Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Changing Your Diet Series: My Gluten and Grain Free Story

We've been hearing more and more in the media about grain-free diets.  It started a few years ago with the South Beach and Atkins diets, and it's moved on from there.  I tried South Beach for weight loss about eight years ago, and felt amazing on it.  I lost 20 pounds, and my need for sleep dropped dramatically. I had never eaten so many vegetables before, and it really made a difference for me.  And then I forgot about it.

For some reason, even when we know a diet is working for our bodies, we revert.  Someone offers you a cookie, your child has a birthday (who can turn down birthday cake??) and boom.  You're right back where you started, cravings and all.  And on top of it, you feel like a failure, because you just can't get the rhythm back that lets you manage your meals easily. In 2010 I went gluten free to help combat some health issues I was experiencing, and I've stayed pretty much committed to the regimen, but in the past year I've gained ten pounds and it was really bothering me.

In April I realized I was out of control with sugar and planned a raw milk fast to break the patterns I'd developed. I'd heard good things about it, and it took away any rationalization about food.  Two days and my cravings for sugar were gone.  I didn't limit myself, but I also never felt hungry.

After the fast, I decided I was going to try knocking out the grains completely - not just gluten free as I'd been doing.  Gluten free diets can be high in calories, and often make use of flours that were never intended for us to eat in large quantities.  (Who really wants to eat a cup of corn starch?  Especially when it's probably GMO).  Since then, I've had such good results that I'm going to stick with it.  I've lost five pounds, with no effort, and the joint pain that started me on my gluten free journey is markedly decreased.

I sympathize when people tell me how hard it is to go grain or gluten free, but in truth, I haven't found it difficult. What's hard is giving up processed food...which you need to do anyway, since it slowly sucks the health out of you.  Choose whole food, cook it cleanly, and try to use single ingredients so you know exactly what you're eating.  It takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it, substitutions are easy.  You'll get some grains by accident here and there, but it's a lifestyle, not a basketball game.  (Note:  I'm not celiac, so my concerns for cross contamination are not the same as someone who suffers from this disease.)

I think the real issue for those transitioning to gluten or grain free diets is the seemingly overwhelming change in how they live day to day.  No more running to get a pizza at the last minute, or grabbing a muffin at a local coffee shop.  It requires planning more than anything else, and if you just transition to the gluten or grain free version of processed food you're doing yourself a disservice. When I first went gluten free I started using mixes, but after some research wanted to try grains individually, so I could really see how they behaved.  This also helped me realize that some things really don't need gluten or grains. I do use mixes from time to time, but prefer to keep the individual grains on hand.

So...what do I eat?  Meat, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, and for a treat I've found Hail Merry Chocolate Macaroons, which my son loves.  Coconut flour isn't a grain, and there are any number of recipes out there.  Here's a few of my favorites: Coconut Flour Bread, Coconut Flour Cake.  Note that my family is not gluten or grain free - just me, and I don't normally cook separate meals for us.  That alone probably would have made me insane. I modify, and often they will have some pasta or rice with a dish and I'll just have a second helping of veggies.  I do make things for them from time to time that I don't eat, but that's usually when I really want an omelet and they want pizza.

Do I feel deprived?  Not really. I won't lie - I did at first, but I've come to terms with how I feel without grains, and  I know it's where I need to be. I always make sure I have a bar, trail mix or some nuts with me to ensure I have something to eat at an event. I'm not afraid to modify a dish.  I still fall off the wagon here and there, sometimes on purpose - but remember it's a lifestyle, not a diet. There's always tomorrow.

Note: Eating grain-free is not for everyone.  Some people need grains, I seem to do better without.  Listen to your body and trust your gut. This is not a fad - it's about determining what "octane" makes your body runs best and then using it.

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