Avoid Becoming a Processed Food, Cracked-Out Gluten Free Zombie

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Gluten free zombieI 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 PantryReal Sustenance, The Gluten Free Dish, Nom Nom Paleo, The Clothes Make the Girl, 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.

Want more tips on healthy, gluten-free eating? Check out our free Digestive Health Video Training Series.

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22 Replies to “Avoid Becoming a Processed Food, Cracked-Out Gluten Free Zombie”

  1. I’m reminded of the early 90s when “fat free” products became a craze. Quite a few years passed before the public caught on to the fact that these “fat free” products were just over-processed sugar loaded edibles that could barely qualify as food. I totally agree that celiac disease is an opportunity to become more aware of your diet and be empowered in your choices: alive, colorful, and energy-filled food and get help with your emotional and energetic bodies! Your body is trying to tell you something!

    1. I hear that Robine! And unfortunately the non-fat craze has some hanger-oners. I still have people come to my cooking classes that freak out about the amount of fat on the menu. I still have clients that come to me counting calories and eating fat free/low fat processed foods. It makes me so sad that they think they are doing something healthy when really they are destroying their health, their brain and their metabolism. Hopefully, you are right that all this gluten free processed food crack is just a phase and folks will wake up to what they are doing to their bodies. I love what you say about “empowered choices” and eating “alive, colorful, and energy-filled food.” Gluten free can be such a great opportunity for health. Thanks!

  2. While they have said I dont have celiac disease, I can tell you I felt better on it, however it was the hardest diet.  I lost a tone of weight and had so much energy.  I think I need to go back to it.

    1. Dorothy, testing for celiac disease is very, very flawed. What type of test did you do? The book, Healthier Without Wheat, by Stephen Wangen gives a fantastic run down of all the different tests there are for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance and the problems with each. 

      That said, you may be gluten intolerant without having celiac disease, which means you still could have symptoms and have an immune reaction and inflammation without your body attacking your digestive system. Weight gain and low energy are two very, very common food intolerance reactions.

      Why did you find it to be a hard diet for you? There are so many resources of support for living a gluten free diet and I would be glad to point you in the right direction if you let me know what your concerns are with sticking with the diet. If it’s recipes, definitely utilize the blogs I list in the post–their recipes are incredibly delicious, healthy and easy to make. A treasure trove of gluten free (and grain free) amazingness!

      Please let me know if you have any questions about getting back to living gluten free–I would love to help. Good luck!

  3. As always, Katie, a very knowledge-filled and helpful post!  How wonderful that current generations can simply ‘google’ for information such as  yours. My first foray into ‘healthful’ eating was books by  Adele Davis who was waaaaay ahead of her time and began blowing the whistle on the underhanded, profit driven food industry in the 1970’s. Believe it or not, we have come a long way in the intervening time and  will continue to with conscious-driven people like you!

    1. Thanks so much Lynn! Yes, I agree, Adele Davis was definitely way ahead of her time. It makes me feel more comfortable when people disagree with me to know that I am helping to move along the field of nutrition and that disagreements, frustrations and clinging to the status quo is part of changing a broken healthcare system. Adele Davis sure met with her share of criticism and animosity!

  4. Katie, I’ve learned to eat healthier with out gluten most of the time and don’t feel a bit denied.   Ocassionally I can eat a small amount of gluten, ie  potato pancakes when the whole family has them.
    My daughter had shared a black bean brownie recipe and when i make it, I may pour a few teaspoons of home made maple syrup over the top when it comes out of the oven.  It puts a glaze on and not too sweet. It is good without the glaze too. 

       Very worthwhile tips you share here.

    1. Thanks for sharing Joyce! Yes, I am so glad to hear that you don’t feel denied from eliminating gluten. Are you without any symptoms from gluten and just largely eliminate it because it is undigestible and that’s why you still eat it very occasionally? Yum, I love potato pancakes. I rarely eat them, come to think of it, but when I do, I use sweet potatoes (which are actually lower glycemic than white potatoes and add nice sweetness) and shred in some other roots with them like turnips, radishes, carrots and/or parsnips. I add whatever fresh herbs are on hand and use a little binder like flax gel or arrowroot to hold them together. I can’t do eggs or I would bind them with eggs… Oh boy, I’m totally getting hungry thinking about it! Thanks for the reminder of how much I love those! I think it is so cool how black bean brownies taste like the real thing, but are so much lower glycemic than their grain counterparts. Whoever came up with them was a genius!

  5. Love this Article Katie and am going to encourage some friends of mine to have a serious look at their nutritional intake!
    Thanks a mill for this one!

  6. Excellant article. My friend has Celiacs and I had no idea what it was until she got it. I appreciate your tip about shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. Everytime I step into the store I am reminded of this and TRY to stick to it. 

