10 Reasons Why You Still Crave Gluten contains affiliate links. This article is not to be used in lieu of sound medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making changes to your diet or adding supplements. By reading this article, you agree to my disclosures.
Gluten is hard to give up. Period.
For the three million of us with celiac disease, giving up gluten is not an option. It’s gotta go if we want any relief from our painful symptoms and if we want to have any chance of living a healthy, disease-free life.
But what about the 18 million people with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity or NCGS? Do they have to fully give up gluten too?
Yes, they absolutely have to give up gluten too.
Every time they eat gluten, they are fueling the flames of inflammation in their bodies. And it’s no secret that inflammation leads to disease and disease can lead to all sorts of chronic issues and even early mortality.
Yet, so many people struggle to give up gluten even if they have a diagnosis and know gluten doesn’t work in their bodies.
I know some celiacs who still eat gluten (true story!), and I know many more people who know they cannot tolerate gluten yet they still eat gluten, even if only occasionally.
People who say they’re gluten-free but still eat gluten make me so mad for several reasons.
For starters, they are harming their bodies. They are chronically sick (and usually wondering why). They are contributing to the overwhelmed health care issues our country is facing. While I’m not personally affected by their illness, you can bet that the overwhelmed health care system negatively impacts my health care premiums and tax bill.
Furthermore, they are making it harder for the rest of us to be taken seriously. The general population might think, “You say you’re gluten-free, but you still eat gluten? It must not be a serious disorder.”
I get it. Going gluten-free is not easy in a world filled with gluten. And it’s not your fault that you can’t resist the urge to give it up for good.
Gluten is everywhere. We’ve been exposed to gluten our entire lives. It gives baked goods its stretchy, doughy texture. It tastes delicious. Why give up something that feels so right?
I had to go gluten-free myself after a celiac disease diagnosis. I quit gluten immediately and never looked back.
But just because I quit gluten cold-turkey doesn’t mean I didn’t (and still don’t) crave gluten. In fact, it has taken an enormous amount of willpower, strength and behavior changes for me to get to a place where I look at the bread basket as a bowl of poison vs. a source of delicious deprivation.
Going gluten-free comes with all sorts of withdrawal symptoms that can put some crack-addicts to shame. Gluten is addictive, comforting, easily accessible and delicious – not to mention many of us have fond connections to the protein from our childhood. It is incredibly hard to give up gluten.
I am writing this article to help you understand why gluten is so hard to give up and what you might be able to overcome the hurdle once and for all. This article is dedicated to anyone who has struggled to give up gluten. I am here for you and empathize with you. I know that the struggle is real.
10 Reasons Why You Still Crave Gluten
Below I share 10 reasons why you MAY still be craving gluten despite being on a gluten-free diet:
(1) It’s Addicting
Your brain is affected by wheat in a similar way to how your brain is affected by opiate drugs. This effect explains why so many people find it difficult to remove wheat from their diets.
According to Dr. William Davis in his pioneering best-selling book, Wheat Belly, thirty percent of people who stop eating wheat experience withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, irritability, and even depression for the first few days and weeks after cutting wheat out of their diets.
People who haven’t removed wheat from their diets might think this “gluten addiction” thing is a bunch of hooey, but I promise you, for many of us, it can affect the central nervous system as much as giving up nicotine or crack.
Dr. Davis sums it up well when he writes, “So this is your brain on wheat: Digestion yields morphine-like compounds that bind to the brain’s opiate receptors. It induces a form of reward, a mild euphoria. When the effect is blocked or no exorphin-yielding foods are consumed, some people experience a distinctly unpleasant withdrawal.”
Now you understand why you crave gluten after giving it up – it’s highly addictive and you experience unpleasant symptoms until you either get your next hit of wheat or wait for the dreadful withdrawal period to end.
(2) You’re Still Eating Gluten
If you think you’re okay enjoying a so-called “low-gluten diet” or you think it’s okay to cheat on your gluten-free diet “just this once,” you are the reason you’re still craving gluten. Every “hit” of wheat sets you right back to the start and you’re stuck in a vicious cycle of eating gluten, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, eating gluten, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, etc.
