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Erin Elberson: Gluten Free Fitness Nerd

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Hey everyone!

I am Erin, the Gluten Free Fitness Nerd.

Yes, I’m a nerd. I have to admit it, I cannot lie. Although I have ditched the thick glasses I wore as a child (thank you, Laser Eye Surgery Center) I am still a nerd. I like to read. A lot. And I like to read research and sciency stuff.

Sciency stuff

More than that though, I like to figure out how that sciency stuff applies to real life. I am very fortunate to have learned, and to continue to learn from some very smart people. There is an overwhelming amount of information to sort through, and lots of times it is contradictory. So, I synthesize what I learn, and what I learn from others, to make an educated guess on what it takes to live a healthier life.

As you may be able to tell, I have a educational background in health sciences. I hold my Masters degree in Physical Therapy, and Bachelors in Health Science. I’ve considered going back for my Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD), but holding off for now. Probably forever.

Celiac diagnosis

I was diagnosed with celiac disease about 5 years ago-ish. Honestly my memory is not so good on that, but around 4 or 5 years ago. I had, like so many others, been diagnosed with the garbage can of GI disorders-IBS several years prior. I am a amateur physique athlete (figure competitions) and throughout the course of getting ready for a competition noticed an increased reaction to wheat products.

Lo and behold, a new GI doctor later-celiac disease. Which in retrospect makes perfect sense. I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, early osteopenia (despite lifting weights, having a calcium rich diet and being under 30 years old,) Raynauds’s syndrome, and sports injuries out the wazoo. Autoimmune disorders-all commonly associated with celiac disease. No one had ever put together the pieces.

Gluten free transition

Transitioning to a completely gluten free diet was a challenge in some respects and easy in others. It was challenging when it came to hidden gluten and labeling, as the labels have absolutely improved since my diagnosis. That may have been why I gravitated to naturally gluten free food-easier to navigate, and better for me.

I once made myself very sick by making homemade chicken soup. I wasn’t feeling well, so I made some chicken and vegetable soup. With College Inn chcken broth. Which was not gluten free. I was so mad. I ranted on the phone to my Mom for a good long while on that on.

It was easy in the sense that I felt so much better after going gluten free. The constant stomach pains, gas, bloating, all that fun stuff. It was gone. I would not ever want to feel that way again, not for any gluten-filled item. Just not worth it. Not even close. Not even for a Philadelphia soft pretzel from a street cart.

Gluten free diet

My diet is almost completely naturally gluten free. I do have gluten free oats, which I love, and gluten free Koala Crisp bars and Quakers Chocolate Crunch Rice Cakes as post workout fuel. I usually choose white/sweet potato or rice when I want a carb source.

I don’t eat gluten free pasta-I use spaghetti squash if I want the “pasta” vibe. For treats I LOVE chocolate, and ice cream-or both together. I am a firm believer that no gluten free food is off limits-there are just better amounts and times to have certain splurges. You can certainly get fat on a gluten free “diet”, just like with anything.

Education

Enough about me. My goal, what I want to do with my life, is to educate. To educate people to care for themselves better, do it well, and do it easily. I believe that we as humans have so much potential. I am saddened to see the food marketing to the masses, and the grocery carts full of “not food.” But I believe we can make a change, and that with some awareness, people will make better choices.

So I’m a nerd. But I’m a nerd on a mission. Gluten free, fit and healthy. That’s the goal.

Gluten Free “Diet” vs. Gluten free Lifestyle

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Living gluten free has received quite a bit of mainstream press lately. The Dr. Oz feature of course comes to mind, and there was a 12 page special report in USA today in November, and numerous other articles in publications including the NY Times.

With the rising awareness of a gluten free “diet” comes increased numbers of people trying the “diet.” Here’s the reason I am adding quotations every time I use the word diet here. There’s a method to the madness, I promise.

“Diet” as per Dictionary.com has several different meanings and uses. It can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective:

  1. Food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health
  2. A particular selection of food, esp. as designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition or to prevent or treat a disease
  3. Such a selection or a limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight
  4. To select or limit the food one eats to improve one’s physical condition or to lose weight

This is only a small selection of the 10 potential meanings.

