Sunday, May 19, 2013

What Is It Like to Live Grain-Free?

Going grain-free is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but it is the ONLY thing that has made a difference in my health.  I'm telling you my story in detail so hopefully someone out there doesn't have to waste seven years of their life feeling trapped in their body. 

Starting with Wheat

With no options left but to put my food choices under a microscope, I began the tedious and daunting task of questioning everything that went down my gullet.

In September 2012, I began to dramatically scale back on wheat - bread, pasta, crackers, cookies, croutons.  A slice of pizza or a chocolate chip cookie here and there was my cheat.  I began to mentally take notes about when I was experiencing digestive discomfort and worked backwards from there. I would avoid anything I had in the last two days and then go back and add just one of the suspected ingredients.  I was essentially doing an elimination diet

By Thanksgiving, it was obvious that wheat was a problem.  Cutting it out eliminated constipation, gas, joint and muscle pain, and ear aches.  But a few digestive problems remained and so I continued testing other grains.

Goodbye to the Rest

The surprise?  ALL GRAINS are a problem, with corn and wheat as the reigning twin terrors of my stomach.  Something as benign as rice (even as flour) isn't kind to my system, nor is an ancient grain like quinoa.

Corn, it turns out, was to blame for my diarrhea, sniffles, acne, and, this is gross, but hard boogers that would turn into a resin-like substance that was really painful.  Gluten and the other grains are easy to avoid (though not always to resist), but eliminating corn is a never-ending battle.  When they say corn is in everything, they are not joking.  I have to be constantly vigilant about it.  And my face, nose, and stomach blow up if I get a dose of it unintentionally.   
And it's not just whole corn, like tortilla products or cornmeal, but high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, and cornstarch.  And all the corn derivatives out there, like vanilla flavoring, most grain alcohols, citric acid, and caramel coloring.

Benefits in Spades

So what do I eat since cutting out the foundation of the food pyramid?  Meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and chocolate, because lord knows I need a frickin' treat every day to handle all of this.  It's a good thing I like cooking and I'm good at it, because EVERYTHING is made from scratch and freshly prepared.  

And what have I gotten out this radical diet shift?
  • I've lost 30 pounds and gone down two pant sizes and one shirt size.  
  • I can exercise without joint or muscle pain. 
  • I rarely have digestive distress.
  • I no longer have ear aches, sinus infections, or even colds. 
  • I have steady energy throughout the day. 
  • I am no longer prey to vicious drops in blood sugar and overwhelming cravings.
  • The frequency of my migraines has been dramatically slashed.
  • My mood and outlook have significantly improved.
  • I have gotten compliments on my skin (seriously, this said to someone who had acne so bad in high school that I couldn't wash my face because it was so painful and who now has a face riddled with scars).

It is so obvious to me that grains have been the root problems all these years.  Looking back, my life had become terribly hampered because I was in pain every day and I never had an escape from it.  All of that collective discomfort was lowering my defenses both mentally and physically.  It was a distraction I learned to live with, but it had become a black hole that sucked up any positivity.    

Complications Linger

The way my body has transformed makes it crystal clear that this isn't a temporary elimination - this is part of who I am now.  But it's not an easy or fast fix.  I still have more weight to lose.  While it was clipping along at 1 pound per week at the beginning this year, it's slowed down to a trickle and only 2 pounds came off in the last month.  I'm doing yoga and walking right now, but I need to step it up if I want to keep whittling my waist.

I still get migraines if I'm out of schedule.  I still have seasonal allergies (my goodness, this past week must have had a high pollen count!).  I sometimes have digestive distress simply because I'm stressed out and not honoring my need to decompress.  I still get the occasional pimple because my skin is just sensitive.       

I admit, I have had some royal meltdowns about this diet switch.  There are so few restaurants that are "safe" for me to eat at, and for a foodie, that can be kind of crushing.  You don't bother cruising the treat table at work. Potlucks or catered events are like russian roulette.   

It is stressful to always question food products, even when it's homemade by your mom.  It is disappointing to watch your list of "unsafe" foods keep growing with no end in sight.  It takes a lot of time each week to shop and cook fresh.  Days you don't feel like cooking are not an option.   

I'm a recovering picky eater, so it takes some real effort on my part to like certain vegetables.  My stomach turns at the smell of seafood.  Soy products (tofu, soy milk, soy sauce) give me really bad mood swings.  Peanuts will enter and leave my system within 30 minutes with some of the worst pain imaginable.  Beans (kidney, black, etc.) also upset my stomach and make me unbearably bloated.  I still need to test if I can tolerate other nuts, peas, or green beans.

And goddammit, sometimes all you want is a chocolate chip cookie! 

I really miss those.  Like, a lot.  If it wasn't obvious ...  

So what keeps me going?

Having a "quiet" stomach that graciously accepts foods without complaint.

Losing the bloated look I've been sporting the last seven years.

Feeling a sense of normalcy and control over my life.  

Someone telling me I look strong, happy, more relaxed, or healthy. 

Trust me, I'm not thrilled that this is what my body needs to thrive.  It's very limiting and restrictive, but it's the only thing that has truly freed my body.  I don't know why this happened or if some years down the road, I can have a yearly cookie without getting messed up.  

But for now, my path is clear - grains make me sick.   

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