It’s no secret that gluten is an addictive substance, and giving it up can cause some people to experience withdrawal like symptoms. In this post, I discuss the 10 steps to overcoming gluten addiction. This post contains affiliate links and information that should not be misconstrued as medical advice. Please see my disclosures and disclaimers.
It took me a long time to overcome my gluten addiction.
While there is a long list of reasons to lose the gluten in your life, and with good reason, no one tells you just how hard giving up the damaging protein will be.
Gluten addiction is a very real thing, and it can mess with your mind and body like none else.
When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease in April 2012, I didn’t know how hard it would be to give up gluten cold turkey. I seemed easy enough to do, at first. I could simply stop eating gluten, no problem. It was as good as done.
However, once I began to implement the gluten-free diet, I realized that giving it up affected me physically and mentally much more than I could have ever anticipated.
- Brain Fog: I was emotionally out of it. I couldn’t think straight and was in a constant state of brain fog. All I could focus on was what I could and couldn’t eat. I was becoming very forgetful as well.
- Temperamental: I was grumpy and stressed out. I remember snapping at someone because they called me while I was trying to figure out what to make myself for lunch. Petty, I know. I wasn’t the best version of myself.
- Exhausted: I was physically exhausted. On top of the fatigue, I had a long list of things I needed to still figure out. Is Zyrtec gluten free? Is my mascara gluten free? Could I eat gluten-free at Chilis? Could I still eat oatmeal? There was a never ending list of questions I needed to figure out answers to ASAP.
- Overwhelm: 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 and didn’t know what to do.
Looking back, I know I was completely and utterly addicted to gluten… and I was struggling to give it up. What I was experiencing are known as withdrawal symptoms.
In this article, I discuss gluten addiction and the 10 steps I went through to overcome my personal addiction to the sticky protein.
Your story will be different, but this might give you a better understanding of what someone with celiac disease is going through when giving up gluten cold turkey.
Is Gluten Addictive?
Before we get into the 10 steps to overcoming gluten addiction, let’s first discuss why gluten is addictive (and why it’s not just in your head).
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.” (Read: 10 Reasons You Still Crave Gluten)
It appears, for all intents and purposes, that gluten is a legal addictive substance. It affects you more than you know, and your body is physically demanding you eat it via intense cravings even though you know you shouldn’t.
I realize in hindsight that I had a bad case of gluten withdrawal. I quit gluten cold turkey and my body was reacting as if I was a recovering drug addict.
10 Steps to Overcoming Gluten Addiction
As I reflect on those first few months (and even the first year) of eating gluten free, I have come up with these 10 stages of recovering from a gluten addiction.
The stages will vary from person to person. What I’ve listed here is solely meant to give you a sense of what another person on a gluten-free journey is going through. Please discuss any changes to your diet and symptoms with your doctor.
Step 1: Mourning Gluten
I know, no one died, so it may seem silly that I was mourning the loss of gluten in my life. The truth is, however, I’m 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 sorely disappointed (although many GF bread brands have come a long way, like Canyon Bakehouse and Outside the Breadbox).
Not only was I mourning the loss of gluten, but also 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 my grocery 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 are gone. I needed time to mourn this loss.
Step 2: Early Acceptance
I experienced the acceptance stage pretty quickly. I remember my doctor saying, “The only way to treat celiac disease is by following a gluten-free diet.” I accepted that I had celiac disease and this new diet would be my new way of life. I may not have been happy about it, but I was ready to accept my fate. I quickly gave up gluten and never looked back.
I realize that being handed a brand new “diet” isn’t always easy for people to accept, and the world isn’t very kind to gluten-free eaters. This step can take time for someone to come to terms with what is happening to them.
Step 3: Anxiety and 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 gluten free, 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. (Read Is It Gluten-Free? Decoding the 20 Most Confusing Ingredients and Products.)
Step 4: Brain Fog
There came a point when I couldn’t stop thinking about what I could and couldn’t eat. My gluten addiction led me to experience mad 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.
Step 5: Annoyed and 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.
The tip of the iceberg came when a friend of mine told me she was “jealous” of my celiac diagnosis because I’d become skinny soon. I didn’t want to be skinny; I wanted to eat gluten! Did she know how hard it is to spend hours grocery shopping staring at food you can’t even eat? This gluten-free diet was not fun. No way. No how. Not fun at all.
Step 6: Anger and 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 doing wrong?
Step 7: Isolation
I was exhausted. I had spent way too many hours trying to master the gluten-free 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.
Step 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 for himself so we could share.
I also began to finally feel like I had a tribe of people who loved me and wanted to cook a safe meal for me. I didn’t fear going to a friend’s house anymore.
I also embraced cooking at home for the first time in my life. I began experimenting with new foods and trying new products. I was embracing who I was now and accepting the Universe’s plan for me. I even began to feel like celiac disease made me special, and dare I say, was a positive force in my life.
Step 9: Healing
After years of living a gluten-free lifestyle, I was now an expert of sorts; however, I still didn’t feel all that great. I still suffered from occasional bloating and gas. I began to realize there was more to healing from celiac than just giving up gluten.
I started green juicing daily. I began eating anti-inflammatory, omega 3-rich foods, and I rid my diet of excessive 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, which today (in 2019) is read by hundreds of thousands of people each month!
Step 10: Finding My Voice
Today I’m proud to say I’ve overcome my gluten addiction for good. I don’t 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 happy with the way things are and how this twist of fate inspired my life to take a new and exciting direction both personally and professionally. I have definitely found my voice… and I’m definitely okay with who I am today. (Read 10 Lessons Learned from Celiac.)
I even wrote a book, Dear Gluten, It’s Not Me, It’s You, where I teach others how to break up with gluten and heal themselves in the aftermath.
Were you able to overcome your gluten addiction? What helped you do so?
Are you still addicted and struggle to rid of it from your life? What do you think is holding you back from losing gluten for good?
I invite you to share by leaving a comment.