As a self-nourishment counselor, I spend my days helping clients figure out how to eat healthier. One of the questions that often comes up is about gluten. There’s so much information surrounding gluten theses days, but there’s also so much confusion that even tests can’t necessarily give you the right answer. This is because ultimately, it’s your own body that holds the answers.
Lately, gluten is being blamed for weight gain, digestive issues, bloating, unexplained fatigue and other diseases caused by inflammation. Some doctors have begun advocating the benefits of a gluten-free diet, while others call it the new eating disorder.
While these issues are true for many people, when it comes to making the right choice for your health, I encourage you to ignore the hype and learn how to know what works for you and your body.
The real question here isn’t about whether gluten is good or bad; it’s about how gluten affects YOU.
To figure out whether or not going gluten-free is the right choice for your health and wellness, take the following three steps:
1. Understand why gluten is a problem for some people.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat and other grains. It’s a sticky, glue-like substance that’s hard to digest.
As you begin to test for a sensitivity to gluten, you may notice that your body responds differently to different sources of gluten. For example, commercial wheat is overproduced and the products made from it are refined. That’s why they can cause more bloating than organic, whole grain, sprouted bread. Commercial flour products also contain GMOs, which can cause allergic reactions, whereas organic flour products do not.
It’s possible that you’ll find you’re able to eat gluten without a reaction as long as it’s from ancient grains like barley and rye. This would mean that you’re only sensitive to wheat, not gluten in general. Similarly, spelt and kamut are from the wheat family and they cause discomfort for some people, but not for others.
2. Be aware of how your body responds to gluten.
We respond to wheat and gluten differently, which is why I encourage you to be aware of how certain foods make you feel and to choose based on what works for YOU.
For example, I can eat wheat but I don’t feel great afterward. I develop a slight stomach ache, feel bloated and get sleepy. I get more moody and sugar cravings afterward. Sometimes I even get a headache. These symptoms signal a sensitivity to wheat, and since I don’t like feeling that way, I choose not to have it.
I encourage you to be aware of your own potential sensitivities by paying attention to how you feel after eating foods that contain gluten. Be on the lookout for the following telltale food intolerance symptoms:
- Stomach bloating
- Feeling foggy
- Increased sleepiness
- Feeling unmotivated
- Emotional sensitivity
- Falling asleep shortly after eating (or wanting to)
- Feeling hungry and empty even though you’re stuffed
- Constant cravings for more carbs and sugar
3. Keep a food-feeling journal.
I recommend keeping track of the food you eat and how it makes you feel in a food journal so you can look back and remember how different foods affected you. Make sure you keep it simple so you can easily find patterns in what you ate and how you felt. Keep wheat and other gluten products clearly marked, and write down if what you ate was organic, sprouted, cooked or commercially produced.
This is one of my favorite exercises to do with clients because it’s so telling. Within just a few days of keeping your journal, you’ll begin to notice a strong correlation between how you feel and the food you’re eating. You may very well notice that you feel better when you omit wheat or all gluten.
Your life without wheat or gluten …
Learning how to make new choices is very connected to your relationship with food and your attachment to foods of the past, as well as your emotions and habits. Eliminating wheat products or gluten is challenging because they’re everywhere, so you’ll need to learn to navigate your options.
Staying motivated to eat this way is a dedication to your health. Focus on what you’re getting out of it, not what you’re giving up.