I’ve been writing this post in my mind for most of the entire past year. Why? Because it’s taken me nearly that long to learn about all of the benefits of going gluten-free. People often ask me now about my experience. I’m happy to tell them about it, but I warn them I might get preachy. You see, my experience can be summed up in five remarkable words — it changed my whole life. Now this is when when my friends smirk and decide I’ve lost my mind. A select few ask me for the details, but I haven’t told anyone the full story yet. Some of this is hard to write, because I feel like I was such a fool for not going gluten-free sooner. Or it’s just embarrassing. But if you don’t mind getting a little grossed out and can pretend you never read this the next time you see me, then feel free to read on. Here is what going gluten-free has changed for me:
1. Regularity — the main reason is the grossest. I used to have to worry if my stomach started to grumble. My friends teased me for being so sensitive. As soon as I didn’t feel so good from eating the wrong thing (still having no idea what the wrong thing was), I’d have to head home or be nearby a bathroom. It wasn’t a total nightmare. I had plenty of normal days in my life, but the problem was getting steadily worse over time. I thought it was just part of getting older. All of these problems went away within three days of going gluten-free, and by five days in, it felt like a miracle had taken place inside of me. I’ve accidentally eaten gluten a few times in the past year, but besides those rare occasions, I feel amazing now. My stomach might grumble sometimes, but now I know it’s something else like stress or anxiety. And I don’t have to panic about where the nearest bathroom is.
2. Hunger — this is a weird one, but I used to be hungry all the time, day or night. I constantly craved food, which is why I was often known to start baking cookies at 10pm at night after a long day at work. I would eat dinner, and I’d want to eat more an hour later. I was obsessed with food. Yes, I still enjoy food. My job is related to food. I Instagram about food every day. But I’m no longer obsessed, and that’s a good thing. If there is a problem with this, it’s that I sometimes forget to eat for a while. The upside is that I’m not just eating because there is food in front of me anymore, such as when I’m bored. That’s a bad habit.
3. Bloating — the flip side of feeling hungry all the time was that I also felt bloated all the time before going gluten-free. No matter how little I ate, my stomach felt full and tight. Clothes were often uncomfortable as a result, especially something fitted that pressed against my waistline. I felt “fat” a lot of the time, even if it wasn’t quite true. That’s all gone now; I have to totally gorge myself to get that bloated feeling.
4. Skin — I’ve been told this a few times, so it’s not just my imagination. My skin is much clearer. I’m mostly talking about my face, but my skin has never been as clear as it is now. Besides daily blemishes and that kind of thing which have cleared up dramatically, I had a few dark spots on my face for a year or longer. Those started fading away after going gluten-free. I thought those spots were just something that happens when you get older. No, my skin isn’t perfect, but I’m really happy with it right now. What you can’t see is that my skin has improved all over my body. For example, I always had redness and irritation on the back of my arms, around my triceps, and it’s almost completely gone now. I tended to have break-outs in other random areas on my body, and that is very much reduced or entirely gone. And most amazing to me, almost unbelievable, is that I have had some moles on my body for my entire life, or as long as I can remember. Those are fading away now too. One on my back is almost invisible now. It’s literally unbelievable to me that this is possible. This benefit took the longest. It wasn’t until about 9 months that I started to see these particular changes.
5. In-grown hairs — hey, I told you this was going to be gross, right? I used to have a lot of irritation on my neck from shaving. I’d always been told it was common for African-American people and white people with curly hair (like me) to have this problem from shaving. There are products to minimize in-grown hairs, or you’re supposed to shave a certain way (with the grain), but nothing really worked. Now the problem has fixed itself, and it’s extremely rare for me to have irritation from shaving on my neck.
6. Dandruff — now I’m getting ridiculous, right? I’ve been using dandruff shampoo for my entire adult life without much success. It wasn’t terrible, but my scalp was always dry, and I’d have some white flakes on my shoulders if I scratched my head too much. This has always been upsetting to me, something I was very insecure about. Well, I stopped using dandruff shampoo about seven months ago, and the problems are almost entirely gone now. I’m a pessimist, so I don’t want to jinx it by saying it’s 100% fixed, but it’s not a factor in my life any longer. I don’t even think about it now.
7. Weight — this is a big one. I lost weight without even trying. If anything, the last year was busy for me and I went to the gym less than ever, but I still lost weight. How much? I don’t use scales, but I’ve dropped one or two sizes in every store where I shop. There were stores where I couldn’t shop at all before because everything was too tight, more of a European cut. Now those shops are perfect for me, and I buy jeans with words like “slim” on the labels. I have stopped shopping in other stores where the clothing is more boxy, because that style makes no sense for me now. I bought a new belt a few weeks after going gluten-free, and a couple months later I had to throw it away because it was too large for me. My old clothes are all too baggy on me now, almost absurdly so. Old pants and jeans literally won’t stay on my waist. I haven’t felt this slim in more than a decade. Please understand that before going gluten-free, I wasn’t all that worried about my size. I didn’t think I was overweight, except for that bloated feeling I often had. But now I think back and can’t believe I was walking around with that extra weight and those extra inches so needlessly. I look at myself in a dressing room mirror when trying on clothes, and I smile.