Remember, your brain is telling you to eat gluten because gluten makes it feel good… and every time you eat it, you’re training your brain’s reward center to ask for more.
If you are struggling with cheating on your gluten-free diet, note that you are doing much more harm to your body than you may realize. Read my article, Don’t Cheat on Your Gluten-Free Diet.
(3) You Have a Gut Imbalance
It’s no secret that your gut is in charge. In fact, most experts agree that your gut is your second brain. So when your gut is demanding something, it’s like an annoying toddler asking for the same toy over and over again because it knows you’ll eventually cave.
A gut imbalance happens when there’s more bad bacteria in your gut than good bacteria. Bacteria keep each other in check. The reason for your gut imbalance can be from eating too many sugary foods (sugar feeds bad bacteria) or even if you just completed a round of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill ALL bacteria in your gut, not just the bad bacteria you want to get rid of.
To resolve the gut imbalance, avoid sugar as much as possible. Not just the refined white stuff, but also avoid all sources of sugar like honey, maple syrup and fruit at least until your gut balance is restored.
Also sip on kombucha and load up on fermented foods. These probiotic-rich beverages and foods help populate your gut with beneficial bacteria (and kombucha is sweet but contains very low sugar, if any). Whatever you do, don’t get your probiotics from sugar-laden foods yogurts and probiotic infused beverages. (Read: Making Your Own Kombucha)
If you think you have a sugar addiction, you might enjoy my article, Sugar Addiction: 4 Root Causes of Cravings and 10 Tips to Cut the Sugar
(4) You’re Not Eating Enough Nutrient Dense Foods
Your gluten cravings might be intense because your body is craving food in general. Perhaps, however, you’re not loading up on the right kinds of foods that nourish your body thoroughly.
I used to suffer from what I called “low blood sugar moments.” These are those moments where I felt so weak and shaky that I’d eat anything in sight just to make that feeling go away. Of course, I later learned that I was nutrient deficient thanks to undiagnosed celiac disease destroying my small intestine and preventing me from properly absorbing nutrients.
Hunger cues often give us permission to eat whatever is easy and fast… and wheat is usually in every vending machine or corner store in the world tempting us.
This is why you must eat nutrient dense meals. If you load up on good nutrients, your body won’t be telling you it feels deprived and hungry an hour later. Eat plenty of anti-inflammatory (fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, eggs, meats, etc.) to help you feel fuller longer, boost your nutrient load, and best of all, help you crowd out the foods that are nutritionally devoid from your diet.
I always carry healthy, nutritionally sound snacks with me at all times. This way when hunger strikes, I can feed it good for you foods. (Check out my list of satisfying Whole 30 snacks!)
Don’t be scared to eat healthy fats too. They will help you maintain fuel for the day to come (and help you avoid hunger pangs). Load up on avocados, olives, fatty fish, seeds and nuts. Take a daily fish oil supplement too to ensure you get a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
(5) You Like the Ease of Eating Gluten
There’s nothing like feeling like a social pariah to make you go back to eating gluten again. I get it. Your friends are socializing around food and you want to be included in the fun.
While grabbing a quick bite to eat with friends requires a little thought and planning, it’s actually quite easy to do nowadays. Most restaurants can provide you with a safe, gluten-free meal (especially if you ask the right questions).
Maybe you don’t crave gluten as much as you crave the normalcy of a social life? However, remember what your social life might look like in a few years (or a decade from now) when your symptoms have flared so much that you’re unable to travel, walk, bend over, and/or do the things you once loved without a whole lotta pain.
(6) Old Habits Die Hard
If you find yourself craving gluten, think about whether you actually miss gluten or if you miss the habit of eating gluten. For example, many of us mindlessly snack in front of the TV at night. We find ourselves cuddled up with some Oreo cookies or snacking on Pringles.
Consider replacing the habit of snacking on Oreos with the habit of snacking on something gluten-free (and preferably on the healthier side), like popcorn, orange wedges or carrot sticks and guacamole.
