Giving Up Wheat

These foolish grains... Are tearing me apart.

These foolish grains… Are tearing me apart.

Abstract: Giving up wheat wasn’t that hard for me… It just took about four years.

Allow me to tell you a tale or two. Tales involving a young heroine and an evil grain of wheat. Once upon a time, some stuff happened… (I’m going to skip ahead a little):

Finally saying goodbye to wheat this last and final time took years and years of having it beaten into my head how bad it was for me. It’s not like I could have possibly learned it right away, saving myself from countless waves of frustration. No, I had to savor defeat via wheat for quite sometime before I finally gave up my masochistic tendencies and surrendered to corn chips instead.

From Eat Right For Your Type Diet by Dr. D’Adamo, to all the hype over gluten-free foods, to the talk about grains in general being crap for you, and finally to the myriad of instances where I woke up the morning after eating wheat and saw my body retaining water (or storing fat) and looking just plain unattractive, it took me about the time it takes someone to get their BS in nutrition to realize that eating wheat just wasn’t treating me so well.

I have no scientific evidence to back me up. I mean, I know it’s out there. I’m just not going to cite any. I’ve read more articles on wheat and gluten than probably most anyone who doesn’t actually have a medical reason to give up gluten has. It used to be a small obsession of mine. The truth is, I love researching and gathering information, but I’m much more interested in how something works for me in personal experience than what an article says. The information may be well-supported, but regardless of how many people applaud the findings, unless it has a direct relation to what I see in my own life, it’s kind of a moot point.

So, I trust if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of why gluten free might benefit you, Google is a much better resource than I will ever be.

Suffice it to say, I know the evidence exists, and I’m sure that eating wheat probably does clog your system and slow your metabolism (at least in bodies for whom that’s a potential issue– one of which would be mine). Whenever you have a problem, it seems doctors recommend trying to give up wheat and dairy to see if it clears. Wheat is a common allergen (or maybe it’s the gluten in the wheat, again I’m not a scientist). Most somewhat-nutritionally-savy people today are at least familiar with the concept of gluten being potentially unhealthy.

But…

I also know that eating wheat is ingrained in many cultures (ingrained— get it?), and that the tradition of eating wheat often trumps facts and data. Plus, it’s addictive. Who doesn’t love bread and pasta and all that other stuff that’s the edible (and legal, in fact, Federally-sponsored) equivalent of dope?

The other day when I wasn’t eating a sub, my cousin told me she’d read an article where one doctor said if you do one thing for your health, give up wheat (yes, even “whole wheat” and all the other variety of labels on bread and pasta that attempt to make you feel better about what you’re eating). Then a moment later I saw her carrying her plate (with sub) to sit and eat dinner. I love that.

No, really I’m being sincere. I think it’s refreshing when people actually do what they want, regardless of research– which is forever in a state of flip-flop, anyway. If you love wheat and you’ve never experienced any adverse side-effects from it, I don’t see why you should deprive yourself. It might not be worth the stress! 🙂 Not to mention, we’re all going to die of something. One of my favorite quotes seems applicable here.

“I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.” –Jack London

The truth is, I don’t care if I live to 100. I’m not that much of a control freak to presume I can  bake a soufflĂ© or raise a respectable canine, let alone choose how long I’m going to live by avoiding every little thing that potentially causes cancer or some other illness (which, by the way, I just read in the news today: is the chair you’re sitting on…).

So while I’m really not the health freak you probably think I am, for me, I simply saw the side effects of wheat in my own body and they weren’t pretty. I’m not one to waste my time trying to prolong my life, but I would prefer not to walk around like a lethargic, puffy-faced zombie.

After eating wheat, I would need more sleep (beyond my usual nine…) I would feel groggy in the morning. My face would be bloated the next day (and I’ve already got a plenty full enough face even on a thin day).

The most recent wheat episode, the straw of wheat that broke the camel’s back, you might say, was about a month and a half ago. It was the night before my best friend’s wedding (that does have a ring to it, doesn’t it?) I had a few cookies, maybe a celebratory mini cannoli or two. We were having a sleepover in the bridal suite, and what can I say, I wanted to let lose.

The next morning, after a crappy night’s sleep, my lymph nodes were hurting. Under my arms, in my neck. It was probably the most wheat I’d eaten in awhile, and I was paying for it. That was one of the last* signs I needed to experience to realize I wanted to flip the bird to gluten once and for all. This sudden burst of anger at a grain was how I knew my on-and-off relationship with wheat was finally coming to an end. (Cue violin)

*This didn’t ultimately stop me from drunkenly eating wedding cake off a stranger’s plate, but after that night, I was done. By the way, great cake, Hil.

Like I said, it took me about four years from the moment I learned of the possibility that wheat wasn’t working for me to when I actually quit for good. I’d quit plenty of times before, but once I reached my weight-loss goal, or I’d get momentarily side-tracked by another study that touted the benefits of whole grains (twist my arm, alright I’ll have a bagel!), I went right back to it.

Truth be told, sometimes I just live so much in the moment that I have a short memory when it comes things that have caused me duress in the past. It’s like I have to re-learn the same lesson 1,000 times until it finally sinks in. This is where writing things down comes in handy. But then you have to remember where you put it. Oh right, on my website…

Besides waking up with cranky lymph nodes the day of my friend’s wedding (congratulations Milary Zoneklinger), there are two other wheat-ups that convinced me to quit, although one of them happened like, three years ago… See? I told you I’m a slow learner. I like to call that one:

Art show cupcakes deceptively placed upon silver platters

Art show cupcakes deceptively placed upon silver platters

The Great Cupcake Mishap

My boyfriend at the time was having an art show opening and we made these really cool mini cupcakes (we decked them out hard). They looked really professional. Okay, I have to be honest: No, no they didn’t at all. (See picture above for confirmation.)

