Monday, April 23, 2012
The Gluten-Free Diet
In general, I've had a rough year. I've gotten sick a couple times, and I found out about a back problem that's been lurking in the shadows for quite some time. In general, this year no matter how much or little I exercised, or how good or bad I was about watching my diet, I was carrying this constant feeling of bloat and exhaustion.
In February I bombed out of a long run and ended up in the chiropractor's office, for what I thought was a calf injury (but turned out to be related to my back.) The chiropractor starts asking me about all these other things, though, the fatigue and stomachaches that I had checked off on my new patient form. He asks about my diet and such.
"What are you doing," I'm thinking. I had already been there an hour and I'm just anticipating the "where are you?" text from my boss. No doctor has ever spent this much time with me. I'll go to my regular doctor for my colds and my tummy doctor for my stomachaches. "Just tell me what's wrong with my calf so I can go back to work," I think.
"You know, this is all connected," the chiropractor said, referring to all the physical problems I'd been having the past two months. "All of it."
He starts talking to me about my diet, about getting enough protein, laying off the sugar and he suggests a couple supplements. I do listen to him, and things start to get better. But fast forward two months and the exhaustion and bloated feelings are still there.
Since I started running and joined MIT I've become friends with Kim B., Brandie D. and Deb M. Kim B. has Celiac Disease, blogs about it here, so she follows the Gluten Free diet by force. Brandie and Deb don't have Celiac, but have experienced similar problems to mine and claimed success by cutting out Gluten. Brandie did a guest post on Kim's blog here.
Plus there's been a lot of media hype about it.
These friends have mentioned going Gluten Free to me before, and I've always resisted. I don't do special diets. Plus this one sounds overly restrictive and in general a pain-in-the-you-know-where.
Two weeks ago Saturday, though, I found myself at my wit's end. I woke up that morning feeling especially lousy. If it weren't for the fact that I'd agreed to ride to MIT with Brandie I wouldn't have gone, and after I bombed out after only three miles, again due to a throbbing calf, I wished I had stayed home.
That Friday I had had a ton of junk food laden with gluten. Brandie and I went out to breakfast after the run (and then we got some ridiculously good gelato), and again she mentions what the Gluten Free diet has done for her. I go home, too exhausted to do anything else I start to do some more research. I've already been tested for Celiac and it came back negative, but many of the symptoms I've been experiencing are consistent with the less-serious Gluten Intolerance.
I happened to have had a followup appointment with my doctor scheduled that Monday and an adjustment with the chiropractor scheduled that Wednesday. They both say the diet is a good idea and will probably help.
I had gone to Kroger Saturday anticipating trying the diet for a week. I have never been so stressed while grocery shopping! Since there's no general labeling requirement for Gluten, when it came to any kind of sauce or condiment or processed food, I was clueless. I spent a good half hour staring at protein bars and the same looking at marinades before sending an SOS text to Kim for help. (Sidenote: Smartphones do not have great reception in grocery stores!!)
I actually have to give huge props to Kroger. They're really good about shelf labeling, and they list all their store-brand products online as Gluten Free or not. Giant Eagle, I was pretty disappointed in. It took me forever to find a Gluten Free pasta, and the three they had weren't even grouped together.
I've read so much about food that has scared me in recent months so I've tried to cut out the processed stuff from my diet anyway. If the ingredient list is too long, or if "high fructose corn syrup" is the first ingredient, I've tried to put it back. Some days I've done better than others. I'm just now eating ground turkey again, and even though stores have sworn off pink slime I'm still scared of ground beef. I can't wait to get all my produce from the farmer's market again.
With that said, two weeks in it hasn't been that big of an adjustment. Gluten Free bread is $6 a loaf, too hefty for a reporter's salary so I've just cut out bread altogether. I don't miss it. I've started eating eggs and turkey sausage for breakfast instead of my Special K Protein Plus Cereal. For lunch it's some kind of batch-cooked rice or potato, chicken or turkey, and some kind of veggie concoction with a Gluten Free marinade. Dinner is usually some kind of meat or fish and veggies. I've swapped my Balance Bars for Luna Protein bars. Simplicity is key.
I just discovered quinoa pasta, which was really yummy! I have some regular quinoa I need to try at some point. I was so excited to see that the pasta sauce I usually buy is GF. I've found a wealth of blogs for recipes and food ideas.
I have three apps on my phone that have helped to varying degrees. Gluten Free Scanner I've been really disappointed in. It seems like a great idea, scan the item and the app will tell you if it's GF, but not one item I've scanned has been in their database. Gluten Free Ingredients is ok, it has a database where you can look up individual ingredients, but that can take awhile if the ingredient list is long. Gluten Free Restaurant Items, though, has really saved me when I've been on the road for work. It lists virtually every restaurant chain and tells you what you can have there.
The hardest part is avoiding the food at work. There's been something in the newsroom pretty much every day since I've started. It's easy to do when your only choices at home are GF, but when it's out in the office at 4 p.m. when you're starving it becomes much harder.
(Wowzas, this has turned into a long post, I need to get to bed!!)
I miss beer. I really miss pizza. I miss cookie dough ice cream. I miss my Trader Joe's Soyaki sauce. But I can still have most ice cream, wine, plain chocolate and Chipotle.
It's been two weeks, and I've noticed some changes. I definitely have more energy and I feel like someone has taken a pin and deflated me -- I'm much less bloated. I've lost three pounds.
My back hasn't hurt at all. I had a really quick recovery after my 22-mile run -- which usually knocks me out for days. I wasn't even as hungry as I usually get after it. It's easier to get up in the morning. My chiropractor said my adjustment last Wednesday was the best I've looked yet.
But is it because I've cut out Gluten? Or the fact that cutting out Gluten has forced me to eat better? In a way I don't want this diet to work. It's so restrictive, and shopping is really difficult, and I feel like I can't dine out anywhere. My grocery spending has gone up slightly but my dining out spending has tanked (overall: a good thing).
When I think about it, though, swapping wine for beer and ice cream for pizza, I've eaten as much junk under the diet as I have outside it (which, for the record, isn't much). And I do feel better. They say, though, it takes a month or two of strict adherence to really know if it helps, so I guess the jury's still out...