Gluten, Grains, and Paleo, Oh My!

I am writing this post sitting in Starbucks at the moment and am SO tempted to get one (or a few) of their baked goods. But I'm not going to, as hard as it may be, because this morning, I posted on my Instagram (name change! @fitfoodie_tveen) that I wanted to try to eat as grain-free as possible for a while. Truth be told, I LOVE BREAD. Seriously, I used to love going to restaurants with unlimited bread baskets, warm rolls, or fresh baked pita bread. I love dipping bread in soups, sauces, and, of course, oil and vinegar. Growing up, I have always had some...shall we say..."tummy issues," but never figured that they could have been caused by things like breads and grains. I was allergic to milk as an infant and had to rely on soy-milk, until I just simply stopped drinking milk altogether. I loved grains and relied on these foods when feeling sick (toast, crackers, rice, etc). But then again, I followed this type of lifestyle, and still had tummy issues throughout my whole life. And I was always so grateful that I didn't have Celiac's disease or gluten intolerance because, I told myself, I could NEVER follow a lifestyle without bread! Until...last summer, when my tummy issues escalated. I had been following a predominantly vegetarian diet since the winter before, while training for a half-marathon. This meant that my meals consisted of wheat-rich whole grain bagels, pita breads, and waffles. I felt uncomfortable, bloated, and in pain CONSTANTLY. I was miserable all the time and stayed home most nights because I did not want to go out feeling so uncomfortable and in so much pain. I finally went to the doctor at the beginning of the summer in 2012, and she said she was absolutely sure I had Celiac's disease and was going to send me for blood work just to be sure. I was upset but also relieved to have some REASON behind my discomfort. I mean, I am a nutritionist/almost RD! I eat healthy and I did not understand why all these things were happening. To my disappointment (weird, right?) I tested negative for Celiac's disease. However, my doctor still diagnosed me with gluten intolerance and told me to avoid gluten. Once I cut out gluten, something amazing happened. I was no longer bloated or in pain after eating! It was an amazing/weird feeling that I was not used to, since, for 23+ years, I had always experienced this type of discomfort after eating and truly thought it was normal. I followed a strict gluten free diet, and didn't mind the restrictions, for a few months. However, at the beginning of this year (2013), I really started to miss bread. I mean, REALLY started to miss it. Around this time, I also ironically discovered the Paleo diet and read the book "It Starts with Food" by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. If you haven't heard of the Paleo diet, I suggest researching it. But, in a nutshell, this diet cuts out grains, legumes, dairy, soy, and added sugars and focuses on wholesome foods our ancestors ate. On the Paleo diet, you could have meat, chicken, fish, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. I wanted to try this 30-day clean paleo diet challenge (called "Whole 30") because it really seemed to focus on wholesome foods that heal your gut, while helping you get over your "carb cravings" by allowing your body to get used to foods it was meant to live off of. I also read that some people with gluten intolerance were able to return to eating grains "once in a while" because of healing their gut through the Whole 30. I decided to try a "whole 30" and see how my body reacted, in the hopes of possibly being able to eat grains again!

My body LOVED eating paleo. My body LOVED the whole 30. I was sleeping better, my run times were improving, and I lost weight even though I was eating more than I ever had before in my life! However, my brain felt VERY restricted. All I could think about was how much I missed bread, dairy, and my beloved hummus. Once I completed the whole 30, I started to slowly reintroduce my go-to grainy foods that I had missed so much. I started eating my whole grain bagels, tortillas, and pita breads, with the original intention of eating them "once in a while." I started incorporating dairy to my diet again. I starting having my hummus with pita bread. And I was NOT feeling sick! It was an amazing feeling. I continued to still eat a balanced and "healthy" diet of meat and grains, with healthy amounts of fruits, veggies, legumes, and healthy fats. I was so excited that I was not being sick. My gluten intolerance was cured! I couldn't be more ecstatic.

