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Pros and Cons of Going Gluten-Free. (and a brief lament about the smooshed banana)

It’s been about seven weeks on this “no way, gluten!” lifestyle, and I’m starting to find my footing.  But there are still many pros and cons to balance, so I’m listing them here.  That way, I can look back at this post in a few months and be all, “Pfffft.  Whiner.  You’re in the zone now.”

Here we go – PROS and CONS of Going Gluten-Free in ALL CAPS at times because that’s the only way my brain can operate this morning.

CON:  It’s a pain in the ass, doing this.  Reading food labels for carbohydrate content and grams of sugar in pursuit of better blood sugar control is second nature to me by this point.  After 28 years with type 1 diabetes, I’m comfortable with the carbs.  But trolling labels for that bright, shiny GF logo, or reading through each ingredient to ensure that I’m not inadvertently eating gluten is a new adventure, and one that I find very intrusive.

PRO:  As a result, weight management has been easier lately.  Which I guess is a plus but at the same time, I’m hungry, so I can’t call this a total pro.

CON:  I’m hungry.  (See above.)  All the time.  Mostly because I’m unsure of what to eat, and that insecurity leads me to eat the same things all the time.  Staples like hard boiled eggs, grilled chicken, spinach salad, yogurt, almonds, and every fruit I can get my paws on dominate my days.  Menu items like gluten-free pizza, butternut squash (done with GF ingredients), and chicken soup are being explored, but my natural inclination to be a lazy chef makes this sort of exploration tougher.

PRO:  Eating the same things all the time makes me very familiar with how they map out, blood sugar wise.  So I’m best able to pre-bolus with precision and my post-prandials aren’t gross.  This is boring as eff, but effective for diabetes management.

CON:  Low blood sugars have been really weird lately, especially the ones that follow a visit to the gym.  Before going gluten-free, I’d eat froast or some other glutened up snack to keep my blood sugar steady through cardio (yes, there are other options, but I can’t pretend to have chomped on kale during a run – that would be a big, fat lie and kale hates lies).  Now, I’m erring on the side of fruit and sometimes those sugars get in and out of my system too quickly to hold me for an entire workout.  I’m still figuring out what foods work best to deal with during- and post-exercise hypoglycemia.

PRO:  Glucolift Wildberry tabs are gluten-free.

CON:  Traveling is weird now, too, keeping gluten off my plate.  Airports are not designed for people with dietary needs or preferences, especially little airports like the one I frequent here in Providence.  Finding foods that are gluten-free while on the road is tough, with little exception.  Once I land somewhere, I’m fine, but while in transit, I keep my bag stashed with snacks.

PRO:  I’m learning a lot about what foods travel well.  These gf bars are among my favorites to toss in a backpack, and while they are not as healthy as something fresh, they can stand up to traveling with me and they are more filling than the Southwest pretzels that I can’t eat.

CON:  Bananas do not keep well in backpacks.  They turn brown quickly and often end up smeared on … oh, let’s say the lid of a laptop.

PRO:  I wash my backpack more often than I ever have before, and now it permanently smells like dryer sheets.  Which is a nice contrast to my computer, which smells permanently like bananas now.

CON:  I hate being “that girl.”  The one who asks waitstaff if certain menu options can be made without gluten.  The one who reads labels before taking a bite of anything.  The one who might be mistakenly marked as someone following a “trend diet” instead of someone who is unhappily-but-smartly following through on feedback from her body.  As good as I feel off gluten, I wish I could still eat the stuff and not make waves.

PRO:  I’m learning not to care about feeling slightly embarrassed because DUDE I feel so much better.

“You’re more … you.  The change between then and now is significant,” Chris said the other day.

He’s right.  My mood/disposition/health/everything since kicking gluten out of my diet has been ten steps in the best direction.  All of the non-celiac gluten sensitivity symptoms are gone.  The “head fog” where I would forget what I was doing or what I was about to say has receded.  The numbness and tingling in my hands and wrists is gone.  The ache in my hip joints after running is gone.  I don’t want to spend the afternoon taking a nap on the couch.  My energy is back.  My face is less puffy.  I can chase Birdy without feeling like my feet are in lead boots.  It took months to tune in to how poorly I felt, but now that I’m feeling better, the change is undeniable.

As much as I miss being more carefree about food, a gluten-free diet is the best fit for me.  And after almost three decades of type 1 diabetes, what’s one more food constraint?  So long as coffee and wine remain in the mix, I’m good.

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for sharing. Do what you’ve got to do to feel good. No shame in that.

    Also, here’s an great, easy squash recipe:
    http://www.diabeticlivingonline.com/recipe/roasted-heirloom-squash-with-sea-salt-and-local-honey

    10/22/14; 10:53 am
  2. Love the honesty! Because of some of my own issues, I asked my doc for, and received, a prescription to test for celiac along with my next A1C blood draw…because, you know, it’s easier to find out via phlebotomist that way than to really try it. Stephen’s weeklong trial taught me that. (Yes, I know it won’t REALLY test for the non-celiac gluten effects — the ones that you, my mom, and my cousin seem to have).

