I remember the first time I attended a gluten free vendor fair. I was aghast! I felt as though I had stepped into a nightmare or a horror flick with hoards of zombies…pasty faced, walking stiff…uncomfortable… Thankfully, fixated not on eating my brains, but on eating as much of the gluten free processed food manufacturers’ samples as humanly possible. Half crazed, awaiting their next white sugar, starchy, processed food fix.
To talk to them (in between ravenous bites of cakes, breads and cookies) was to hear fragmented, distant stories of salvation and hope (and some gargled grunts) with how the gluten free diet had saved them. But looking at them quickly evaporated that sense of hope: Big circles under their eyes that were darkened and deep set or bulging extensively; skin pasty and white as a ghost; tongues swollen; difficulties with walking; excessive weight carried around their mid-section and problems talking, communicating and focusing. Had celiac disease done this to them? Does celiac disease = zombie?
At that first event, I mostly hid outside, away from the vendor fair, sticking to the fresh air and far away from the processed food consuming zombies. Scared that I might look light them, act like them, become them if I spent too much time with them—they might eat my chi! The gluten free diet was supposed to be healthy. Was supposed to have saved their lives, but they didn’t look alive. They looked like the living dead. There they were, in droves, lining up for the free samples, buying box after box of cracky gluten free food, muttering with glazed eyes, “this is safe for me to eat—it’s gluten free.”
But does being gluten free, alone, make a food safe? Or healthy? Nope
Attend a gluten free vendor fair, a celiac disease conference, do a search for gluten free food blogs or follow the #glutenfree hashtag on twitter and you will be inundated with recipes for breads, cakes, cookies and desserts. It will be hard to find discussions of why gluten intolerance is so prevalent, how to restore your gut integrity after developing leaky gut syndrome, how to restore nutrient deficiencies from absorption problems, how to test for additional food intolerances and allergies, how autoimmune conditions are all connected, how to cope mentally after a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease or how to cope with social situations that contain your personal kryptonite. No, instead you will find an abundance of recipes containing an overwhelming amount of processed starches and white sugar.
And for many, the discovery of sugary recipes galore will become your savior, not the gluten free diet, because it means that you can eat exactly as you did before developing gluten intolerance. Exactly, except processed gluten containing “foods” (if you can call them that) are fortified with some of the nutrients that are removed during processing. Processed gluten free foods, have also had the nutrients removed but there is no FDA requirement for adding them back in, as there is for processed white flour that once was whole wheat. When we consume foods that have had the nutrients processed out of them, our bodies actually pull nutrients from our bones to make up for that difference. This means eating a preponderance of processed, gluten free foods is not only a diet that lacks nutrient density but actually depletes our nutrient stores even more! And this can be especially devastating for the gluten intolerant who have no nutrient stores to offer those nutrient-sucking, vampire-like, white processed gluten free flours and starches. And what might be the effect? Osteoporosis, rickets, anemia, depression, fatigue, oh my!
Okay, here it is. I know this is going to piss a lot of people off, because many of my gluten free colleagues and friends like to think that gluten intolerance happened to them, that it was out of their hands, that it was from their genes that… But for most of us, it wasn’t out of our hands. We developed celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance because we did something wrong. Yes, genes make it more likely to develop celiac disease. And certainly, some folks develop gluten intolerance through antibodies to gluten passed through breast milk as an infant and then being fed a preponderance of gluten as a child. But some of us, developed leaky gut syndrome and the resulting gluten intolerance through only the fault of ourselves: too much stress, imbalanced blood sugar from eating too many sugars and not enough proteins and healthy fats, the consumption of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, taking birth control pills, consuming certain antibiotics, not chewing our food sufficiently, eating while stressed, not rotating our diet, etc. etc. etc.
Perhaps our goal should not be to recreate our diet from before our diagnosis, but to use the diagnosis of gluten intolerance as a starting point to overhaul our diet and our lifestyle. To start anew. To eat healthier, to stress less, to sleep more, to move our bodies and damn it… To live! Why are we trying to recreate a diet that drove us to an inflammatory condition that upregulated our immune system and has had devastating effects on our nutrient stores, digestive track, thyroid, adrenals and more?
Yes, the living dead that walk around at gluten free vendor fairs and conferences are healthier for not eating gluten, but have continued to deplete their nutrients, disregulate their blood sugar, disrupt their digestion and devastate their adrenals by living their new lives on refined, sugary, gluten-free, processed white flour and starchy food-like products, overflowing with dyes, artificial flavors, white sugar/corn syrup or artificial sweetener death. They are not doing their body a service and are not going to ever be healthy if they continue to live like this.
5 Tips For Not Being a Gluten Free Zombie/The “Living” Dead:
1. Shop the perimeter—I lead gluten free store tours and I always get the annoyed moans when I tell everyone that every grocery store, no matter how far out in the sticks and unaware of the gluten free “movement,” has a gluten free food (*emphasis*) section. It’s called the produce section. I would be a happy camper if I could convince every gluten free client of mine to just eat meat (or beans for the vegans) and tons of vegetables and only small amounts of fruits for at least the first year after their diagnosis. It would be awesome, my client pool would actually drastically decrease, because so much of the inflammation and food intolerances would be eliminated from people’s diets and the zombie pool would be ruptured forever!
