I Gave Up Wheat and Got My Life Back
How I Accidentally became #WheatFree and found the energy to Live With Purpose
It’s not so much that I decided to give up wheat, as I was just really sick of matzoh.
Passover came along and I thought 'I just can't do the matzoh this year.' Well, I did try. The only way I can find those dry crackers palatable is by covering them in lots of butter and salt. I tried that for two days and was plagued by the stomach troubles that had dogged me all of my life due to "lactose intolerance.'
Lactose Intolerant or Wheat Intolerant?
I wasn't just your average lactose intolerant. I was the poster child. All my life I would eat lactose but always knew there would be a price. Sometimes tolerable, sometimes intolerable. Let's not get into the symptoms. You know what they are. Not anaphylactic allergic symptoms with redness or potentially life-threatening swelling, thank goodness. Just an intolerance to the level that I needed to weigh the proximity and travel distance to the nearest restroom when deciding whether to ingest a lactose product such as ice cream, cheese, or even a little milk in my coffee.
So I was not surprised that each of the two days that I ate matzoh for snacks and for dinner I ended up with severe stomach symptoms, even though butter was, oddly, one of the few lactose products I normally tolerated well.
After two days I threw up my hands and just did without. I ate a lot of meat, potatoes, and salad. And eggs for breakfast.
Feeling Full - of LIFE!
I should mention that over the past few years, I had really started to "let myself go" as they say. Whereas I used to exercise regularly and eat a somewhat balanced diet, I had definitely let the trips to the gym, the salads, fruits, and veggies slip, in favor of work, work, and more work. So, my winter lethargy could also have been attributed to leading somewhat of a sluggish lifestyle, especially during the colder months.
With Passover coming to a close, I realized something. The fatigue that had plagued me all winter was bothering me a lot less. My mood felt brighter, my energy was up, and I was far more productive with work and with general household tasks.
Of course winter had ended, the weather was improving, and we even had sprung forward with Daylight Savings time. So my newfound liveliness could have been attributed to leaving behind Seasonal Affective Disorder, which, admittedly, may have also been a factor.
What I also noticed, however, is that my stomach issues had diminished by about 80 percent. This was astonishing given that, in the absence of wheat products to snack on, I had munched on cheese, enjoyed ice cream after dinner, and even included milk in my iced coffee.
I thought, 'Hmmmmmm maybe it was the wheat that was persecuting me all of these years.' So I decided to stay on a wheat-free (but not gluten-free) diet for a few more weeks.
Over these past several weeks I have continued to be able to include much more lactose in my diet, even "unmelted" cheese. Previously I had normally experienced severe stomach symptoms when I ate cheese that was not melted, so things like cheese and crackers were pretty much out of the question. Even without the wheat, I still do better with melted cheese, and have re-learned just how good cheddar cheese omelettes and cheeseburgers are. (Of course I have my cheeseburgers on a gluten free bun!) I have even been able to indulge in my favorite and formerly most troublesome treat—Thai Iced Tea. This is made with condensed milk, which used to be a killer for me.
I'm still not feeling 100 percent healthy, nor do I feel I have lost much weight, but that was not the goal. The goal was to kickstart my life in the right direction, and now that I am feeling more energetic, I actually desire, look forward to, and enjoy working out. And, despite all of the cheese and ice cream, I am also naturally eating more salads and vegetables.
Cravings & Slip Ups
#FunnyNotFunny that once I went wheat-free, I suddenly began to have cravings for all sorts of foods I never eat, such as caramel (which I believe contains either wheat or gluten). I'm not craving cookies, brownies, or bread at all, but wheat still tries to sneak it's way into my diet.
For example, one night I was ordering ice cream at a shop. Suddenly the idea of ordering mine in a cone popped into my head and I thought "Why not?" Normally I never eat ice cream in a cone—it's messy and I don't enjoy it that way. But that night I was all about the cone. It wasn't until I finished that I realized that I had just consumed wheat.
Beer Is Off the Menu
That night there were no consequences, but twice I did experience a reaction when I accidentally ingested wheat.
The first time was when—in a crunch—I heated up some frozen potato pancakes one day for lunch. I thought they would be fine. Potatoes are not wheat, right? Why then, after lunch, did the thought that I might need to lie down for a five hour nap pop into my head? I looked at the box and guess what a main ingredient in the *potato* pancakes was? WHEAT. Not just any what—matzoh meal. Oh my.
The second was one night when I was celebrating a particularly productive day of work with a little drink at dinner. Normally (especially pre-diet) I would not think of having alcohol with dinner as I was always such a zombie after eating and would be so frustrated if, at 7:30 PM I would have to lie down instead of get back to work.
That night, however, I felt particularly energetic and thought 'Why not?' Normally I would drink wine or cider with dinner, but it had been such a long time since I had even thought about buying alcohol that I had to go with what was on hand, which was a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. I drank about half of the bottle, and did manage to get some more work done.
The next morning I woke up with the worst headache and dehydration, and I basically felt like I had been on hen night, instead of having drunk four sips of beer. I also had thought that I had drunk enough water the day before—which can be a cause of dehydration and headaches for me.
Of course I realized that the Ale I had drunk probably contained wheat. I looked it up and it surely did. I did remember having the same symptoms once before—after also drinking half a bottle of Newcastle. It took me two bottles of water and two Aleve in order to get to the level of functionality where I could even sip some coffee and get my day going.
So beer is off the menu. Which is actually no loss, as I have never really liked beer very much.
Plenty of Options
When eating at home I try to stay away from "substitute" items, such as gluten-free crackers, cookies, and the like. I just don't think they are necessary.
Luckily I've never run out of options, though I do try to keep my diet simple. Breakfast is a cheddar cheese omelette or Icelandic yogurt with fresh fruit and preserves. Lunch is leftovers or a turkey sandwich on corn tortillas.
Dinner is the easiest meal! I can eat anything except pasta and bread. Steak, hamburger (no bun), hot dog, baked chicken. Italian dishes with mashed potatoes instead of pasta.
For takeout it is generally easy to order ethnic food, such as Thai, and stay away from wheat. Fast food is a little different. I'm not one to go to a McDonald's and order three orders of french fries and be happy or feel healthy.
Luckily I have found two really good options. One, the pizza place near me, part of a local chain, serves really good gluten-free pizza, which, to me tastes no different than "regular" pizza. It's just a little chewier, but I don't mind. It's the rice flour type of crust, not the cauliflower crust. Nothing could get me to eat cauliflower, not even the healthiest diet in the world!
Second I recently ate at Shake Shack, and ordered a gluten-free bun on my burger. It tasted delicious, and I even accidentally had cheese on my burger.
I used to love cookies, brownies, cakes, and bread, but I weaned myself off of them as I actually had noticed that "flour" products caused me to cough a lot and possibly triggered my very mild asthma.
Even to this day, if I am around flour I will have a little trouble breathing and cough. By the way I have been tested and show no allergic reaction on tests. My own theory is that I am actually allergic or certainly intolerant, but because I had years of allergy tests as a child, the results don't register properly when tested.
... to Breezy!
All in all, going wheat free has been a very easy way for me to take the first step into regaining a fully healthful and energetic life. I plan to phase in exercise, and more limits on sugar and dairy as the summer progresses.
This is the first time in quite a few months that I have actually wanted to work on my fitness, and I also have accomplished so much professionally! Including writing this article, which is my first here on this platform.
Next article: Wheat-free vs. Gluten-free