Anyway, cupcakes used to be my favorite food in the world. Well, cake in general, but cupcakes tend to have a perfect ratio of frosting to cake (I love frosting). The cupcakes were (kind of) a real hit. Although they looked really professional (wink), there were still quite a few left over after the show. So naturally, we gave some away and took the rest home.

The rest is history, in which for the next week I substitute breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with mini cupcakes. I figured the calories would equal out if I ate nothing else. Wrong. Well, at least something went wrong I don’t know if it was sugar, carbs, or calories but the result was called: my thighs expanded, and so did the rest of me. After a week, I thought the damage was done. Wrong. I keep gaining weight! Probably for another two or three weeks, I felt like there was nothing I could do as I slowly gained weight, and couldn’t seem to lose it. Luckily I didn’t have a scale at the time. Maybe it was three to five pounds, I have no idea. But for someone who figured they were eating so slyly as to simply maintain their weight with mini cupcakes, it was pretty annoying. I really wouldn’t have eaten all those if I thought I couldn’t get away with it! (And everyone had to hear me complain about my cupcake weight for weeks, so no one got out of this debacle scot-free.)

By the way, if you want it, here’s the recipe for art show cupcakes.

That’s when I realized that for me, sugar and wheat calories weren’t equal to the way my body metabolised (shout out to my friends in the UK!) other types of calories I could consume. There’s no doubt in my mind, if I’d eaten the same number of calories in vegetables, fruits, and even proteins and fats, not only wouldn’t I have gained that weight, I would have maintained or perhaps even lost some. I told my boyfriend he could never have another art show again, which solved the problem until…

My Best Friend’s Wedding (see above)

And,

My Sister’s Fat Foot (see below)

This is the most recent gluten tragedy to befall our family, and hopefully it’s the last. Apparently my sister is just as dim as I am* when it comes to realizing the toll wheat takes on our bodies because she’s been saying for a while now that wheat really effs her up. She continues, however, to drink beer (and get really effed up) and eat wheat (also getting really effed up). One of my realizations as to why I should continue not eating wheat happened a couple of weeks ago when, after a particularly “I don’t give an eff” session with wheat, my sister paid the price. In her feet. I mean foot.

*Yet she’s smart enough to sail rather effortlessly through pharmacy school, so it’s a special strain of stupidity. It’s probably genetic.

Her left foot became so swollen, it was as if someone had re-created it with marshmallows. She was either nine months pregnant or really stupid about eating wheat. Seeing as she hates kids and her stomach was flat, I deducted it was the latter. (Just kidding, she doesn’t hate kids, she just loves them from afar.)

After finally wizening up and quitting the gluten fluency, her foot went back to normal. Whenever she stops, her foot/feet look normal. Whenever she eats wheat, one or both look really stupid. I say she’s lucky it’s in her feet, rather that than her thighs, like me.

Anyway, that was a clear illustration to me of just how strangely wheat can affect our bodies. Granted, we have two totally different body compositions, but I was happy to let her feet do the talking for me. I’d already given up wheat, and this just reinforced what I already knew: that a pirate’s life isn’t for me, and neither is wheat. (But, I still love the open sea.)

I’m so happy that I gave up wheat. Do I miss it? Sure, just a little. For me, wheat isn’t the same as sugar, where if you finally break the habit, you just don’t miss it at all. Ironically, I never had such a hard time giving it up, because I never binged on bread and it never made me crazy. It’s not like I had withdrawal symptoms from going off of wheat, or anything. I think sometimes the more you go through in giving something up, the less likely you are to ever go back. Wheat for me has always felt like a choice. I can’t say I’ll never have another piece of bread in my life, but at this point it just doesn’t seem worth it.

Missing wheat slightly doesn’t override my peace of mind for having given it up. Whatever I can be in the habit of not eating that’s bad for me, I’m grateful for that change. I also respect of the work it took to get there (in this case, it’s more a culmination of time). I used to make dietary changes to lose weight. And whenever I hit my goal, say “Oh hell, let me have some of this as a reward…”

But now it’s not about weight, it’s about my mental and physical health. I’ve found that since my priorities have shifted, it’s not about being able to “get away” with things in my diet anymore like it used to be. I don’t really care if I can “get away” with a one-hundred calorie piece of bread, or some whole wheat pasta. The fact that I even have to think about it kind of takes away the pleasure. I’d rather eat a salad or some rice with an easy conscience.

If I really wanted to eat wheat, I could of course, but I know unequivocally the price isn’t worth it. By that I mean, the pleasure is really canceled out by my inner knowledge. It never was worth it, but I’ve just finally come to a solid realization of that fact. Besides, if rice, corn tortillas, oatmeal, popcorn, corn chips, potato chips and all those other grains/junk foods are still available (not to mention all of the gluten-free products now available), it’s hard to feel like I’m missing out that much anyway. (Not that I eat any of those very often, but I say that to illustrate just a few of the things you’re not missing out on by giving up wheat.)

It’s pretty easy to be gluten free, probably in today’s market more than ever. In avoiding wheat (and now sugar) it is really easy to stay away from all the problem foods that have forever plagued my attempts at a healthy diet. I look at giving up wheat as the gift that keeps on giving.

It also keeps my sister’s feet nice and slender… so she can finally ditch the dead-end pharmacy gig and realize her dream as a foot model. For what more could a family possibly ask?

my sister as a cupcake with a fat foot

my sister as a cupcake with a fat foot (does this mean she’s a cannibal?)

me as a cupcake (rainbow confetti, with my dog karat kake kate)

me as a cupcake (rainbow confetti, with my dog karat kake kate)

Cupcake art courtesy Kelsey McCarthy, 2013