows. Ditch the processed food. A great way to do this is to shop on the outside perimeter of your grocery store (as opposed to going into the aisles where all of the boxed foods are displayed).
If you do remove wheat and gluten from your diet, don’t drift over to the gluten-free aisle. Gluten-free products are oftentimes made from rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch – all of which are high on the glycemic index and can increase your blood sugar even higher than gluten does. As we mentioned before, having high blood sugar can contribute to diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, heart disease, and belly fat.
We know that this is a lot to take in and might seem like a massive hurdle at first. Our advice: try to think of this change in your lifestyle as a challenge and invent fun, new recipes. You’ll be amazed at how tasty real food can be! Trust us, if you stick with this game plan, you’ll start seeing immediate results – the fat will melt off of your body, your energy and focus will increase dramatically, and your skin will clear up. Not to mention that your body will have the ability to better fight off disease with the new powerhouse of nutrients that your immune system is being fed! Give it a try – you don’t really have anything to lose!
Interested in learning more? Here are some sites that I’ve found helpful:
Wheat Belly. This is the blog of Dr. William Davis, MD, author of the book Wheat Belly. He takes an in-depth look at the history of wheat, how we are currently growing and processing it, and the impacts it has on the human body.
The Bulletproof Executive. This is the diet created by Dave Asprey; it’s what he likes to call an upgraded paleo diet. He talks about his own journey and shares what he has learned from his years of research into diet and health. He also hosts a podcast and a blog where he discusses and posts new research and a forum where he addresses followers’ questions and concerns.
GlutenSugarDairyFree. Have you give up gluten, sugar, and dairy but find your inner foodie craving some delish dinners? You can find great recipes to try out, classes to attend, and articles to read on GSDF.
MindBodyGreen. Mind Body Green is one of my favorite blogs. It offers not only dietary advice, but a whole spectrum of articles covering everything we need to be healthy, whole, and at peace. They post some great things about staying away from gluten, and nutrition advice in general.
Gluten Free Living. Gluten Free Living is a great resource for recipes, articles, and tips for living a gluten-free lifestyle. The magazine is also available in print and is sold in stores like Whole Foods.
Have you gone gluten-free already and could use some extra assistance? Check out these awesome apps!
Is That Gluten Free? Is That Gluten Free? holds a database of over 31,000 products and over 12,000 brands that are gluten free so that you can be sure of what you’re buying.
Find Me Gluten Free Find Me Gluten Free helps you locate restaurants near you that offer gluten-free menu options. You can read reviews, get directions, and contact the restaurant directly through the app.
Gluten Free Registry Gluten Free Registry lets you locate gluten-free restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, caterers, and more anywhere in the country. Their database consists of over 40,000 participating merchants.
Want to simply search a type of food and find brands that make gluten free options? Then check out GFOverflow. This incredibly easy-to-use interface lets you search for any type of food item, read a review, and buy it online. You can also browse by category if you don’t have something specific in mind.
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