The Pros and Cons to a Wheat-Free Diet

In the last decade, wheat and gluten have become a noticeable problem in many people’s diets. Between more and more people realizing they have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant, those who are not directly affected have begun eliminating wheat and other gluten filled products from their daily meals. I am one of them. And while I can tell you all the wonderful things a gluten free life brings, I also know the cost.

Both my brother and my mom are gluten intolerant, so the summer before my junior year of high school, I decided to eliminate gluten from my diet as well. I had the resources readily available (gluten free pasta, cookies, etc.), so I knew it would not be impossible. More than anything, I was curious. After reading “Wheat Belly” by preventative cardiologist Dr. William Davis, I was shocked to learn how modifying the genetic makeup of wheat has led to negative side effects. Compared to 60 years ago, wheat today has 50 times the amount of gluten. This is why people suddenly have reactions to it.

What caught my attention was the fact that those who stop eating gluten tend to eat 440 less calories a day, making it an easy way to lose weight. Wheat is also an appetite stimulant, causing people to eat more than necessary. Along with that, it is addictive and can have withdrawal symptoms. Many people have a difficult time taking wheat out of their diets because they go through withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, depression, mental fog and obsession over the desired wheat. A third fact that changed my perspective about wheat is how it is one of the few foods that can alter your mood. In certain people, eating wheat can lead to increased risk of mood swings. One patient of Dr. Davis recounts how she felt suicidal after eating mustard that had a small percentage of wheat in it. While most people do not experience mood swings to this degree, it still has the power to control your attitude on a smaller scale.

These concepts among others made me want to jump onboard immediately. And I did. For the next six months, I eliminated wheat and gluten from my diet. During that time, I lost about ten pounds without changing anything else in my lifestyle. Looking back, the main reason this happened was because I was forced to eat less breads and replace them with more fruits and vegetables. And while I was proud that I had stuck with this change for so long, I had no idea how hard it would be to reintroduce wheat back into my diet.

When I gave up on the diet, I quickly began noticing that my lower back always hurt after lunch. I soon recognized that it was the wheat I ate at lunch every day in the form of a sandwich or other food items. At first I was irritated. I had never had back pain from wheat before, so why was it happening now? Then I realized that my body was not used to having wheat it its system. For six months, it had been flushed clean of it, but now it was back with a literal pain in the back.

I soon accepted my fate and continued eating wheat. Eventually the pain went away. My body was once again accustomed to wheat. Or so I thought. During my second semester at Loras, I began noticing that I was having a difficult time focusing. At first I thought it was because finals were approaching, so I had no desire to do homework. Then I realized that, because of my stress, I had been eating more wheat than usual, and this was affecting my mentality and concentration. However, I ignored it and kept eating all the cookies and cake from the Cafe that I wanted.

Then, last semester I began noticing that my acne had gotten much worse, which is a common response to wheat. After a week of eliminating it from my diet, there was a noticeable improvement. But then Christmas came, and I went back to my old habits. New Year’s resolutions didn’t make a difference either. Then during J-term, I traveled to India, and while the food was great, the naan bread kept me going during those weeks. But at the same time, my body was begging me to give it up.

So, I decided to give up wheat, right? Not immediately. It wasn’t until Lent that I decided to give it up completely. I thought it would be a great way to start over and then learn to minimize the amount of wheat in my life. But halfway during Lent, I realized that I was too far in to back out. Whenever I overdose on wheat (yes, you can overdose on food), my body rejects it. While I’ve noticed I eat healthier when I’m not eating wheat, it is a double edged sword because I will never be able to go back to before it affected me.

So here’s my advice to all of you. Be careful with diets. For some of them, it might mean a lifelong commitment because your body may not want to adapt. Instead of eliminating a certain food, try minimizing it. Trust me, I know.

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