True story – I have a friend who says every time she craves a cookie (her guilty pleasure) she first eats a carrot instead. When I have a hankering for sugar or gluten or whatever icky food comes to mind, I take a shot of diluted apple cider vinegar to help curb my cravings. Sometimes I’m just in need of a “flavor-changer” vs. more food.
To help you get rid of the habit, take a moment to rid your house of gluten. Clean out your pantry and donate foods that tempt you to eat wheat again. Get your family on board to support this change.
It took me two years of living with celiac disease before we made the decision to make my kitchen a dedicated gluten-free kitchen. I know that every snack I could grab in my pantry (minus a few snack packs for my kids’ lunches) are safe for me to eat when that urge to snack overcomes me.
If gluten still tempts you, get rid of it. Outta sight, outta mind.
(7) You Need More Supportive Peers
There is a lot of peer pressure surrounding the food we eat whether we know it or not.
When your mom bakes a cake that you can’t eat, and everyone around you is raving about it, there’s usually someone in the room who will say, “Go ahead, take a bite, a little gluten won’t kill you.”
Can you feel the pressure?
Remember, many people in your life are well intentioned, but they don’t know how gluten makes you feel and disrupts your body like you.
Explain to people who pressure you into eating gluten “just this once” that you wish they would rather not say such insensitive things because you’re serious about being gluten-free and being healthy.
When you have a supportive and loving circle of influence, you will find it easy to resist the cravings to cave and eat gluten “just this once.”
(8) You are an Emotional Eater
Emotional attachments to food are strong and can offer you some explanation as to why you might still crave gluten. I admit that I have many emotional ties to gluten myself.
I remember my grandmother would only eat the outside crust of a baguette and she would give the doughy middle bread to me. I loved the bread and sharing it with my grandmother. Even as an adult, I would always rip out the middle of a baguette and eat it first.
I also have fond memories of growing up with cinnamon rolls, pizza, and oodles of spaghetti, my favorite food.
Even today, I miss challah. Sure, I make a killer gluten-free challah recipe, but my family serves this traditional bread EVERY Friday night … and you guessed it, I can’t eat it.
(9) You’re Eating Sick Foods
While we talked about the addictive properties of gluten off the bat, many people don’t realize that many of today’s packaged foods are loaded with addictive additives and chemicals. These packaged foods are created in labs by food scientists whose sole job is to make you want to eat more of the food in question.
The old Lay’s potato chip slogan, “Betcha can’t eat just one,” rings true for so many packaged foods today. You crave these foods and with good reason… they are made in a way to make you crave them.
If you’re struggling to break free from the gluten chains, you must consider breaking free from packaged foods as well. These foods are addictive and only make you crave more food.
And while you may find yourself reaching for a gluten-free cookie instead of a regular cookie, remember that just because something is gluten-free, doesn’t always mean it’s good for you. Use your switch to the gluten-free diet as a chance to clean up your diet and rid of your gluten, sugar and carb cravings for good.
(10) You Haven’t Allowed Enough Time to Pass
Finally, you might still crave gluten because you haven’t allowed enough time to pass. Many people make it a few days or weeks on the gluten-free diet, throw up their hands, and say, “It’s not worth it” or “It’s not working for me.”
These people gave up right before they were close to achieving success and noticeable health benefits. Every day you resist the urge to take a bite of wheat, the closer you’ll be to ridding it from your life for good.
Coping for the Long Haul
As you can see, there are many physiological, emotional and psychological reasons you may still crave gluten. To be gluten-free, you must first get through a challenging withdrawal period, then deal with all the pressures that come in living a world full of gluten.
However, I promise you, the urge to eat gluten subsides. Even someone like me who has never caved to gluten in nearly seven years (since my celiac disease diagnosis), wishes life was different. Of course I would love to eat freshly baked challah again. Of course I’d love to walk into a bakery and snack on the fresh-baked pastries, or order a pizza without having to speak with the manager for 20 minutes.
These are normal feelings. All of us have been there and it takes an incredible amount of willpower and self-control to get through these difficult times.
Again, with time, it does get easier. And I never forget to cherish my health, and life, above “just a little bite.”
I want to hear from you!
Do any of these 10 reasons help explain why you might still crave gluten or struggle to stay gluten-free? Please share in the comments.