Gluten-Free March | Dairy-Free April
I gave up gluten during the month of March (with a few exceptions). Here are my general reactions from doing this very-specific elimination diet:
It was easier than I thought.
I have to immediately caveat that with the acknowledgment that I *chose* to eliminate gluten because of curiosity and personal experimentation, NOT because of an allergy or even a [known] sensitivity. It follows then that it was easy for me to do this because I could afford to make mistakes without any serious or dangerous consequences (unlike folks with actual allergies and/or Celiac). I do not want to make light of (or presume to understand) the challenge others may face when navigating menus that I just didn’t have to deal with, beyond opting out of croutons and going bun-less on a few burgers.
That being said, it was easy [for me] and I only missed bread and noodle stuff at first. I missed the convenience of a breakfast sandwich. I tried a couple of burgers in lettuce wraps and on gluten-free buns. Burger salads (as I’ve taken to calling them) are great, but are a different thing entirely. Gluten-free buns are stupid. I’ve had a couple recommended to me that I haven’t had a chance to try yet (I really want to be proved wrong!), but the few gluten-free bread alternatives I managed to try were just sad and bland and I didn’t like them.
Ok, so we covered that bread substitutes were a real big bummer. Portland has some dedicated gluten-free bakeries and I have yet to try these, so I’m still open-minded about something local and artisan being better than some grocery store BS.
Pasta, on the other hand, wasn’t! I found a corn-quinoa blend at Whole Foods that I love. I found a brown rice one also, but I liked the blend better. Let it be known that there is absolutely no replacement for quality, hand-made pasta from scratch (I’m looking at you Grassa, Ava Gene’s and Raven & Rose), and I won’t even bother trying to find it. But when I just want some spaghetti at home? Them blends’ll do just fine.
Soy sauce caught me once or twice (fried rice, sushi), but this will be easy to replace in the form of coconut/liquid aminos.
I only really had specific cravings in two instances:
- in the very beginning. Especially leaving work on the days I work doubles (Thursdays), I just wanted something easy. In general, I almost always plan on NOT cooking on Thursday nights. These are “go to late night happy hour” or “yes, you have delivery food in your budget this week,” or “mini tacos from Trader Joe’s are absolutely an acceptable dinner option” nights. On one of these early days, I did stop at a pub on the way home from work and tried a burger with one of those gluten-free buns and did not feel like my craving was satisfied. That’s ok though – that kind of craving eventually weakened (cool!).
- after I’d had a few drinks the night before. I know that pattern too — have drinks, go to bed, wake up dehydrated and craving salt something fierce. It was a reminder the effects of alcohol on our health, beyond the obvious and in that immediate moment, but having implications on future decisions, hydration, and the choices we make.
As a Result
So, my first day where I introduced gluten back into my diet was Easter Sunday. I promised myself I wouldn’t go crazy because while I did want to test the effects of gluten on my body, I didn’t want to shock my system as I reintroduced it.
I wish I could say I was super strategic in this reintroduction and chose some high-quality local bread or baked goods, but that’s not what happened. What happened is that I was amped UP after working a long Easter brunch shift, and I was unwinding with bubbles and a party playlist with my friends. My friend/our host supplied snacks in the form of Dino nuggets and mini corn dogs, so that was how I reintroduced gluten into my diet.
Nothing immediate, but a definite, um, shift, in my digestion later. I didn’t realize how great that side effect had been until it wasn’t. The entire month I skipped out on gluten, I can’t remember having a single digestive issue. Not one. Call it TMI if you want, but digestion is important and a strong indicator of our health as a whole so get used to it because I’m going to talk about it here. That being said, as my dear friend said to me recently, “there is nothing quite as satisfying as a really good BM.” And she’s right. And it took reintroducing gluten to realize that I’d had a solid (no pun intended) month of RGBMs.
And then suddenly, they weren’t.
So that was one effect.
The second instance was much more dramatic. I was having lunch with some girlfriends at a torta place here in Portland. For whatever reason, I misread things and thought I was ordering a tostada when I ordered a torta. A tostada is a crunchy corn tortilla topped with delicious toppings. A torta is a sandwich. So, I thought I was ordering a corn tortilla topped with carnitas and other goodness, but what arrived was a sandwich. I figured, well, what the hell? And I went for it.
I immediately felt foggy, tired, full, and puffy — things I couldn’t remember having felt at all during the entire month prior.
I think there was a part of me that was hoping that I would see a noticeable difference, and then another part of me that was hoping I didn’t. That I could go about my life eating burgers and sandwiches and roux-based soups and sauces like I always had.
I think where I have to land is somewhere in the middle. I don’t have any major issues or allergies that will require me to avoid gluten completely. But, I do feel noticeably better when I avoid it. I choose more vegetables. I plan better for snacks (fruit, protein bars, etc). I tried more ciders!
Oh! And I lost weight! I didn’t take specific measurements at the start and end of this, but I think it was something around 5 pounds, based on how my clothes fit and what I saw on the scale when I do weigh myself. I attribute this mostly to the fact that I chose salads over sandwiches and drank exactly zero beers for one whole month.
Well, next I go about my life cutting back on the amount of bread/wheat I consume and focus more on other types of grains, protein, nuts, and veggies. I’m ok with this. As for experimeting with how my body handles certain types of food – April is a dairy-free month!
The hardest part is definitely going to be dining out, which I do a fair amount. Home-cooking will be easy, as I’ve scaled back a lot on the amount of dairy I used at home, so cutting that out entirely will just be a manner of planning. Dining out will have to take the same kind of thought – maybe I try more vegan restaurants. Maybe I read menus more carefully. Maybe I don’t go out as much?
Open to suggestions! What are your favorite dairy alternatives? Anyone make the switch to non-dairy or go vegan and have tips?