Gluten free and weight loss?

You can see how this one little word has multiple conotations associated with it. Most people associate the word “diet” with the 3rd definition, from my experience. A lifestyle approach to diet would be definition #1. With the media exposure of the gluten free diet, there are some who are associating the gluten free diet with a weight loss diet.

Not so fast, buttercup. This is not necessarily the case. Any method of eating can be a weight/fat loss diet. It depends on activity level, what you eat, but most importantly how much you eat. Can you gain weight on a gluten free diet? Hells yeah. You can lose it too. You can gain/lose weight eating anything. The laws of thermodynamics do not change.

Popular diets

Let’s take a very quick and admittedly non-complete look at some popular “diets.”

  • Atkins: Taken in it’s purest form, the idea of eating meats and vegetables, and fats only. Excludes a complete food group.
  • South Beach: A balanced diet including all food groups eventually, but in their whole forms.

At their inception, people by and large did quite well using these methods of eating, provided their daily caloric intake was less than their daily expenditure. Then, there was the advent of the Atkins bars, and pancakes, and the South Beach cereal, and more bars, etc and so on. These foods made it easier for people to consume more calories. It’s much easier and quicker to eat several to many hundred calories worth of a nutrition bar than of chicken and broccoli. The satiety (fullness) factor is less, so more is eaten. And guess what? No more fat/weight loss.

The gluten free “diet” in it’s purest form is a very healthful diet, and can certainly aid in controlling calorie intake.

Peter Bronski just did a blog post (here is his Gluten Free Athlete profile) on a brochure he found at his local market.

Check this out:

  • Eat more non-processed foods.
  • Eat an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit.
  • Eat a serving of beans or legumes and nuts daily.
  • Eat fish twice a week, especially wild salmon.
  • Pay attention to your calcium and vitamin D intake to maintain healthy bones.
  • Choose lean poultry and meats as well as low-fat dairy products.
  • Balance the food that you eat with daily physical activity.

Sounds like an awfully nutritious way to live to me.

Getting into trouble

Where we can get into trouble is just like in any other “diet.” The gluten free cookies, candies, cereals-these are items where it is very easy to overeat calorie wise.

So when people ask me if they can lose weight on a gluten free diet, the answer is yes. It’s not rocket surgery. You can lose weight eating Burger King if you keep your calories where they need to be. (I DO NOT recommend that-it’s just an illustration.)

Does this mean that everyone should go on a gluten free diet?

Heck no. For those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, living gluten free is not an option, it’s a necessity. And you can choose to eat gluten free in whatever manner you wish. For those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, this is not just a “diet.”

It’s a lifestyle, and a medical necessity. It’s a way of life and a way of living. It’s extremely important that manufacturers and restaurants understand the medical implications of the gluten free distinction and follow good practices, not just jump on the gluten free bandwagon.

There are those have not been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or celiac disease who choose to live gluten free. They may be part of the many who are undiagnosed. It may be a personal decision. Honestly, the description provided by the brochure above would be a beneficial way for most people to eat.

Bottom line-there is no “magic” in a gluten free diet. If by going gluten free you cut out processed carbs, then by default your calorie intake may drop, which will cause weight loss if your activity stays the same. It’s not magic. It’s math.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced people asking you about a gluten free diet? Speak your mind in the comments below!

Follow up on Nutrient Absorption and Importance of Vitamins in Celiacs

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You may have read my previous post on common nutritional deficiencies found in individuals with celiac disease. If not, go read it here.

Today I read a post by Mike at the Gluten Free Blog about the positive benefits of supplementing with the nutrients that are commonly lacking-Vitamin B6, B12 and folate. Specifically what they examined was the effect of these nutrients on homocysteine levels. High levels of homocysteine are correlated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Regular B Vitamin supplementation appeared to have a positive effect. It certainly appears to be something worth looking into.

To read the full post on the Gluten Free Blog, click here.