What I Learned When I Ate Gluten Free for a Year

Diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroidits at age 32, I am constantly searching for ways to improve my health. Some of those methods have been helpful and effective, like exercise, finding creative outlets, and changing my outlook on life. Like a majority of women in the western world, I also experimented with several kinds of diets. One that I adopted pretty early in the process and kept up for around a year was a gluten free diet. I learned a great deal in that year that I hope, if you’re considering this kind of change to your diet, will help you determine what is right for you

I was waiting tables back when I first started hearing about the possibility that a GF diet could help with hypothyroidism. A woman I waited on who had hypothyroidism told me she didn’t take any thyroid medication – she controlled her symptoms simply by eating GF. I checked with my endocrinologist. He said that people who have hypothyroidism often also have Celiac disease – a medical condition that essentially makes people allergic to gluten, which is most often found in wheat. He tested my blood for CD and it came back negative. When I pressed him as to whether I should eat GF, he pretty much shrugged and said I could certainly try it if I wanted to. So try it I did, and here are my takeaways.

“Gluten free” doesn’t always mean “healthy”

Avoiding food with gluten is actually not too difficult once you get the hang of it. I was delighted to discover that there were several delicious things I could still enjoy while eating GF. Sweet fruits, nuts, savory veggies…and also candy, chocolate, potato chips—OH NO.

In all seriousness, I wasn’t careful about avoiding food that, while technically GF, really wasn’t healthy to eat all the time. Junk food might not be so bad as an occasional treat, but I found myself thinking, a little too often, “Well, it’s gluten free, so it’s fine for me to eat it.”

Also, if you’re concerned about food preservatives or added ingredients, then forget processed GF foods. Most of them have an ingredient list that looks like a list of science-fiction character names. (“Sodium Benzoate, it’s up to you to get to planet Aspartame!”) If you’re going to go GF, focus on healthy, natural-as-possible foods, and save the chocolate for the weekend.

I hope you have a rich uncle

Eating GF as a luxury is pretty limited to those who can afford…well, luxuries! Pound for pound, veggies and fruits tend to be more expensive than, say, a box of mac and cheese. Also, products that are made without gluten tend to be much more costly than their gluten-full counterparts. I also wonder if the popularity of GF diets among well-off people has caused the higher prices. However, I have absolutely no data to back that idea up, though.

I eat too much bread

Though I think that the majority of people are fine eating gluten, I appreciate one thing the diet taught me. I eat way too much bread. When I ate GF, I realized just how much I relied on wheat products for meals. If I felt a bit lazy and didn’t want to cook? Make a quick sandwich! Want an easy breakfast? How about a bagel? Though I now eat plenty of whole grains, eating GF showed me the value of varying up my diet. It especially demonstrated the importance of being a bit picky with bread products. I now try to choose ones with less sugar or salt, or that were made with whole wheat flour.

Weight a minute!

Let’s keep 100 for a second here. For a lot of us, eating GF is a fad diet. Yes, I primarily took on the diet to see if it would help regulate certain health problems, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also do it to lose weight. Some people swear it’s the best way to maintain a slim physique. For me, I lost weight initially, but it came right back. In fact, it was when I noticed some extra pounds on my stomach that I gave up the diet for good. My personal experience is that it is not a good, long-term strategy for weight loss.

As I mentioned before, my diet now is focused mostly on eating healthy, processed-as-little-as-possible foods from all food groups. I have made the attempt to emphasize veggies and fruit more than other food groups. I am not always successful! None of this is to say that someone with a diagnosed gluten allergy or whose doctor has advised them to avoid gluten are wrong for doing so. If you’re considering it, I strongly suggest you seek the advice and guidance of a trusted and reputable medical professional.

Published by Hot Mess Press