    What really worries me about the result (which isn’t really telling), is the “that girl” (or guy) syndrome you discussed. Because even in my own interactions, it took more than one case to change my way of thinking towards those on non-celiac GF diets.

    10/22/14; 12:53 pm
  3. -V- #

    I’m not sure what your situation but a study found that most people that claims to have a gluten sensitivity actually have a problem with fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates (FODMAP). This is the paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23648697. And here’s a list of these food: http://www.ibsdiets.org/fodmap-diet/fodmap-food-list/

    In any case, I found that low-carb and less process food help tremendously with bg control. Anything I cook at home is easier on my numbers.

    10/22/14; 1:10 pm
    • Really interesting information, V. Thanks for sharing. I checked out that NIH paper and also the food list, and for what it’s worth, I don’t have any trouble at all with fruit, dairy (greek yogurt, milk, etc), beans, garlic (I love garlic, so thank goodness), celery … actually, everything on that list except the breads is fine.

      10/22/14; 1:21 pm
    • Ciwi #

      What bugs me about this study though, is that the subjects were not placed on diets for long enough. A week is too short, especially when it comes to gluten. It sticks in your system for a very very long time. Also, they didn’t specifically look for other symptoms, ones that bug me the most like ‘head-fog’, muscle/joint pain, depression, skin issues, and the list goes on.

      10/22/14; 1:50 pm
  4. Ciwi #

    I’m SO GLAD to hear you feel better, and that your husband even notices too! When my 3 year old turned 1 it became very apparent that he did not handle gluten (and still doesn’t after we tried again at 3). When I read more about symptoms of gluten intolerance and realised I was experiencing much of what you were describing too, I stopped eating gluten and felt so much better after two days, and like a whole new person after 6 weeks. I never went back, and 6 months into it, I promise you you don’t even think about it anymore, it becomes a natural thing, much like carb counting.

    I’ve also read a study (which I of course can’t find now) that suggested a link between children eating gluten early in their life (from age 1) and the development of type 1 diabetes. Scary as! Then of course there’s the link between an auto immune disease like ours, and the danger of developing another auto immune disease like full blown celiac. My doctor has wanted me to be tested for it for years, but I’ve never gone through with it. The tube down your oesophagus is not very appealing.

    10/22/14; 1:43 pm
  5. LS #

    Hi Kerri, I found your blog a while back when I was having hypo issues due to college sports (your video with the “owl voice” made me cry I was laughing so hard).

    My husband and I don’t have special diet considerations but going (mostly) gluten-free has helped with weight management an afore-mentioned hypo issues. We found Danielle Walker (http://againstallgrain.com/about-me/) during a Whole30 experiment, and her cookbooks are a god-send. She had a host of auto-immune issues that forced her to go gluten, dairy and legume free, but she is a wizard with re-making trational comfort foods into meals she can eat. Her latest cookbook even has meal plans (which is great since we both work and have to plan ahead!).

    Hope that helps in your search for more food options!

    10/22/14; 5:04 pm
  6. I too began eating GF in the past few months. For me the reasons were mostly digestive-upset related. I’ve noticed that the amount of insulin I have to use when not eating gluten is about 20-30% LESS than I had to use when I was eating gluten, for the same number of carbs. (And believe me I still eat carbs – I eat rice, GF pasta, GF bread, GF cereal) Weird! Have you had to cut back on your I:C ratios or your correction factor, or is it just my body that does weird things like this?

    10/22/14; 6:01 pm
  7. Miriam #

    As far as being hungry is concerned, I’ve been there. I went on a no-grains diet for a while when my endo thought my BG issues were caused by an enzyme deficiency, and I basically starved for four months. During that time, I discovered that protein makes me feel more full, while carbs definitely make me feel hungry (mostly I’ve noticed that this is processed carbs, but it’s been known to happen to me from large amounts of fruit). I add protein during meals–I generally replace the carbs with about 1.5 times the protein I’d ordinarily be eating, plus some extra vegetables. Everyone is different, though, to YRMV.

    The other thing–about the bananas–try to find a container (like, say, the flimsy plastic Gladware containers) that will fit your standard banana. I used to do this with pears and, though it does take up more space, it’s better than your laptop smelling like smushed banana!

    10/22/14; 6:55 pm
    • I need to suck it up and buy a banana bunker, despite how much like a sex toy it appears to be.

      http://www.bananabunker.com/

      10/22/14; 7:34 pm
      • Liz #

        Try the Banana Guard. It still looks like a sex toy and gets a lot of laughs at lunch but works well with different shapes and sizes as long as the banana isn’t huge.

