Y’all want to know my secret? My secret is that there is no secret. If you want to stop feeling like garbage, you have stop putting garbage in your body. It won’t be easy. Giving up processed food and wheat products isn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s not the hardest either. I will be up front and tell you that the first 2 weeks are the worst. I had headaches, I wanted to eat an entire loaf of bread in one sitting, and I wanted to punch anyone who even mentioned something about a cookie. I swear there was one day that all I wanted was cereal and doughnuts. Withdrawal was especially fun the week I was traveling and everywhere we went out to eat, all of my coworkers were like, “This bread is amazing…did you try it? Oh…sorry”. What I said was, “No, that’s totally fine. I’m glad you liked it.” What I was thinking was, “I hate you.” So, yeah, those first couple weeks are going to be miserable, and you are going to have to make a conscious decision every minute of the day not to eat garbage. Trust me…if I can do it during 7 days at my parents’ house after my grandmother died (at one point I counted almost 20 desserts in their dining room), you can too. I’ve always found that the key to overcoming any obstacle is understanding it, and the more I learn about gluten, the more I understand what it does to me and the more I don’t want it in my body.
First, what is gluten? Well, in Latin, it means “glue” (first warning sign). Gluten is found in wheat products and processed foods and it gives them their shape and structure. I feel it’s also worth noting that gluten can be found in cosmetics, hair products, and some dermatologic preparations (getting more concerned). But here’s the real kicker. When gluten is digested, it produces exorphins (like endorphins but from a source outside the body). If you’ve ever gotten a runner’s high, then you are familiar with the effects of endorphins. Well, exorphins do the same thing. You know what else does the same thing? Opiates. Yep, eating products containing gluten produces the same effect as taking heroin or morphine (major alarms going off now), which really explains a lot, especially for those of us who are emotional eaters. This is why when you’re sad or upset or have had a terrible day, you don’t crave carrot sticks and hummus, you crave cookies and cake and comfort food. Some studies have actually shown that gluten can be just as addicting as heroin (yikes). You know how they say a drug addict is constantly trying to reproduce that first high? I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve eaten a piece of cake or something and gotten done and thought, “that wasn’t even that good after the first couple bites”. I’ve always known that I had a small addiction to these types of food, but this really puts it into perspective.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to cut gluten and processed foods out of their diet. I know plenty of people (who are apparently not predisposed to unhealthy addictions) who can eat processed foods every once in a while with no problems. I am not one of those people. So, I made the decision to cut out gluten and most processed foods. Here’s what I noticed: I have like 100 times more energy, and I feel alert, not like a zombie going through the motions, which may be related to the fact that I am sleeping amazingly. I can focus on what I’m doing. I would never have called myself ADD, but I am kind of known by my coworkers as always doing 5 things at once…having one conversation and still listening to another while on a conference call and working on a document. Sometimes I love the rush of doing all of that at once, but that can really take a toll on the brain. But now, if I’m working on something, I can focus directly on what I’m doing without my mind wandering to a million different places…although I’ll admit I’m watching March Madness and checking twitter at the same time I’m writing this…something about a tiger and its stripes, I guess. My favorite things I’ve noticed, though, are how flat my stomach is (I literally look like I have a food baby when I eat processed crap) and the fact that my joints don’t ache nearly as much. I was trying to think of how to describe it, and the best I can do is just to say, I feel great and happy and motivated. Is that because gluten was making me depressed? Or is it because those changes I’ve noticed are rewarding? Maybe a little of both, but it doesn’t really matter as long as I feel great.
How do I stick to it? I give myself ONE day to eat whatever I want…typically Sunday (Sunday Funday is my favorite day of the week). The funny thing is, that I might eat something flour and gluten filled and processed at one meal that day, but I usually don’t finish it, and once I’ve eaten it, I don’t really crave anymore that day. As a matter of fact, I tend to start craving “real” food like fruits and veggies after indulging. Probably knowing that Sunday comes every week keeps me from feeling the need to eat like it’s my last meal on earth. So, what’s my message, my secret? Knowledge is power. Put whatever you want in your body, but know what it is and how it affects you and your body. Learn your body and how it reacts to different things and make decisions that make you feel your best. Know that just because something says “gluten free” does not mean it is “healthy”. Read ingredients. Know what is in the food that you are eating and know that just because gluten isn’t on that list, does not mean that it’s not a processed food. When in doubt, eat real food. Use the 80/20 rule and make at least 80% of your intake real food. No one’s perfect, but make an effort to be pretty damn close. I am in no way a dietary or gluten expert, and I am only speaking from my own personal experiences. Being physical therapists, Audrey and I have a natural predisposition for wanting to help others be their best selves, so let us know your thoughts or questions. We hope to do a post on some of our favorite foods and products that help us eat clean soon. We also love helpful tips…we are always still learning just like you, and we don’t ever want to stop learning.