Two months ago, I began a journey to investigate the challenges people with celiac disease experience, and I wanted to see if eating gluten-free might change my health.
I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I wondered if this top diet trend even made any sense for people without celiac disease. Here are some of the things I learned.
When I first went gluten-free, I shared everything I ate on twitter (@DrMcGLocal4). It definitely made me more aware of what I was eating. It also made me aware of what I wasn't eating, especially when I was busted by a viewer for skipping breakfast.
It quickly became clear I was unprepared to eat outside of my home, especially at work.
I immediately noticed I felt hungry more often, probably because there were suddenly so many things I couldn't eat. It's the same as feeling thirstier when you know there's no water around. It made the start challenging.
Stacy Goldberg is the nutritionist for the Cleveland Cavaliers and CEO of Savorfull, a Detroit company that finds and distributes healthy foods, including gluten free choices.
Stacy's advice, "You have to be prepared when it comes to healthy living. There's no doubt that the people who are more prepared and organized are going to make smarter choices when it comes to convenience."
Stacy helped me find convenient foods that are also gluten-free like Live Smart Raw Bars made in Michigan.
"I think that many people need a packaged solution because of convenience, because of portability, snacks for school, there are many kids that are gluten free" said Stacy.
After about two weeks gluten-free, I started to notice I felt different.
I was less fatigued, my chronic leg pain was improving and the strange 'brain fog' I heard so many gluten-sensitive people talk about, lifted. I'm a science-based thinker, so I was really reluctant to think this was any more than placebo effect, so I kept it to myself.
Then something unexpected happened. One day I woke up and felt crummy, the way I often felt before going gluten-free. I mentioned it to my wife and she went back and looked carefully at the jambalaya mix used for dinner the night before. It wasn't gluten free. That inadvertent gluten exposure and my reaction convinced me it was more than placebo.
Accidental contamination of gluten-free food is dangerous for people with celiac disease, so I wanted to see how restaurants like Buddy's Pizza pull it off.
Buddy's Pizza general manager Matt Heckert took me into the kitchen to show me how seriously they take making a safe product that's even endorsed by the Tri County Celiac support group.
"We've created separate procedures and areas where we handle gluten-free products. We do not do any gluten-free dough making while our regular dough making is going on," said Matt.
And it's important to them.
"Eating's about bringing people together so if people can't eat certain things then they're probably not going to come together and share a meal. So by offering items like this (gluten-free), we can keep families together," said Matt.
Over time, I found substitutes for most of my favorite foods including pizza, and I'll point out bacon and eggs are naturally gluten-free. So what about going gluten-free for weight loss?
According to Stacy, "I often see people that will say I'm going to go gluten-free, and I'm going to lose 15 pounds, and then they actually have the opposite effect."
That's because if you do have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, as your intestines heal, you will absorb more of what you eat. Personally, I haven't gained or lost any significant amount of weight. It seems more likely to me that people who have lost weight on a gluten-free diet are simply eating healthier and have become more aware of what they are eating.
Finally, the real question, will I continue? I do feel better gluten-free, so I plan to stay gluten-free, but I might not be as strict going forward.
As a physician I have to qualify this: I don't recommend going gluten-free to everyone just to feel better. You should talk to your doctor about your symptoms and investigate if gluten sensitivity could be at the root. If you think it might, a trial of at least two weeks off gluten might just give you an answer. I'd really have to say as far as a weight loss diet, it doesn't really make sense.