5 Things You Need To Know Before Going Gluten-Free
You may have noticed that gluten-free food has become pretty big over the last 10 years or so. A lot of people swear that they feel amazing after going gluten-free… that they’ve lost weight, gained energy, don’t get headaches anymore… But does that really mean that it’s good for everyone?
Whether your body likes gluten or not, there are a few things you need to know before you go gluten-free. Trust me! Not only will it save you a lot of headache and confusion later on, but it could make all the difference in getting the healthy body you want.
1) Gluten-Free is not a Weight Loss Diet
Even if your bestest gal pal swears she lost 20 lbs easy peasy once she went gluten-free, that doesn’t mean the same will happen to you. When people lose weight after they go gluten-free, it’s not because gluten-free is a healthier way of eating (in fact, a lot of gluten-free foods are super processed and full of added sugar to mask their strange gluten-lacking aftertaste). It’s because a sensitivity to gluten was causing their weight gain. So unless your undiagnosed Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity is causing you to gain weight, going gluten-free isn’t going to be much help to you.
2) Gluten-Free is (Mostly) Not a Fad
Many fad diets have come and gone over the years… I’m sure you have fond memories of your Aunt Hilda going on and on about Atkins when you were in high school, or maybe you remember your mom grabbing those big tubs of Slim Fast drink mix at the grocery store. At one point, fat was the devil, then carbs, then sugar (but somehow not the sweet, sweet brain-frying chemicals we replaced it with).
Then came the gluten-free diet.
And guess what? This one is totally different. Like, completely. Well… mostly.
The gluten-free diet didn’t come about after a tall, curvy blonde promoted her diet book on Dr. Oz. It came about out of necessity. For people suffering from Celiac Disease, a gluten-free diet is the only way to live life without awful digestive, dermatological and even psychological symptoms. The same is true for those with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, but they can usually get away with being a little less careful when it comes to things like cross-contamination (we’ll talk about that more later on).
So if this diet is only helpful for people with Celiac or Gluten Sensitivity, then why is it eeeeeverywhere?
Well, one answer is that it turns out a lot more people are sensitive to gluten than we used to think. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, as many as 18 million Americans may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The Celiac Disease Foundation estimates that 1 in 100 people have Celiac Disease worldwide and that two and a half million Americans have Celiac but are still undiagnosed.
Another answer is that so many people with gluten sensitivity went gluten-free and lost weight that everyone else wanted in on the action. Enter the oh so chic gluten-free fad. But again, the people who felt better and lost weight after going gluten-free were suffering from a sensitivity that caused all their symptoms in the first place.
So when you’re sluggish and tired and bloated and can’t seem to get better, you may be tempted to try going gluten free. Who knows? Maybe you’re one of those undiagnosed Celiacs, or one of the 18 million with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity…
Ok, stop! Right there! Don’t move!
This is where it’s super easy to get yourself caught in a never-ending mystery of whether or not you’re sensitive to gluten…
3) You Need to Get Tested First!
So here’s the deal: The best way to find out if you have Celiac Disease is to go to your doctor or gastroenterologist and request a Celiac Disease blood test screening. But that blood test measures your body’s reaction to gluten being in your system. So if you’re on a gluten-free diet, you will test negative for Celiac no matter what because there’s no gluten for your body to react to!
If you have Celiac Disease and don’t know it, the worst thing you can do is to just “try” going gluten-free to see if it helps. If you feel amazing after saying bye bye to gluten, you’ll probably start to wonder if you have Celiac or just a gluten sensitivity. But now it’s too late! If you want to take the test at that point, you will have to start eating gluten again. And trust me, eating it after you haven’t had it in a while feels waaaaaay worse than back when you ate it all the time. Plus it’s super harsh on your body.
Not sure if you have the symptoms for Celiac Disease? Here’s a super handy symptom checklist from the Celiac Disease Foundation. This would be a great list to bring to your doctor to point out why you feel you should be tested.
4) There’s no “Kind Of” Gluten-Free Diet
…That is, if you have Celiac or a serious Gluten Sensitivity.
If you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, the only way to get rid of your symptoms is to get rid of every tiny bit of gluten. And let me tell you, gluten is a sneaky little bugger! It hides in conventionally harvested oats, in natural flavors, on shared kitchen equipment, even in lipstick!
And guess what, if your Celiac screening comes back negative and you suspect you have a Gluten Sensitivity, you can’t just kind of go gluten-free to see if you feel better. You need to stop eating gluten completely or you’ll never know if it’s actually helping you. Now, Non-Celiac Sensitivity isn’t as sensitive to cross contamination as Celiac (e.g. shared kitchen equipment), but it’s just as important to make sure every single thing you put in your mouth is free of Gluten ingredients.
There is a possibility that gluten is just one of those foods that your body doesn’t digest well (a.k.a. a mild sensitivity). There are a lot of people with digestive issues who have trouble digesting grains, or people who get sensitive to foods easily from eating too much of the same thing over and over (this can be caused by something called Leaky Gut Syndrome). If you think this is you, the best thing to do is start a Health Journal. This way you can track what you eat, track your symptoms, and go over it with your nutritionist or health coach to see if there are any patterns of sensitivity (I talk more about this process in my eBook Uniquely Nourished Foundations).
Bottom line: If you’re going to try a gluten-free diet, you won’t get any answers unless you completely cut gluten out of your life. So make sure you’re ready, because it’s one serious undertaking.
5) Other Reasons You Might Go Gluten-Free
There are some medical conditions that can be aggravated by gluten. Your doctor might recommend you try a gluten-free diet if you have one of these ailments. Also, many swear by the GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) diet when it comes to children with autism and even ADHD. Talk to your doctor about the possible benefits this may have for you or your child, and be sure to ask if testing for Celiac might be appropriate before saying goodbye to gluten (remind them that you need to have gluten in your system to be tested, not all doctors have that at the front of their minds).
So, Now What?
- If you think you might have Celiac disease or Gluten Sensitivity ask your doctor for a screening.
- If it comes back positive, go gluten-free!
- If it comes back negative, talk with your doctor or nutritionist about the possibility of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.
- If they give you the go-ahead, give gluten-free a try!
- Work together with a nutritionist or health coach who’s experienced in Celiac and Gluten Sensitivity to give you the rundown of what you need to avoid.
- Track everything you eat in your heath journal so you can go over it with your nutritionist and make sure gluten isn’t hiding anywhere.
- Not feeling better? Grab a donut and celebrate, because gluten doesn’t bother you! But something else might be, so be sure to talk it over with your nutritionist.
- Feeling better? Awesome! Keep it up and enjoy the sweet victory over your glutenous foe. 😉