Going Gluten-Free - It's Not as Hard as You Think!

By Shannon Keirnan

Maintaining a healthy diet, eating organic, and avoiding gluten can be rather difficult when you live with others who don’t exactly follow your standards. With the holiday season in full swing and treats, goodies, and all kinds of junk food filtering through my family’s door, I found myself clinging to the edge of the gluten-free wagon - one little slip can too easily lead to me jumping off entirely.

Because I have bulimia, it’s important that I avoid foods that trigger my eating disorder - especially processed foods, and any excess of gluten, but that's hard to do when there's Pizza Hut or Burger King, in the kitchen, tempting me and just begging I take one little bite...

I asked my family if they would participate in one month of gluten-free eating with me for these reason:

  1. To make things easier on myself, and to help me keep my eating healthy and stress-free.
  2. To see what positive effects cutting gluten from their lives could have on my mother and my brother, who both have multiple health issues. 

I also have some suspicions that my mother and my brother may have sensitivities to gluten which exacerbate their health problems, so I was excited when my mother finally agreed to participate. Though she worried it would be “too hard,” she was hoping it might make her lose a little bit of weight, a feat she has struggled with for many years, and since I promised to do the majority of the cooking, she was on board.

WEEK ONE:

I cleaned out our fridge, freezer, and cupboards, putting everything that contained gluten in a few bags in the garage. I may have snuck in a few items that listed “high fructose corn syrup” as their first ingredient, too, but no one seemed to notice. The dog would later explore this bag and discover the discomfort that eating an entire bag of dry bulgar inevitably brings.

I combed over gluten-free cookbooks, Pinterest, and Nancy's recipes to plan out meals for the week to make my shopping easier. I hit the stores and went all-out, purchasing as much organic, gluten-free food as I could afford.

Baby steps, I figured. I swapped out their usual cereal for rice cereal and organic milk, and substituted gluten-free bread on the sandwiches my brother takes for lunch. I got creative with meals - making a knock-off Mongolian BBQ recipe modified from a friend, stuffing portabella mushrooms with cheeses, cooking up Mexican rice in corn tortillas and making mini pizza with cauliflower crusts. We had risotto for lunch and gluten-free BLT's with Lindsey's Avocado Spread, roasted chickpeas as a snack... It was a lot of cooking and fixing, and I'm lucky that my job allowed me the time, but once the food was made, the leftovers would carry us on a few days and give me a break.

glutenfree

"Mongolian BBQ" - Heat coconut oil to nearly smoking, and add in all your favorite ingredients at once. Cook for about five minutes, add sauce of choice and egg if wanted, and cook for another 3-5 minutes. I went with gluten-free pasta, firm organic tofu, egg, peas, onions, garlic, and broccoli with a gluten-free soy sauce, served in heated corn tortillas. I used to work at a Mongolian BBQ and this tastes just as good! 

The response was good - my mom admitted she had never liked tofu before, but she enjoyed the way I had mixed it into the BBQ. My brother, who has Down Syndrome and whom we dubbed the “Endless Pit” of eating, ate his plate of food and then put it in the dishwasher, telling me he was full... and, for once, saving me the usual song-and-dance of trying to keep him away from a giant helping of seconds and thirds.

I was happy with their reactions, though by the end of week one, my mother noted with annoyance that she hadn’t lost any weight.

WEEK TWO

By the second week, things were settling down on the whole preparing food front, as everyone figured out what could be used and what couldn’t, and meals became more casual. I even picked up a pizza with a tapioca crust that was so good my mother suggested I try making it myself. Everyone was happy to have my "famous" meatloaf, tweaked only slightly and made with grass-fed ground beef, and the Picky Eater's Beef Fried Rice is always a win in this house.

I asked my mother how things were going, and she noted that she wasn’t needing to nap as much as usual - the same thing I notice when I go off gluten. The ability to make it through a day without needing to snooze is not to be underrated, and when I’m not entirely gluten-free, I find myself dragging hardcore by afternoon.

She also told me she noticed less bloating in her stomach, more energy, and, proudly, that she had lost three pounds “although it probably won’t last.” I asked her what the best part of it was, and she said "that [she] can still eat potatoes."

My brother Evan is still eating smaller portions, though when I got lazy and made some organic french fries a minor battle ensued about going back for more. Live and learn.

WEEK THREE

We are currently halfway through the third week of eating gluten-free. My mother happily informed me this morning that she has lost five pounds, and that this experience has been nowhere near as difficult as she had expected, especially since we have found a brand of gluten-free bread that she actually likes (Udi's).

I asked her about her experience so far and what changes she was noticing. She told me the biggest thing for her is that she is not craving sweets so much. We still have chocolate in the house (of course), but she can take a bite, enjoy it, and set it back down... something she has never been able to do. She doesn’t think about things like carrot cake constantly, driving herself crazy until she breaks down and buys a piece (and eats the whole thing, still feeling unsatisfied).

Basically, she is breaking her addiction to sugar. It’s a freeing experience similar to my own, after treatment for my eating disorder proved only moderately effective, and she seems relieved to finally have some sort of proof that she doesn't just "lack willpower," as so many people have said. And, the longer we eat gluten-free and organic, the easier it is proving for everyone to turn down the things that normally would have made our mouths water but would fill us with regret later and leave us just wanting more.

We have to make trips to the grocery store less often, as well. As their bodies detox from the processed foods they were eating, their appetites have gone down. It takes less food to fill everyone up now, and Evan, who usually could down a gallon of milk in about two days, is drinking smaller portions of the organic whole milk. I've never seen milk last in our fridge for this long!

Christmas Day will mark the end of their gluten fast, but I know I have them on board now, and we can return easily to this style of eating. It will be interesting to see how they feel after a day of regression, but they've done well so far and I won't fault them for it!

It might require a little more preparation and thought, but the benefits of switching are worth it. I'm thrilled that my family seems to be perkier, happier, and healthier, and that I, too, am feeling more like myself again.

Trust me, if they can do it, you can too. Try it out for one month to give your body time to adjust - see how you feel! I guarantee that you'll love it. After just two and a half weeks, my skeptical family members are already enjoying the benefits, and there are more to come!

Not sure where to get started? Check out a few of my most successful recipes below! As you can see, gluten-free does not have to mean taste-free!

avocados

Mexican Rice - Sautéed brown rice with tomatoes and tomato paste, beans, onions, garlic, cumin, paprika, and chili powder, served with a squeeze of lime, avocado, and a sprinkle of organic cheese on a heated corn tortilla.

risotto

rganic Risotto - Made per instructions on packaging, with organic chicken broth and white wine, carrots, peas, onions, and garlic, served with pepper, organic parmesean cheese, and pasture butter.

stuffedmushrooms

tuffed Portabello Mushrooms: Ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, baby spinach, garlic, and parmesan mixed together and stuffed in an olive-oil coated mushroom and topped with prosciutto, broiled for 5-10 minutes.