Yup, I was a cheater. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I cheated on the gluten free “test.”
How is this? What the heck do I mean?
I didn’t cheat in the sense you may be thinking. I didn’t, and don’t, eat any gluten foods. But I was cheater in the sense that my “test” of going gluten free may have been easier than it was for some people.
Diet and exercise
Prior to being diagnosed with celiac disease, I had over the years been moving more and more toward a diet of primarily unprocessed whole foods. I was finding I had a love for exercise, and a desire to see where my drive and ability could take me from an athletic perspective. I was focusing more on body composition (fat vs muscle ratio-how you look and perform) and was educating myself on how food impacted how I looked and felt. So although at that point I was still ingesting gluten, I was not eating much at all of processed gluten foods like bread, pastas, etc.
Hidden gluten sources
When I was diagnosed, my biggest challenge was learning hidden gluten sources. It wasn’t hard for me to give up bread and pasta because I had already minimized them. Going gluten free was simply one more step in my nutritional journey. I stopped eating grocery store brand oatmeal, tried buckwheat and quinoa flakes (because GF oats were not widely available then) and increased my rice and potato intake, along with fruits and veggies. So yes-it was a change, but not a life-altering-OMG-this-changes-everything-and-requires-a-complete-overhaul moment.
Different starting points
So that’s how I was a cheater. I had it easier than many of you. I admit that. If you are starting from a more typical diet, which includes a good bit of bread, pasta, cereal, breaded stuff-it’s going to be a tougher transition. However, I think the fact that I cheated has given me perspective on how you can make the gluten free diet a healthier one, if you so choose. I am not saying that everyone needs to eat only naturally gluten free foods.
If you choose to eat gluten free breads/pastas/etc that’s not a bad thing. If it’s working for you-you’re happy with your health and weight, absolutely have at it. But what I keep hearing are stories of people who have gained weight either before or after their diagnosis, or those who lost weight and want to regain it-but in a healthy manner. Also, the idea that the gluten free diet is expensive or lacking in nutrients-this is not necessarily the case. Like all things-it depends. Sure, it can be-but it doesn’t have to.
If you want to transition to a less processed and more nutrient dense (for the calories) version of the gluten free diet, don’t try to make wholesale changes. Take it one step at a time. Make the changes over time, and gradually. Give your brain and body time to get in sync, to get used to the new perspective and new food. You can totally do it. Give yourself permission to change, and start slowly.
There are many wonderful options out there now that are gluten free versions of ordinarily gluten foods. Also, there are an increasing number of health and nutrition conscious options-companies are beginning to use more whole grains and being aware of sugar content. These also weren’t widely available when I was diagnosed, so I guess I cheated there too. And my habits were built without these options. They are fabulous to have as an occasional treat though!
From what I have observed and what you have told me, the issues of health as it relates to weight management (whether weight loss or weight gain) are big issues in the celiac/gluten intolerant community. This is the first in what will be at least a 4 part series of posts (I reserve the right to make it longer) on food, weight, celiac disease and the gluten free diet. Please leave comments below and weigh in (pun intended-really bad pun, but intended) with your thoughts.
Have you found weight to be an issue? What challenges do you face in managing your weight? Speak up!