Which brings me to my post this morning on Instagram. The past few weeks, I have been having some tummy trouble again. I realized that I was eating grains ALL the time, not just "once in a while" as I had originally intended. I would have a peanut butter tortilla wrap in the mornings, turkey sandwiches at lunch, and rice and meat for dinner, all in the same day. I was reflecting this morning at 3am (my sleeping has declined again as well!) and I realized how much better my body felt eating gluten and grain-free, even though I felt very restricted. I decided that I would follow my own kind of "grain-free" diet that works for me. Because, in reality, for every study done proving a food or diet is "healthy," there is a study done showing that it may cause cancer, diabetes, and be "unhealthy." For example, you read a study that oats lower cholesterol! And then you find another study that grains (including oats) raise cholesterol. There is a very confusing world of scientific research out there (trust me! I had to do a TON of research these past 6 years completing my undergraduate/graduate degrees in nutrition and dietetics!) Therefore, I decided that I need to follow a lifestyle that works for me and my body. And this lifestyle happens to be a mostly grain and gluten-free one. This isn't to say that I am never ever going to eat grains again, but I am going to do my best to follow this type of lifestyle 80% of the time, while leaving room for real life events (such as my birthday in 4 days!) to eat the foods that are worth it to me to splurge on. This week will serve as a trial run since I have two Disneyland trips planned and my 25th birthday party on Friday! I plan to still make healthy choices along the way, but don't want to stress myself out with the rules. It's a celebratory week! Yay! But anyways, here are my general guidelines:

1.) I will be cutting out all gluten and grains. Exceptions may include special occasions when the gluten/grain options are worth it to me (wonder bread vs. my birthday dessert for my 25th birthday this Friday? Birthday dessert wins, wonder bread can wait...probably forever). I've promised myself that I will give in only when I really really want the food and only if it is worth it to me! And I have promised myself to keep my portions in check. If I want to give in, 1-2 bites should be enough to get my fill of these foods.

Another exception will be when I bake. I love to bake! I love creating healthy version of foods that I love. I always bake gluten free, but the mix I use has rice flour in it, which is a grain. I am going to make an exception for this because, again, I LOVE TO BAKE! I think that life is too short to cut out things that we enjoy to do. Baking is a hobby of mine, and I will continue to bake in a gluten-free and healthy way that works for me! :)

2.) I will be eating dairy (cheeses only, I always avoid milk!) and legumes and will be following an "in-between gluten-free and paleo" type of plan with these food groups. I will incorporate foods such as peanuts, hummus, and low-fat string cheese, and not be too strict on myself. Low fat dairy products (such as cheeses) and legumes (hummus, beans, etc) have never effected my body negatively, so I do not want to cut these out and be overly restrictive! Remember, the more you restrict certain foods, the more your body, or brain rather, will want these foods!

3.) I will not obsessively worry about the type of oils foods are cooked in. This is something that majorly stressed me out while I was doing the Whole 30. I tend to be a stickler for rules and would obsessively call restaurants and research menus to make sure foods were "whole 30 approved," but I realized this type of worry about my food was not healthy, nor was it glorifying to God. God gives us food to make us healthy, strong, and for us to enjoy. Food shouldn't cause unhealthy stresses on our lives! I've realized that the time I spent worrying if foods were whole 30 approved at restaurants or not could have been spent doing other more God-glorifying things. Therefore, I will just pick foods that are protein and vegetable based from restaurants, that are gluten-free, and not be annoying to the restaurant staff :)

4.) I will pay attention to my running, sleeping, tummy issues, and overall mood. I will see how eating real, healthy, wholesome foods effects all aspects of my life!

I am excited to start/continue this journey and return to this type of eating. I am hoping my story inspires some of you who suffer from these issues as well to figure out what foods bother your body. If anyone wants to follow along in my journey, I will be posted pictures on Instagram (again @fitfoodie_tveen).

Have a wonderful, healthy, and happy day everyone!