        10/25/14; 5:13 am
  8. Juliet #

    Hey Kerri,
    Thanks for the update! I’m probably going to have to go GF free due to some body problems, and I was wondering if your skin troubles have gotten better since being off gluten. I know you have trouble with the CGM tape, and I have trouble with that plus EVERYTHING (even my pump tape and I’ve had a pump for 11 years!!) I’ve been sucking it up and wearing them until I can’t stand it and rip them off (following up with some steroid cream from a dermatologist), but I’ve been wondering if going gluten free has helped with your skin problems. Your post about those sticky squares (…tape something…not like I have a whole case of them to go look at the name) has helped me so much.
    Anyways, this was super long. Sorry!!

    10/22/14; 9:51 pm
  9. Cathy #

    Glad to hear you are feeling better! We have been GF for about 5 years now. It seems like a ton of work at first, but you soon get used to it and it becomes second nature. I love the cookbooks by Elizabeth Barbone. You might have to tweak some of the recipes to be healthier and less carbs, but they are delicious. We modified her hamburger/hot dog bun recipe (replace half of the white rice flour with garbanzo bean flour for more protein and fiber and less carbs) and use those for sandwich rolls. We just throw them in the freezer and then thaw them out as needed. It helps if you can take a day once a week or once a month to make some things and then freeze them. Unfortunately, her recipes don’t contain the carb counts, but you can calculate them yourself with software or online (http://nutritiondata.self.com/).

    There are so many more GF products available now than there were even 5 years ago, but they are usually more expensive than the non-GF options. We have gotten to know some new naturally GF foods too, like quinoa, which is actually quite good. We always pack snacks because it IS hard to find things to eat on the road. Our favorite things to pack are Kind bars, Pure bars, GF pretzels, Chex cereal, fruit, etc. One thing to remember also is that for some reason GF bread has a very short shelf life (it will develop mold within a few days when left out).

    Good luck with your GF journey! When you are cooking GF in your kitchen (you can do it!) know that there are many of us cooking right alongside you 😉

    10/23/14; 6:24 am
  10. Hi Kerri!

    Love this post as it’s something I’m gradually working towards. I’m currently on a LOW LOW LOW (aka painfully boring) diet. It’s a self inflicted diet because seeing red on my Dex is my LEAST favorite thing. And being the control freak that I am I’d like to see that line as STRAIGHT as possible.

    One of my biggest issues isn’t not having something to crunch on during snack. I’m obsessing with these…. http://www.marysgonecrackers.com specifically the seed version because not only are they gluten free, but they’re also delicious and LOW carb which is my favorite combo ever! I get mine at whole foods but it looks like you can order online.

    And my other favorite delicious gluten free things are these… http://www.honeystinger.com/organic-energy-chews.html?glutenfree=77 . Honey stingers are SO delicious and are 4 carbs for each piece to they are the perfect fast acting sugar to get those work out blood sugars up. I just put them in the treadmill and every 10 min I eat one. Also they’re not dry so they’re perfect when you’re working out! Also sold at whole foods!

    Hope this helps! Good luck!

    Allie

    10/23/14; 8:17 am
  11. I have been eating gluten free for almost 5 years now because I do have celiac disease. From my point of view, welcome to the club, the more the merrier. Really, 5 years ago I couldn’t find products in regular grocery stores. Now there is an abundance of them, at least here in Atlanta. And that is because there are now enough people asking for the products to make it worth the shelf space. I don’t know if you have an Aldi store near you, but if you do they have the best GF products and they tend to be less expensive than Udi and Rudi. Here is a link to their web page, https://www.aldi.us/en/grocery-items/aldi-brands/livegfree/more-gluten-free-foods/. For baking I like Jules Gluten Free products, http://www.julesglutenfree.com/. I wish you the best of luck with it because you are helping me out.

    10/23/14; 11:15 am
  12. Trevor #

    Have you seen any change in the amount of insulin you’re using per day since going GF?

    I’ve got a req for the celiac panel waiting on my desk at home. I’m going to try to get in tomorrow or Monday to get it done. My very spotty anecdotal evidence is that I feel better when I reduce the amount of gluten going in. The doctor said I should be eating gluten leading up to the test or it might come back negative for the wrong reason.

    10/23/14; 11:47 am
  13. Jillian #

    we are all GF in our home. We have been for 5 months. My 7 year old type 1 was diagnosed with EOE and has a wheat allergy ( along with about 25 other food allergies). I wanted our home to be her safe haven so we cleared out all food in house and started fresh! We get protien bars, chips, cereal and much more off of amazon.com. Costvo also has tons of gluten free items. I quickly lost 20lbs after going gluten free and my energy increased! We hardly ever eat out anymore because you would be amazed how much has gluten (from little spices, vanilla, hotdogs…ect)

    10/27/14; 1:43 pm
  14. Brie #

    Banana travel containers are a thing! http://www.amazon.com/Yellow-Banana-Protector-Camping-School/dp/B0094AJC5G

    10/27/14; 3:56 pm

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