Lectins, which are found in beans and grains are highly inflammatory, nutrient depleting and are common food intolerances. Eliminating them, even for a time, gives your body a chance to heal and means that when you add them back, they may no longer have that same inflammatory effect on your body as your immune system has down-regulated instead of being like a hyperactive ADHD child attacking everything without cause.
Can’t go without your grains entirely? Well, even decreasing them will have a hugely beneficial effect on your blood sugar, your nutrient absorption levels and your energy. The less grains you eat, the more room there is for vegetables (highly nutrient dense with restorative phytonutrients).
2. Break out of your comfort zone—Don’t eat the way you ate pre-gluten free. Try new foods and new cooking techniques. I know, I know… Change is scary… But, treat yourself like a kid, getting yourself to eat healthier and try new foods. Try one new vegetable every week. Start a garden AND eat from it. Join a CSA (community sponsored agriculture). Get to know your local farmers and ranchers. Eat a rainbow of colors in every meal (think Skittles but healthy). Create a contest in your family for who can find the most fun and delicious ways to eat cauliflower, kale, broccoli, etc.! Make a decision to cook your way through the recipes on a real food blog.
These are a few of my favorite (in no particular order) paleo (aka grain free, processed food free, healthy, living, non-zombie foods) food blogs that I guarantee will tempt you to eat healthier, with more colors, less sugars, less grains, more healthy proteins and fats and with less inflammatory foods: Elana’s Pantry, Real Sustenance, The Gluten Free Dish, Nom Nom Paleo, Well Fed, PaleOMG, Paleo on a Budget and The Primal Palate. Have fun with your new lifestyle and LIVE!
3. Choose healthy, whole foods desserts when you need a fix— You don’t want to deny yourself the gluten free goodies that grab your fancy, but you don’t want to become a zombie either—reliant on gluten free crack for your fix and to continue on—caring about nothing and nobody else. Yes, I too have sugar cravings and eat desserts, but my attachment to them does not control or drive me. Choose whole foods desserts that use unrefined, low glycemic sweeteners and nut and seed bases instead of processed white flours and starches as your go to desserts. There are even plenty of grain free desserts including my vegan ice “cream” and vegan nut butter cups. There is a treasure trove of paleo, grain free (naturally gluten free), low glycemic, unrefined, healthier desserts and bread options on all of the blogs above. If you do not have blood sugar issues, whole fruit is also a great sweets option. That said, deprivation is never a good idea, so for the times you choose to eat “gluten free processed food crack,” enjoy it, don’t feel guilty, make sure to eat some protein to help balance back out your blood sugar and continue LIVING. LIVING I say!
4. Hold manufacturers and gluten free food bloggers accountable—The reason that there is such much processed food crack in the gluten free world is because there is demand for it. At gluten free vendor fairs, pick up the box of the food, read the ingredients and ask the person behind the box: Do you have anything without dyes, artificial flavors, corn syrup, processed starches and the like in it? Take up their time. Ask them questions. Make them explain what each ingredient is that you can’t pronounce and what plant it is derived from and how they make that ingredient. It’s rather fun to watch them squirm! Especially in a packed room full of zombies! “This has sodium carboxymethylcellulose in it. What plant does that come from (cotton)? How is it created (they chemically modify the plant fiber)? What is the purpose of it in my food (used as a stabilizer and to prevent crystallization)? Oh… Interesting (not)!” Of course, usually they won’t be able to answer your questions. And then when they ask if you want a sample, you can respond, “I only eat food… you know… things with ingredients that I can pick or kill.”
Ask your favorite gluten free food bloggers in their comments, what they would suggest replacing the white rice flour with, the corn starch with, the sugar with. Let them know that there are people, like you, looking for low glycemic recipes and support and they will respond. And praise those that offer recipes that support your needs. It’s often a thankless job blogging and it is up to us, if we want them to keep providing us healthy and tasty recipes, to show our support and love for their recipes.
5. Deal with the root causes of your sugar addiction—tendencies toward zombyism. Determine the root cause of why you are addicted to sugar and eliminate it—don’t feed it. Some common causes include imbalanced blood sugar, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, parasites, yeast overgrowth, adrenal fatigue, low serotonin, stress, emotional eating, habit and thyroid dysfunction. If you need help uncovering what may be at the root cause of your sugar addiction, sign up for my complimentary Vitality Strategy Session. You need a road map of where you are going to reach your goals so you don’t blindly stumble around trying to improve your vitality without knowing why you are having the problem with your health.
That’s it! Five tips to prevent becoming a gluten free, processed foods zombie. Now get out there and live!!!
Please share any suggestions for avoiding becoming the gluten free “living dead” and any real food blogs, books or recipes you appreciate.