Going Gluten-Free: The First 45 Days

I shifted nervously in my seat as the man sitting across the desk separating us looked at me with a serious expression on his face. “You need to go on a restricted diet,” he told me. “This means no caffeine, processed foods or sugar, red meat, dairy… and no gluten, either.”

“No… gluten?” I said weakly.
“Nope,” replied my naturopath.

“Oh, OK” I managed to say, but in my mind I was screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”

If this was a sitcom, the camera would now zoom out to a bird’s eye view of the city, then a satellite view of the country and finally into space looking down at Earth as my anguished cry echoed around the globe.

***

For the past year, I’ve been struggling with exhaustion and fatigue, partially due to burn-out from two years of intense studying for my Chartered Accountant qualification.

I’d sleep for ten hours and still wake up feeling like I’d been flattened by a steam roller. I needed three or four coffees a day just to function.

This year, I noticed I was falling sick more often than usual. It seemed I’d get a cold or flu every month, and meanwhile the allergies I’ve had since childhood were getting worse. Despite my best efforts (eating well and using multivitamins), I just wasn’t getting any better.

Finally, I made an appointment with a naturopath who ran a few tests and determined the main cause of my complaints to be a leaky gut. And I needed to go off dairy (permanently) and gluten (at least for the short-term).

Going gluten-free (or as close as I could get) was tough. Very tough. My body went into detox mode in the first week. It was not a pleasant experience. Besides the physical discomfort, all I could think of was my favourite foods that I could no longer eat.

Bread. Oatmeal. Udon noodles. Pizza. Cake. Pasta.

Meanwhile I was extremely cranky from going off caffeine cold-turkey. And not only was I now gluten-free, but dairy free. This meant I couldn’t have chocolate to comfort myself.

So I sulked, and bitched and moaned to anyone who would listen (ie, on Twitter) about how awful this was. Then, a Twitter friend reminded me that I could see this as an opportunity to explore gluten-free cuisine and pointed me to Shauna Ahern’s excellent resource Gluten Free Girl.

No, going gluten-free is not the end of the world. As as my naturopath pointed out, my native Asian cuisine is already mostly gluten-free. So I switched my soy sauce for tamari, and cut out wheat, oats and other gluten-containing foods from my diet. Meanwhile I began getting used to the taste of buckwheat- it’s actually quite tasty although it lacks the refined flavour of wheat.

Two weeks later, my energy started coming back, and I was surprised to discover I could make it through the day without any coffee. I noticed that my body began shedding fat, as well as some of the abdominal bloat that didn’t seem to shift with exercise. Hey, I thought to myself. This gluten-free thing isn’t so bad after all.

I still have some way to go before I get my health to an optimal level, but I believe going gluten-free has allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully I can re-introduce some occasional gluten back into my diet later on, but I know that my diet will have to be mostly gluten-free from now on.

And I’m OK with that.

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