I’ve ended my relationship with gluten.
It’s not that gluten isn’t attractive. The smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the oven is still as lust-worthy as ever. And don’t get me started on homemade chocolate chip cookies.
But gluten and I don’t get along.
As a long-term relationship, we can’t make it work. We irritate each other. Whenever we get back together for a one-night stand—garlic bread, pasta, tiramisu—I feel fat and disgusted with myself the next day.
So I’ve had enough. I’m done with what gluten does to my body and self-esteem.
Gluten, go find someone else to love.
If you’re still in a relationship with gluten, you might think again. Is your relationship healthy, or is it doing more harm than good?
Full disclosure: I’m not going to give you medical advice. Nor am I going to tell you if you’re gluten intolerant. If you have a medical issue with gluten, then that’s an issue to discuss with your doctor.
What I’m going to talk about is your relationship with gluten.
A relationship you entered into freely. A relationship you can end, just as freely.
Personally, I’m not gluten-intolerant. I don’t have celiac disease. My heart goes out to those who live in fear of their bodies’ reaction to the smallest morsel of gluten.
Nothing is forcing me not to eat wheat.
Nothing is forcing me to eat wheat, either.
I’ve got free will. And you do, too.
You can choose to eat the standard American diet, with its pillowy burger buns, white bread sandwiches and thin crust pizza. Or you can take a hard look at wheat and what it’s doing to YOU, personally.
Gluten is a hot topic. We’re mistaken if we think the gluten controversy revolves around questions of diet and nutrition alone.
Gluten is a moral issue.
America is the biggest wheat exporter in the world. The suggestion that wheat products be banished from their prominence at the base of the USDA-approved food pyramid stirs our patriotic passions.
A while back, a friend of mine visited a nutritionist. The nutritionist suggested she abstain entirely from gluten products for several weeks in order to test for sensitivity.
Like all modern women, my friend posted her experience on social media. Comments poured in.
The virulence of the responses surprised me. You’d have thought we were discussing a violation of our constitutional right to grain consumption.
A sample of responses:
It’s all a bunch of pseudo-science. There’s no scientific basis whatsoever for the idea that normal people could benefit from removing gluten from their diets.
They’re trying to control us. It’s all part of Big Brother’s insidious plan to dictate everything we do, right down to the bread we eat.
If you don’t eat gluten, you’ll starve to death. Everything that tastes good has gluten in it. You’ll be stuck with a life of eating cardboard!
Then it hit me:
This wasn’t about nutrition. It was about culture.
Western culture, for good or ill, puts wheat and other foods made with gluten on a pedestal. Give us this day our daily bread. As American as apple pie.
Gluten is EVERYWHERE. In ketchup, mayonnaise, hot dogs and baked beans. Sandwiches, spaghetti and breakfast cereal. Giving it up completely is as bad as avoiding nuts.
Why would it be everywhere if it wasn’t good for us?
And why would anyone give it up unless they HAD to for medical reasons?
I’m no stranger to food experimentation. I’ve cut back on dairy. I gave up meat half a lifetime ago. Once, I even went two whole weeks without caffeine. I feel blessed that my food cravings direct me towards healthy foods most of the time.
But gluten was something else entirely.
I’d tried going gluten-free before. My partner at the time had an allergic reaction to certain wheat-based foods. We cut out gluten together. After two weeks, I felt great. He grumbled and came home one day with a huge loaf of bread.
Even though family life kept me from continuing the diet, I never forgot how great it felt. Without gluten, I felt lighter. Zestier. Less weighed down by lumps of food digesting in my stomach.
So I did some research.
I found that other people had experienced the same effects. Removing gluten from their diets gave them more energy. Stubborn belly fat dissolved. Looking at my own post-baby belly, I knew that I had to give this diet one more try.
So, when the chance arose, I gave up gluten. I left bread in the freezer (for emergencies) and put cereal boxes on the highest shelf of the cupboard, out of reach.
I switched to gluten-free oats for breakfast. I had salads for lunch, smoothies for snacks, and curries or stir-fries with rice for dinner.
And the results were exactly as I remembered.
I feel lighter. Zestier. More full of energy.
I used to feel sluggish after meals, so much so that I’d avoid eating if I had a big project coming up. Not anymore.
If I go out with friends and can’t avoid the bread basket, I pay for it. I feel worse the next day. My weight balloons.
For me, life without gluten tastes and feels fantastic.
When I look back on all those excuses people use to defend their right to gluten, I just shrug. We all have our sacred cows. For some, it’s chocolate. For others, it’s beer. Some people wouldn’t find life worth living without pasta and bread. And that’s okay.
That’s the beautiful thing about life:
We all have free choice.
We choose to eat wheat. Or we choose not to.
But we can’t make an educated choice unless we understand the alternatives.
If you’ve never gone gluten-free or cut down on gluten, then you have no idea what it will feel like for you. Every body is different. We all need to experiment to find out which diet suits us best.
And that’s why I feel so sorry that my friend was discouraged from taking her nutritionist’s advice.
She never got to exercise the power of truly FREE choice.
She let other people convince her that she didn’t need to personally experience the two options she was choosing between.
She was led to believe that sacrificing her culture—a culture that lionizes wheat—wasn’t worth the potential benefits of feeling and looking better.
As for me, looking and feeling great matter a lot more than what I put into my mouth. Food is nutrition. I need it to nourish my body, but I have a lot of other sources of pleasure in my life. Hot baths, walks in nature, and visits with friends beat the heck out of a slice of bread any day.
Goodbye, gluten. You were fun while it lasted.