I’m one of the first to admit I don’t buy into the majority of diet trends out there, and as a health food and wellness writer, I typically advocate the notion that a balanced diet focusing on real, whole foods will get you to where you need to go. Of course there’s individual health concerns and food allergies to consider, but barring any extenuating circumstances, I tend to think we make diet and nutrition way more complicated than it needs to be.
However, my point of view changed quite a bit when earlier this year, I was diagnosed with Hashimotos’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland. Suddenly I found myself reconsidering the general idea that a well-balanced diet was enough to keep a person fit as a fiddle. After all, I had been dedicated to eating extremely well over the past year and a half, and despite my newfound commitment to living a healthier life, I was still finding myself in this position.
After I got over my initial shock of the diagnosis, I took to Dr. Google and started trying to figure out what I could do, if anything, to help ease my symptoms and calm down the autoimmune response, if possible. It was online, reading both medical journals and anecdotal evidence, where I discovered the idea of going gluten-free to help out my Hashimoto’s symptoms. Admittedly, I was hesitant to consider this way of eating, which had now become so trendy that just about every marketer in the food world had lobbed onto its popularity. It was not uncommon to find naturally gluten-free foods like celery now proudly carrying the “gluten-free” seal of approval, and the “trend” had gone so far that it was even the butt of a hilarious and on-point Jimmy Kimmel skit. Besides those with celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases, going gluten-free seemed to become another diet trend that could supposedly help one lose weight. Needless to say, at first I didn’t believe that this way of eating would or could help me, but I decided to try it anyhow since my endocrinologist was offering no other advice or treatment plan other than the “wait and see” approach.
I began eliminating gluten from my diet on Monday, November 3. For the better part of a year, I had been suffering from chronic fatigue, brain fog, and my blood work revealed that my white blood cell count was extremely low, most likely as a result of fighting off chronic strep throat infections, leaving my immune system overtaxed and compromised. It was not unusual for me to sleep 9+ hours a night and still wake up exhausted. And sitting down at the computer to write an article that would typically take me one to two hours to compose took upwards of four hours most days. I was eternally distracted and experienced major bouts of writer’s block. Needless to say, my quality of life as the mother of three young kids suffered, as well as my work and marriage; by the time the kids went to bed, I had zero energy to spend any quality time with my husband. We were like ships passing in the night. When I considered just how lousy I was feeling, I decided to swallow my pride and give gluten-free eating a try since so many people claimed it worked wonders for their Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases.
Within four weeks of eliminating gluten, I started to notice a difference. One day I woke up and felt refreshed; I made it to the gym at 5 am, and completed a great workout. I thought for sure by noon I would be ready to pass out, but I found myself trudging through nap time and getting work done instead of taking a nap myself. The kids came home from school, and I had a clear head to help my daughter with her fourth grade common core math homework, which says A LOT! That night I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to even watch an episode of Homeland with my husband.
For about two weeks my days continued on like that, with some more productive than others of course. I saw a return in energy, a return in productivity, and an overall decrease of the foggy brain symptoms that had plagued me for months. After about two weeks of consistent “good days,” I brought it up to my husband. Having been afraid of jinxing the return of the old me, I hadn’t said anything, but one night I asked him if he had noticed a difference in me. He replied that he too hadn’t wanted to say anything, but he had definitely noticed an uptick in my mood and energy levels. A doctor’s appointment in early December also revealed that my recent blood work showed a considerable increase in my white blood cell count, now in the completely normal range. Despite this good streak, I was still stubbornly hesitant to attribute it to the gluten-free diet, and instead of thinking on it too hard, I just accepted this good streak I was on, certain that my symptoms would creep back in soon enough.
My skepticism was dashed away though after recently meeting with a new doctor: an integrative doctor who is a western-trained medical doctor but also trained in Eastern and holistic medicine. Our first meeting was over an hour long and we discussed my case, reviewed my blood work, and considered my symptoms. When I told her that most of my symptoms had improved, she asked if there was any change in my lifestyle that could attribute to it. I doubtfully answered that the only thing I had changed was eliminating gluten and added in that I was sure that couldn’t be it. Her response was simple and emphatic; she firmly believed that the gluten-free diet was responsible and even accounted the increase in my white blood cell count to the dietary change. In her explanation, by eliminating gluten I helped slow down the autoimmune response, which enabled my white blood cells to increase, and because my immune system wasn’t working as hard, it meant I felt less tired and had more energy. In her words, it made perfect sense to her.
So while I was once a skeptic of this diet trend, I am now a believer that in certain cases, going gluten-free can and does help individuals besides those suffering from Celiac disease. If you’re a perfectly healthy individual though, I do maintain that eating this way is silly and unnecessary. Trust me when I say, after spending $25 on a package of almond flour, there are easier and cheaper ways to lose weight beyond going gluten-free. Gluten-free products are on average 242% costlier than their gluten counterparts, and cooking this way, especially in the baked goods department, is a huge inconvenience. To achieve similar results in taste and texture of those foods containing gluten requires tons of additional steps and time, and as I’ve experienced in many cases, fail quite often. Believe me: if I hadn’t experienced such drastic results the past few weeks, I wouldn’t consider continuing with this, but being virtually symptom-free is a reality I will do just about anything to maintain.
As with all dietary changes and lifestyle adjustments, do what feels right to you and what makes you feel best. If you suspect you may have a gluten intolerance or already suffer from some sort of autoimmune disease, consider trying out the gluten-free way of life and see if you see similar results. While you may receive some razzing from friends who accuse you of following the latest trend, follow your gut and give it a try.
Have you ever followed a diet trend and been surprised by the results?
*Disclaimer: I am not a physician and as always you should consult your doctor for any health concerns.
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