Many people will tell you to go gluten-free because it will help your gut issues, your celiac disease, your autoimmune disease, your skin, your whatever. While there are so many reasons you should consider going gluten-free, before you do, you need to know that going gluten-free isn’t easy.
When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease in April 2012, I didn’t realize just how hard it would be to give up gluten. I thought going gluten-free sounded pretty easy. Stop eating gluten. It was as good as done.
However, going gluten-free affected me much more than I first flippantly thought.
I was emotionally out of it. I couldn’t think straight. All I could focus on was what I could and couldn’t eat.
I was grumpy and stressed out. I remember snapping at someone who didn’t deserve to be snapped at. I wasn’t my best self.
I was exhausted. I had a long list of things I needed to research. Is Zyrtec gluten-free? Is my mascara gluten-free? Could I get a gluten-free meal at Chilis? Could I still eat oatmeal? These were the kinds of things I worried about.
I was overwhelmed. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on what I could eat, couldn’t eat, what vitamins and supplements I needed, what I needed to do, etc. I was on information overload.
I realize now that I was going through my own personal addiction recovery program.
Is Gluten Really Addictive?
According to Dr. William Davis, author of The Wheat Belly*, wheat is an opiate. He says, “Wheat is addictive in the sense that there is a distinct withdrawal syndrome characterized by overwhelming fatigue, mental “fog,” inability to exercise, even depression that lasts several days, occasionally several weeks.”
He adds, if you don’t have any wheat for several hours, you start to get “nervous, foggy, tremulous, and start desperately seeking out another hit of crackers, bagels, or bread.”
Yes, gluten is a legal addictive substance. It affects you more than you know, and your body is demanding you eat it even though you can’t. The irony is that once you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy or intolerance, the very foods that make you sick are often the foods you’ve been eating and craving the most!
I realize now that I was a gluten addict who quit gluten cold turkey. Just like when you quit alcohol or a drug, you go through several stages of addiction recovery. Here are the 10 stages I went through to recover from my gluten addiction:
Stage 1: Mourning
I know, no one died, so it may seem silly that I was mourning the loss of gluten in my life. I am a pasta and bread addict. I loved the doughy stuff. I thought that eating gluten-free bread and gluten-free pasta would be fine… but it’s not. It’s different. It’s not the same. If you go from eating regular bread to eating the mainstream gluten-free bread you find in most grocery stores, you will be sad. Very sad.
Not only was I mourning the loss of gluten, but I was mourning the loss of an easy, carefree, don’t really worry about what I eat kinda life. It was easy to go to the grocery store and put anything I desired in the cart. It was easy to order a meal at a restaurant, eat at a friend’s house, or grab a quick bite to eat in a vending machine. Those worry free years were gone. I needed time to for it to sink in. Being gluten-free was now my new norm, for better or for worse.
Stage 2: Early Acceptance
I experienced the acceptance stage pretty quickly. I remember my doctor saying, “The only way to treat celiac disease is through a gluten-free diet.” I accepted that I had this disease and that this new diet was my new way of life. I may not have been happy about it, but I was ready to accept my fate.
I realize that many people going gluten-free are doing so for other health reasons – perhaps an allergy or intolerance, or they want to see if it helps clear up their skin or rids of their migraines for good. If going gluten-free is a choice you’re making, you may not experience the early acceptance… but don’t give up!
Stage 3: Anxiety & Fear
I became very anxious – and almost obsessive – about eating and how it impacted my body. I had a lot of anxiety around eating out, eating at other people’s houses, and shopping at the grocery store. I felt like I needed to research every ingredient on every label. I had no idea if citric acid and maltodextrin were gluten-free… and what they heck were these these things anyway?!? Did the onion soup mix I used for many years really have MSG? Oh my! I began to realize our food supply was deeply flawed. I feared food.
Stage 4: Brain Fog
I couldn’t stop thinking about what I could and couldn’t eat. My gluten addiction led me to experience withdrawals. I had massive brain fog. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t remember things. I was in a constant daze for several months after my diagnosis. I wasn’t my best self. My work and parenting suffered.
Stage 5: Annoyed & Impatient
As the days and weeks progressed, it seemed like everyone had advice for me on what I should eat, what I should do, how I should feel, etc. There was a point where I felt like I was going to break. Everyone annoyed me. I swore the server at a restaurant rolled his eyes at me when I told him I needed a gluten-free meal. A friend of mine told me she was “jealous” of my celiac diagnosis because I’d become skinny soon. I had to spend two hours grocery shopping when it took most people one hour. This gluten-free diet was not fun. No way. No how. Not fun at all!
Stage 6: Anger & Frustration
My constant state of annoyance lead to anger and frustration. I was angry that I had to give up my favorite foods. I was angry that I was sick. I was angry at people making fun of gluten-free people. Most of all, I was angry that I still didn’t feel great even though I had been gluten-free for many months already. Was there more to healing my gut than this gluten-free diet? What was I continuing to do wrong?!?
Stage 7: Isolation
I was exhausted. I had spent way too many hours trying to master the GF diet that it sucked the life out of me. I was tired of explaining my disease to people. I found it easier to eat at home (and still do sometimes). I hate the feeling of people going out of their way to cook for me or saying things like, “We can’t go there because Jenny can’t eat.” Most people have no idea how hard this gluten-free diet is. I just wanted to eat at home and not go out anymore.
Stage 8: Embracing the New Norm
Isolation is lonely. Fortunately I’m married to a social guy who pulled me out of my rut. He encouraged me to have fun experimenting with new foods. He helped me find restaurants that made me happy, and he always orders a gluten-free meal so we could share. I finally felt like I had a tribe of people who loved me and wanted to cook a safe meal for me. I embraced cooking at home for the first time in my life. I loved experimenting with new foods and trying new products. I finally let go of who I was to embrace who I was meant to be. I even began to think my disease made me special.
Stage 9: Healing
After years of living a gluten-free lifestyle, I was now an expert GFer; however, I still didn’t feel all that great. I still suffered from painful bloating and embarrassing gas. I began to realize there was more to healing from celiac than just following a gluten-free diet.
I started green juicing daily. I began eating anti-inflammatory, omega 3-rich foods, and ridding my diet of toxins such as excessive sugar (I definitely suffered from candida), white refined grains, GMOs and pesticide-laced foods. I yearned to learn more about how to live a healthy life and heal my body from within. I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition* and became a certified holistic health and nutrition coach. I launched this blog and my first free email course, How to Heal Your Gut with 7 Changes, which has been inspiring hundreds of people to finally take the steps to heal their guts for good.
Stage 10: Finding My Voice
Alas, I have found my voice. I launched this gluten-free blog to share advice, recipes, and to sometimes commiserate on the GF life. Today I’m an advocate for living a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle, and I’m not afraid to call out people and companies who I think are doing more harm than good (like this company, and this company). I find inspiration from people like Vani Hari, the blogger behind The Food Babe and author of The Food Baby Way*, and Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth*.
Today I’m proud to say I’ve beat my gluten addiction for good. I don’t even crave gluten-filled foods anymore. If I could take a magic pill that would allow me to eat gluten again, I’m not sure that I would. I’m just happy with the way things are and how this twist of fate inspired my life to take a new and exciting direction. I have definitely found my voice. And I’m definitely okay with who I am today.
Share your story in the comments section. How did you kick your gluten addiction?
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