I’ve alluded to my struggles with depression but have never fully exposed them before. Now that I’m knee-deep in audio presentations from the Women’s Gluten Free Health Summit, I am being reminded of all the reasons to go g-free, and I’m once again so grateful that I found out — approximately 10 years ago — that I needed to cut gluten out of my life.
If I hadn’t gone g-free, I can honestly say that I might not be alive to share my story today.
And no, I’m not exaggerating.
In my early twenties I was clinically depressed, undergoing psychotherapy, and considered suicide on multiple occasions. This is not something I shared with the world. On the outside, things looked pretty darn perfect. But on the inside, I was foggy, tired, desperately sad, and just knew — I had a “gut feeling,” if you will — that something was OFF. I remember thinking, “I bet I have cancer,” because I knew… I just knew… That something was wrong, and I felt like I was slowly dying.
All of this mental distress was in addition to my convoluted GI history. I suffered from bouts of mysterious stomach pain throughout my teen years, and I once went for three weeks (!!!) without pooping. I suffered the prep — and the procedure — of a colonoscopy while still living in my college dorm. Sadly, my docs never had answers for me. Test results were inconclusive, “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” was my diagnosis, and I was always prescribed to “eat more whole grains.”
It wasn’t until my mom discovered her own gluten intolerance (and subsequently reversed her osteopenia after a year of living g-free) that “gluten” was even a blip on my radar.
Although I had a number of uncomfortable and embarrassing gut symptoms, the BRAIN symptoms were the worst part of my struggles. When I eliminated gluten, the clouds parted and my healing process could finally begin.
Here’s an astonishing fact about gluten and mental health:
Gluten sensitivity can be primarily — and at times, exclusively — a neurological disease. In some people, the symptoms can be entirely brain-based. Depression, biopolar, and schizophrenia have ALL been linked to gluten. Why? It all comes down to inflammation in the brain. This occurs when a person who is sensitive to gluten is repeatedly exposed to it.
Lordy, that was me! Cereal for breakfast, bagel sandwiches for lunch, and pasta with a side of garlic bread for dinner. And don’t forget about the cookie, pie, or brownie for dessert!
Many of us are familiar with nut allergies and sensitivities… Can you imagine eating nuts for breakfast, more nuts for lunch, nuts for dinner, and then nuts for dessert? Of COURSE that could be “too much” for a person’s body… But we don’t think twice when it comes to gluten, since it’s masked in so many different disguises (from bread to pastries to pasta and more).
Anytime anyone is repeatedly exposed to ANYTHING their body can’t tolerate, an immune reaction (and consequently, inflammation) occurs. Both the gut and the brain are susceptible to inflammation, along with anywhere else in the body, but the fascinating thing is that the gut and the brain are quite similar. In fact, the gut is known as the “second brain,” as it houses an extensive network of neurons and produces and receives a variety of neurotransmitters that we typically associate with the brain (i.e. serotonin and dopamine).
So if your gut is screwed up and inflamed, your neurochemical functions will be screwed up as well.
The point is, if you have lingering, unexplained health conditions ranging from brain fog to tummy troubles to mental health issues, gluten could be the culprit. It’s not that gluten is inherently bad… It’s not. It’s just a substance found in certain plants. But unfortunately, a lot of people shouldn’t be eating it.
The best way to figure it out? Don’t rely on a lab test (often the results are false-negative); rather, try cutting gluten out of your life for at least 4 weeks and see how you feel.
I’ll admit it: my break-up with gluten was not without its ups and downs.
At first, I didn’t believe my diagnosis. I was in complete denial, and often “cheated” by sneaking a piece of bread from the bread basket when dining out. But the longer I stayed “mostly g-free,” the worse it was when I’d eat gluten. Slowly, over time, I realized that the slice of bread just wasn’t worth it. Now I look at pastries and rolls as “objects d’art” and not food… At least not food for me.
I’m always evolving. Removing gluten allowed me to uncover other food sensitivities (which is not surprising, since I spent the first 20-25 years of my life eating gluten and essentially poisoning my gut). In my “about” page, I share a story that occurred after I’d been g-free for a few years. I found myself curled up, crying hysterically on my son’s bedroom floor. He — a toddler, at the time — had to comfort ME. This is when I picked myself up and uncovered other food sensitivities and I now follow a diet that’s gluten free, dairy free, corn free, and (99%) soy-free.
So… Why care about clean eating? Why care about the possibility that you might need to be gluten free?
Because what you eat can make or break you. And although gluten isn’t bad for everyone, it might be for YOU.
The key to getting to started is to try not to think about all the things you can’t have. Rather, focus on all the things you CAN have! Eating g-free can be glorious. Fresh, healthy, and getting easier and easier as more resources are being created (cookbooks, blogs, etc.) I’ve even got you covered right here, on this website! I’ve created a clean-eating, gluten-free shopping list that can help you get started, and I offer the Weekend Reboot (completely g-free) 2-day detox.
There is NO RISK in going g-free. You have nothing to lose, and potentially, everything to gain.
Even if you don’t have a gluten intolerance, removing gluten from your life for a month will not cause you to miss out on any important nutrients that you can’t get from eating naturally gluten-free, clean, whole foods.
If anything, removing gluten from your diet will open your eyes to all of the packaged, processed, sugary, starchy foods that so many of us eat on a daily basis. It will allow your tastebuds to adjust to a cleaner, “real foods” diet. Sensitive to gluten or not, you’ll likely feel clearer, lighter, and even lose a few pounds if you make an effort to stay away from most of the packaged gluten free “substitute foods” such as GF cookies and crackers.
Where to go from here?
Check out my gluten free shopping list if you’re curious about what I eat.
Try the Weekend Reboot 2-day detox to try two (short!) days of g-free eating.
Head to your local bookstore or library for an amazing cache of resources. It’s getting easier and easier to find quality information and gluten free options!