8. Dairy — this is another big one. Before going gluten-free, I had diagnosed myself as being lactose intolerant years earlier. Drinking straight milk was impossible — it felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach afterwards. Soft cheese and ice cream were extremely challenging, and all I could do was have a little taste. About two months after going gluten-free, I started testing out dairy again. Now I can have all the cheese and ice cream I want without any concerns. Yes, I’m serious. I don’t actually like milk that much, but for me it’s a wonderful trade. I gave up gluten, and I got dairy back. I couldn’t be any happier about that.
9. Tiredness — now we’re getting into fuzzy territory. It’s obvious that my skin is clearer or that my old pants don’t fit. But I swear that I have more energy than ever. It used to be that I’d eat a sandwich or noodles for lunch every day, and by 3pm, I was nearly asleep at my desk. I’d have to power through it by walking around to get my blood flowing again. That never happens now. I think this is more of a by-product of going gluten-free. I’m not eating all of that highly-processed food, which is why I’m not having mid-afternoon sugar crashes. To be honest, anyone who knows me well can tell you I had a fair amount of energy before. I jump out of bed in the morning, optimistic and ready to go. But feeling tired at work was a secret of mine, and that’s all changed now.
10. Drinking alcohol — I’m still not a big drinker, and I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “benefit,” but my friends all used to call me a light-weight. I’d have two beers and feel hungover. My head would be pounding, my stomach would hurt, and I’d be done for the night. Now I’m not saying people should drink more, but I feel like a normal person now when I go out. I can drink socially, and it’s nearly impossible for me to feel hungover now. Okay one night recently I partied too hard, and there were some regrets, but generally speaking, alcohol is not an issue for me now. I just stick to the safe stuff like wine.
11. Headaches — this isn’t something I talked about often, but I typically got a headache three times a week, sometimes more. In years prior I got headaches all the time. It wasn’t really terrible, but I never left the house without aspirin or something like that in my pocket (especially if there was going to be drinking). Depending on the season or climate, the headaches were sometimes accompanied by sinus pain and pressure, and at times that was really hard for me to handle, because when it was bad, it was really bad. Now the sinus problems are 100% gone, and I’d estimate I get a headache once a month. Even then it’s only under relatively extreme circumstances that could have likely been avoided. If the absence of headaches in my life was the only benefit to going gluten-free, I would have done it for that reason alone.
12. Sugar/dessert/pasta/bread cravings — I’ve touched on this a bit, but it’s a big one. Nearly every time someone inquires about my experience going gluten-free, they end the conversation by saying, “But I could never give up [bread/pasta/cookies/etc.] because I love them to much.” For the record, nobody was a bigger gluten-addict than me. Nobody. I baked constantly, as you can tell if you have ever looked at my blog prior to January 2012. I ate cereal for breakfast every day. I ate a sandwich or noodles for lunch every day. I snacked on pretzels and crackers all day long. I made pasta for dinner three or four times a week. On other nights I would go out for noodles. The smell of bread was like heaven to me. It was comfort food, especially if I was feeling sick. And now? The cravings are gone. That took about six weeks to happen, kind of gradually. Gluten-free friends have explained to me how and why this happened. It’s not just mental. The physical cravings for those foods no longer exist. I resisted substituting for many of those foods for a long time, in the same way many vegetarians won’t eat meat substitutes like seitan. I’ve had only five or six sandwiches with gluten-free bread in the entire past year. But now I’m eating gluten-free pasta at least once every week or two. I cook rice noodles pretty often. I’ve been dabbling in gluten-free baking. But if I walk by a bakery, I have no cravings at all. My mind and body no longer see those foods as comforting or satisfying. If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
13. Colds — I’m totally gonna jinx this, but I haven’t gotten a full-blown cold in about a year. Am I saying that going gluten-free makes you impervious to illness? Of course not, but my resistance is so much stronger now that my body isn’t battling gluten all the time, I can’t remember ever feeling this good for so long. When I feel a cold coming on, I take a Coldeeze or two, and it fades away. No more days at home sick, all stuffed up, coughing, stuck in bed, etc. The worst that happened was a very mild cold over the summer when I took medicine at night for a few nights to help me sleep better, but during the day I felt fine. I had that funny feeling of, “am I sick or not?” and that was about it.
Oh yeah, I’m bullet-proof and can fly now too. Okay, just kidding. I wanted to see if you were still reading. So there it is. Now when someone asks me about my experience, I’m just gonna tell them to read this. Nah, I still love talking about it. Just don’t tell me you “love bread too much to ever go gluten-free,” because that’s the oldest excuse in the book. Love you partner, parents, children, siblings and friends. If you (or you doctor) think gluten might be making you feel sick, you owe it to yourself to give this a try. Just keep in mind that these are mostly long-term benefits which only came about because I really gave up gluten. I wasn’t sneaking a cupcake on “cheat” days. That will only hold you back. You might feel a little better by going 75% gluten-free, but you won’t be allowing your body to truly recover and beat the addiction. Yes, I’m sounding preachy now, but needless to say, I’m a convert. Going gluten-free made almost everything about my life better. And I’m not even touching on the really subjective stuff like feeling more clear headed. I do think the “fog” is gone, but there’s no way to prove that to you. The other stuff is pretty hard to deny. Now all I can think is why did I wait so long to give this a try?