    1. Good for you Lisa! It’s absolutely amazing how much healthier we eat when we focus on shopping the perimeter (and not shopping hungry). Gluten intolerance statistics are pretty staggering with 1 in 133 people having celiac disease but because it can have silent or unexpected symptoms, 95% of people with celiac disease don’t even know it! The two most common symptoms of celiac disease are osteoporosis and anemia (both very silent), not digestive complaints. And some people have neurological symptoms which they don’t link to their intake of gluten. What’s crazy is that estimates of non-celiac gluten intolerance are as high as 1 in 10 people and again, most don’t even know it. You are such a good friend to be learning more about celiac disease. Having a community that supports and understands that we can’t have gluten, not even a crumb and watching our backs for cross-contamination makes a world of difference. The hardest part of going gluten free is often the social pressure and wanting to “fit in” with friends so having friends like you is really a huge, huge thing!

  7. Great article! I’ve been eating gluten  for a few weeks and am amazed at how much more energetic, alert, and well I feel. As for gluten free processed food zombies, it reminds me of the vegan junk food addicts, of whom I have known several LOL

    1. Caitriona, I’m assuming you mean you have been eating gluten FREE for a couple weeks, not that you have been newly consuming gluten! Yes, it’s amazing isn’t it, how much better we can feel off it. It’s good that you recognize the neurological effects you are experiencing, that you have more energy and have clearer thinking without it. Unfortunately, it is common to only associate digestive symptoms to gluten intolerance, but it is actually more common to have neurological symptoms that can show up as fatigue, brain fog, memory problems, sleep disturbances and more. Good for you!
      And I believe that even people that aren’t gluten intolerant should eliminate it, because it is not a digestible protein which means it runs the risk of actually causing leaky gut syndrome and is so much more likely to end up in our blood stream as an undigested protein and trigger an immune reaction resulting in gluten intolerance eventually. It is unfortunate that it is in so many things.

      Yes, vegan junk food addicts!!! Isn’t that the truth. Definitely similar–people think they are doing something healthy for themselves by changing their eating habits and instead become even more unhealthy. I have known plenty of vegans that have avoided unprocessed vegetables and lived their life on refined carbohydrates (lots of gluten) and processed meat alternatives (also gluten). And then they develop gluten intolerance and continue their unhealthy lifestyle as gluten free, vegan junk food addicts!!! Ahh so frustrating!

  8. It is a funny day! Oh, my goodness! I love your post and the title is just perfect to describe how I felt at the gluten-free expo! I have to share with you my story…Today I was reading your blog post and I had forgotten I had found it through my site meter…I was loving every bit of the post. Especially since an hour before I had been getting a bit of resistance from my boys when I realized that my oldest son was eating a “cheese” that has safflower oil which now we found out he is intolerant. He wants to eat this all the time…so I said to them…”Maybe it is time you step out of your comfort zone and try some new foods.” So I kept reading your post…still forgetting I came here through site meter…when I could not believe my eyes that you had mentioned my blog as a source for recipes!! LOL! Yep, we are real life people who blog and we do deal with food issues right here in our homes every day. Thanks for the mention and for making my day!
    Debbie recently posted..Toxic Slippers and the "Less Toxic Guide"

    1. Ha! That’s absolutely hilarious Debbie! I love that you were surprised to find your website listed as a resource in my post! I really love The Gluten Free Dish and send clients transitioning to paleo to your site all the time (actually I just sent a colleague there today). You have fantastic recipes! And I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels a little overwhelmed by the hordes of zombies at gluten free conferences/food fairs! And thanks for sharing your son’s story–It is amazing isn’t it, how many gnarly ingredients are in cheese alternatives! Please keep doing what you do–you rock! Your comment has made my day!
      Katie Bauer recently posted..Kick the Crack (aka Sugar) Addiction

  9. Great advice. We personally eat a grain-free diet and no packaged foods. We make everything from whole foods. We felt sick eating “gluten-free” labeled prepackaged foods. Our health and well-being is much better now that we are grain-free and avoid packaged foods. 🙂

    1. That’s great Heather! I am always so sad to see people transiting to gluten free only to continue eating unhealthy. Thanks for posting a comment so that I was able to find out about your blog! Your sweet potato raisin cookie bars sound amazing! I have many clients that are gluten free or grain free, but also can’t do nuts or eggs so you just COMPLETELY made my day! It’s difficult to find many grain free recipes that also don’t include eggs or nuts. I can’t wait to try it! I’m doing the happy dance right now–I’d post an image, but that would be awkward! Thanks again!
      Katie Bauer recently posted..Kick the Crack (aka Sugar) Addiction

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