If you read Alison’s post back in July about Celiac disease, you know that wondering if you have some kind of gluten sensitivity is no fun. Like Alison, I have had stomach issues for as long as I can remember. When you’re a kid, you assume everything happening to you must be happening to everyone else too – as it turns out, not everyone else gets stomachaches after eating almost anything. Who knew? My stomach just kind of always hurt, and by high school I was ready to do something about it. I went through the barrage of tests – IBS, Celiac – all negative. I was put on laxative powders (gross) and ﬁber supplements – no luck. I ﬁlled out a food diary for two weeks, writing down everything I ate and how I felt afterwards, and my doctor was thoroughly puzzled – how could I feel sick after a family-cooked meal of spaghetti and salad, but feel ﬁne after eating a big pretzel and bag of M&M’s one night at the movies? After a while, we just gave up. I was tired of going to the doctor all the time, getting no closer to a solution, so I ﬁgured I could just get used to the stomach pain, bloating, and constipation. And that’s pretty much what I did. All through college I dealt with my “crazy stomach”, which would gurgle loud enough for my roommates to hear from the hallway, and send me to the bathroom for absurdly long periods of time. And until recently, it seemed that this is what life would always be like.
But oddly enough, a possible solution showed itself in an unusual place, and I am now on the brink of an experiment. In the past year or so, I have been having terrible mood swings during the two weeks when PMS symptoms usually arise, something I had never dealt with before. I have always prided myself on being incredibly even-keeled, and feeling so out of control of my emotions was awful. I hated that I would get so sensitive about silly little things that would never usually bother me; sometimes I would feel depressed and hopeless; some days all I wanted was to lie on the couch. After months of this, my doctor just recently suggested that I try a gluten-free diet – one that eliminates wheat, barley, and rye because they all contain gluten, a type of protein to which some people may be sensitive. According to my doctor, avoiding gluten has been shown to have a markedly positive eﬀect on depression and other mood issues. I began researching the gluten-free lifestyle, and reading testimonials by people who have made the switch. I heard about people with depression who were also Celiacs, who discovered they no longer needed their antidepressant medications after switching to a gluten-free diet. Encouraging! I was also greeted by lists of familiar gastrointestinal symptoms that going gluten-free helped to alleviate, including many that I suﬀered from – though I had tested negative for Celiac disease. And again I wondered, how is this not what I have?? But as I read on, I discovered something that I hadn’t known before – that gluten sensitivity is actually a spectrum, rather than just a “you have it or you don’t” kind of thing. I can’t imagine how this could have escaped me before; I had many of the Celiac symptoms, but had tested negative – why had no one suggested that I might still be mildly allergic, and that maybe I should just go oﬀ gluten for a while anyway to see if it helped? So, armed with this new knowledge and the possibility that going gluten-free could help both my mood swings and my gastrointestinal issues, I am launching my gluten-free diet experiment this week. Being a big fan of pasta, bread – and beer! – I’m a bit apprehensive to launch into what initially seems like such a restrictive diet. I mean, I work for the Whole Grains Council, and now I can’t eat wheat?
But the good news is, there are more grains that ARE gluten-free than aren’t, and I fully intend to play around with all of them. I already do a lot with brown rice and corn, and I recently got into quinoa, so I’m thankful to have those in my arsenal already. And I’m interested to see what kinds of things I can do with sorghum, millet, and buckwheat. For a full list of whole grains that are gluten-free, check out the Whole Grains Council website. (Also, I’ve heard there are some really great gluten-free beers!) Over the next several weeks, I’m going to keep track of what I eat, and how it makes me feel, both physically and mentally. I’ll record it all here, share my favorite gluten-free recipes, and post any relevant research I come across about the eﬀects of gluten-free living, especially on mental health. Everyone’s body chemistries are diﬀerent, and this is not the ﬁrst nor will it be the last elimination diet I try. Obviously I’m hoping for positive results – in mood, stomach, or both! – but regardless of the outcome, I hope it will encourage you to experiment as well! Bon (g-free) appetit, Molli