Going Gluten Free (originally posted August 7th, 2011)

This is the first of several posts I’m copying from my personal blog…

This is an experiment.  A test.  A way to test out a theory.  But if it works, it may be the beginning of a lifestyle choice that I can’t come back from.  One without wheat.

For a girl who loves her bread (more, even, than sweet baked goods), the idea of a life without wheat is… Foreign.  A few weeks ago I’d probably have said unspeakable.  But today marks the start of Week 2 of my Gluten Experiment.  To tell you the truth, it’s actually not as hard as I’d originally thought.

And if it works, it’s worth it.

I don’t want to disgust you with details or anything, but I’ve been thinking about going Gluten Free for a while.  It was first suggested to me as a course of action by a friend about two years ago.  I’d been having digestive issues – big ones – and she said it sounded to her like I might be gluten intolerant.  She and a few other friends suggested it off and on for the last couple of years,based on symptoms I was having.  But I figured that until I was diagnosed by a doctor it wasn’t something I’d try.  Of course I wouldn’t actually go to the doctor to get diagnosed either.  I was too chicken.

Last month was busy.  So busy that I didn’t do a lot of cooking at home.  We did a lot of seeing friends and family and eating out.  There were countless birthdays and other celebrations, picnics, and a wedding.  I ate a ton of sandwiches and cake (wedding and birthday both).  By the time my birthday rolled around (at the end of the month) I had decided that I needed to try something different with my diet.  I was feeling miserable.

I’ll spare you all the details, but gluten intolerance is a reaction to a buildup of gluten in your system.  At the end of the day I had every symptom, especially an abdomen that felt like it had been scraped out with a fork.  I’ve been dealing with this on and off for years and had been told by the doctor that it was caused by a pH imbalance.  I even took some medicine for a while.  It just didn’t seem to do a ton of good.  So I decided the week of my birthday that I’d make August a Gluten Free month.  As an experiment.  Of course I’d have to bring my husband along on this crazy journey (he’s being quite patient with me, but he picked up a piece of regular bread for himself this morning when he went to the grocery store; I feel a bit like an addict because he hid it from me, but right now I’m not interested in eating it!  Maybe after a month of this I’ll be craving wheat?).

A few years ago when I first had this issue I would notice that I’d crave teriyaki chicken whenever my gut would be in so much agony.  Now I wonder if it was my subconscious’ way of making sure I stayed away from gluten?

I’ve had three different kinds of Gluten Free bread I bought from the store (none of which is particularly good).  I’ve made pasta once using my favorite Asian rice noodles and once using GF pasta shells I bought at the grocery store (both of which were quite good, and we didn’t miss the wheat at all).  We’re on a Gluten Free binge right now, I think, and hope to settle down a bit more next week with quinoa, sweet potatoes, and lentils as side dishes, but for now we’re trying it all.  We’re trying to figure out what’s worth getting again.  And I’m trying out baking.

I didn’t do a ton of research beforehand, so I’m learning as I go.  So far I’m using packaged flour blends and mixes, which makes me hurt inside.  I’m the anti-mix girl!  But it’s hard to know what will work in a world without gluten to create structure.  Oh, there are great recipe blogs out there, and I’m devouring them.  But finding that “magic blend” of Gluten Free bulk flours that most GF blogs talk about has been tough.  I shop at a bunch of different stores but even our local Henry’s only has a couple of options.  I’m hoping to take a trip to Whole Foods today (and I may stop by North Park Produce).  I tried out a GF chocolate chip cookie mix last week (because I knew that the first thing I’d want if I couldn’t have it would be something sweet, even though I don’t actually eat cookies on all that regular a basis in the first place).  It was okay but not quite to my liking in terms of flavor (I like a very brown sugar-y Tollhouse Cookie-type of flavor, and this had quite a lot of white sugar).  We found that it was much improved by adding oats (at my husband’s suggestion, which I found out later might not be gluten free but so far I seem to be okay with them).

We actually went out to dinner last night on a whim with friends, to Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza.  I was a little worried about my first out-to-eat experience (I’d had pho the night before, but it’s inherently not full of wheat to begin with).  But Sammy’s actually has a pretty extensive GF menu (although they do say that some people who are quite sensitive to gluten might not be able to eat there still, since they have lots of flour around the kitchen and there’s no way to guarantee that it doesn’t contaminate the GF food).  We were able to all share an appetizer (and they brought it with bread and romaine hearts, both) and my husband and I shared a GF pizza (I’d say a 6 out of 10 score on the crust, but not bad) and a GF salad.  And I didn’t feel like a leper!

It’s funny how people have reacted when I tell them I’m trying to go GF for the month.  A few friends have been super supportive, sending me recipes they like (a lot of people are sensitive to the stuff!).  I’ve had a few “oh are you trying to lose weight by cutting out white flour?” or “oh, tons of seeds, huh?” or “oh, I could never do no-carb!” comments (on and offline; trust me, if you said this to me, you’re not the only person!).  I’m not doing this to lose weight (and actually if I was, it would probably backfire, since processed GF foods – which I’m trying to get away from of course, but it’s hard at the moment – are typically higher in calories and sugars than non-GF foods).  I can still have carbs.  I can still have most foods.  I just have to be aware of what goes into them.

Soy sauce, for example, usually has wheat.  Lunchmeat often uses wheat fillers.  Many sauces are thickened with flour.  Until I know how sensitive I am, I won’t be able to say for sure if these things affect me.  But I’m trying very hard to stay away. I’m not sure how good a job I’m doing yet.

It’s hard.  I went to lunch with my cousin on Thursday.  I could have had a salad.  But I chose a sandwich instead.  No good reason.  But I regretted it later that evening.  My whole body hurt.  Which is actually why I think I might be onto something here.  Because for the rest of the week I was much, much less miserable.  Less wheat meant less pain.  Wednesday was my best day (I had been almost completely wheat-free for four days).  Thursday afternoon after lunch my symptoms came back in full force.  But by Friday they were almost completely gone again.

I just finished breakfast, which included GF biscuits from a mix.  They were just okay.  Heavy on the garbanzo bean flour.  I’ve heard that it’s one of the least pleasant of the GF flours but most of the mixes use it extensively (must be cheap?).  They were a bit dense but overall had a nice texture.  I certainly preferred them to the GF bagels I picked up on sale that I wish I’d left at the store.  I also stopped by another health food store last night and picked up some sorghum, buckwheat, and brown rice flours, and xanthan gum (which helps mimic gluten’s effects) so I’m hoping that I can make something truly from scratch soon.  In the mean time, I’m going to relish the fact that I’m feeling more and more human and less and less sick.  And pray that I can continue to be conscious of what my body needs.

I need to remember that it’s not about what tastes good.  It’s about not being in misery.  If I can FEEL good, all the obnoxious restrictions will be well worth it.  I’ll try to post about my progress and if I find any recipes I love I’ll include them here! :)

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