As of early November, my little family and I have been gluten-free for a year.
Well, maybe I should say gluten-almost-free, because I'd say we've been 95% gluten-free in the past year. I'll explain below.
It's been a rewarding, albeit sometimes emotional ride, that has left me pleased and proud of our ability to make it a lifestyle for us.
WHY WE WENT GLUTEN-FREE
None of us have candida or any other hard-core gluten allergy, thankfully. We can all eat it a couple of times safely, without anything terrible happening, which is why we can afford that 5% or so of "cheating."
David and I learned during the course of a couple of Whole30s that neither of our bodies liked gluten very much. When we're eating gluten-heavy diets, our joints are swolen and sore, and our digestive system becomes slow. When we're off "the glutes," we find that we have more energy, happier tummies, and more mobility and less pain in our joints. Before going legit gluten-free, we'd played around with the idea many times.
It wasn't until we got wind that going gluten-free might actually solve a problem for our kid that we made the jump. Since #cutekid was a baby (she's now 7), she has had patches of dry skin. When she was tiny, it was on her elbows and knees (the doctor told us it was psoriasis and told us to keep it moisturized). As she grew up, it moved to her chest and back, sometimes covering large areas of her skin. Sometimes it would almost go away, but never completely. As she got even older, these patches were replaced with larger bumps that she would get randomly on her body. Never very many, but always at least one somewhere.
A friend told us he'd heard that gluten could cause things like that, and since that was the only thing we hadn't tried (we'd tried a million things over the years) we though we'd give it a shot.
After going gluten-free, #cutekid's skin problems have gone away. Her skin was completely clear for the first time in her life within 2 months of getting off the glutes. And, apart from the time or two we've had a serious gluten binge in the past year, she has remained clear. The bumps that pop up after a couple of days of pizza parties go away shortly. It has worked.
Also, without monitoring your gluten, if you're eating an average American diet, you're having gluten in almost every meal you eat, even if you don't realize it. Even if you're not eating a fat piece of bread, flour is used as a thickener is most soups, meats, stuffings, etc. It's everywhere. And eating it so much can't be good for anyone, right? At least that was a motivator for me to be more conscious about what I was putting in my mouth, and the mouths of my family.
SOME LESSONS WE'VE LEARNED
1 - Going gluten-free sucks, but it's not impossible, and it's worth it.
The way I feel on gluten makes me glad that I don't eat it on the regular. It makes it easy to say no to cookies. Also, occasional binges allow me to enjoy the soul foods that keep my happy (more on the binges below), while giving me the incentive to stay completely gluten-free at all other times.
It's all about balance: balancing the way you and your body feels, balancing how often you have it, balancing an addiction we all have to it.
And I'm sure I'll eat a gluten-free diet for the rest of my life. I can't imagine going back.
#1 Tip: Don't buy it. Don't even have it in your house.
When we eat gluten, it's not in our house, on most occasions. By not keeping it in our house, we've made it immensely easier to stay off the glutes.
2 - Taking kids off gluten sucks, but it's not impossible, and it's good for them to exercise that level of self-control.
#cutekid had a hard time going gluten-free, as her favorite foods are those of any grade-schooler: pizza, mac-and-cheese, peanut butter crackers. The best thing we did to take her off of gluten, because it was her health that we were doing it for more so than our own, was that we did it with her. Being that support system for her made it easier for her to do it, too, and as a result she's grown more capable of making gluten-free choices for herself.
It has also helped to find gluten-free versions of her favorites, like mac-and-cheese, and pizza. Though, honestly - I'm not going to sugar-coat it, gluten-free pizza is always a let-down.
We also know that it would have been 20 times harder to take #cutekid gluten-free if she weren't homeschooled. This was a pivotal fact that pushed us to give this a go.
Don't get me wrong, we've had melt-downs over biscuits. It has not been all sunshine and daisies, especially when hot, steamy soul food is staring you in the face, but it's been a practice in self-control that will make #cutekid a better and healthier person, and she absolutely knows that it's better for her. But it is hard.
Basically, she's a total rockstar.
3 - Traveling gluten-free sucks, but it's not impossible.
When we went to Universal Studios, we ate gluten for a week, because gluten-free options were few and far between, and I'm not the kind of mom who pre-packages snacks for things like that. I could be, and that would make it easier, but that's not a priority.
However, when we went on our 40-day #indiegoeswest roadtrip adventure this summer, apart from the cake we had on my grandmother's birthday on day 2 (because you don't say no to Mamaw's birthday cake), we did the entire trip 100% gluten-free. If we can do that with no planning, anyone can do it.
#2 Tip: BBQ and Thai food are the gluten-free go-tos on the road. All hail Yelp.
4 - Most gluten food can be made really great using gluten-free ingredients.
Gluten-free pasta, breadcrumbs, and baking mixes (including Bisquick) make it all possible. And, because I love to cook, I've had a really great time making old glutenous favorites into gluten-free versions. It always takes a couple of test-runs, but overall we've seen success in transferring even old family recipes (like cornbread and banana nut bread) into gluten-free versions where no one can tell the difference.
Basically, going gluten-free has hardly been the end of eating like an American.
WHAT A GLUTEN-BINGE LOOKS LIKE
Because none of us are seriously allergic to gluten, and because we're modern humans living in a world of really great pizza, pita chips, and gluten being hidden in almost all food, we're not super strict about being gluten-free. If we end up at a restaurant without gluten-free options, we're not going to be assholes. We gladly eat the glutes.
On a regular day/week, we are 100% gluten-free, but once every other month or so we allow ourselves a gluten-binge. We'll order pizza that we'll eat on for two days, raid the cabinets for that hidden box of crackers, or David may crack open a beer. Or biscuits.
And apart from the fact that we totally enjoy getting back to some foods that suck in gluten-free versions, we always feel like crap for a few days after. That's the price you pay to enjoy a soft flour tortilla, and I'm quite happy to pay it.
We also save up gluten-free points for times in the future when we know we'll be indulging. For example, I knew I would eat All The Gumbo when I went to New Orleans, so I made sure I was good-on-the-glutes before and after the trip. Doing this keeps me on track, even when I consciously take a detour, and it also allows me to enjoy what I'm eating even more.
These binges are what keep us on the otherwise straight-and-narrow, and we're grateful that we can do so.
For me, food is a soulful experience.
I love food. I love to travel and eat. I love to cook. Going gluten-free for me was a hard-core lifestyle shift, and one that has been for the better all the way around, but absolutely one that's take some work. And I seriously don't feel like I'm missing out on anything.
If you're considering going gluten-free, I hope this helps guide you a bit in making your decision. It's certainly hard to shift such a huge thing in your daily life, but one that's really easy to adjust for, made much easier if you have a good gluten-free section in your grocery and a partner to tackle it right along with you.
Interested in how we eat gluten-free? Check out my Instagram account, where I occasionally, proudly post about my food.