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Monday, July 16, 2012

My GI System Hates Me - part two: Eliminating gluten and tips for starting a gluten free diet

If you read my first part of "My GI System Hates Me" you'll know that after keeping a food diary for some time, I started to see a link between eating gluten and an increase in my symptoms. After struggling to find any relief for sometime, my family and I decided that it was time to see if gluten was my nemesis.

So on August 23, 2011 - gluten went

To begin with, the symptoms continued. At first I was upset because I was desperate for instant relief, but I knew that it could take some time. After the first week, my symptoms started to reduce. My bloating went from extreme bloating to general bloating and some days I even found myself writing "No significant symptoms" where I'd never written that before.

We decided that after I felt some relief from not eating gluten, we would slowly re-introduce some gluten containing foods to see if they were a problem or whether the relief was just a coincidence.

We wanted to find out if it was gluten that I was sensitive to, or wheat - so we came up with a plan. I planned to try, in order, barley, spelt, rye, kamut and regular oats - all gluten containing but wheat free grains. Then I planned to try wheat. 

Everytime I reintroduced a gluten food, my symptoms increased dramatically - and they kept up for a few days afterwards. I would cry every time I realised that I was having reactions to gluten because I guessed what was coming.

Thankfully apples are not a problem
and they're gluten free
While I was still not feeling 100% without gluten, with gluten I felt horrible. In the end, I gave up on the challenges once I tried wheat - enough was enough. Gluten was once again gone, this time for good. 

Without gluten I was feeling so much better, but because I was still having problems we took a closer look at my diet. It became clear that stone fruits, berries and sulphur (my mum is also allergic) were all problems and it wasn't until January this year that I realised my daily celery munching was the cause of my afternoon stomach cramps. 

Next post, I'll tell you more about my food intolerances and what I can eat - because I know when a lot of people here my story, they start to wonder if I exist on water.. 

My tips for starting a gluten free diet:
whether you're diagnosed with coeliac disease/gluten intolerance or wanting to find out if gluten is a problem and using this as an elimination diet.
  • Buy gluten free versions of your staple foods for me, my staples were the following gluten free foods to replace my regular foods:
    - Breakfast: cereal/hot cereal
    - Snacks: crackers, GF bars, gluten free flour for making muffins
    - Lunch: bread/crackers/quinoa/rice
    - Dinner: quinoa/rice/GF pasta
    You can easily find ways to substitute your regular foods with gluten free foods, just know they won't taste exactly the same.
  • Keep a food diary - write down your symptoms, how you're feeling, bowel movements (I know, but it's important) or anything that you feel might be relevant - even your mood can be altered by allergies/intolerances. 
  • Know what you're eating! - you need to be really careful you're not consuming any gluten that you're not aware of. This means reading ingredients labels carefully, not using toasters used for regular bread, avoiding cross contamination and being aware of what you can and can't eat on a gluten free diet.
  • It may feel like the end of the world, but you'll get over it - At first, I hated not eating gluten - I mean hated. But after a while, I found delicious gluten free foods that I loved and it became easier. I started experimenting with gluten free baking and found ways to make foods gluten free that tasted even better than the original gluten-filled version. Now, gluten free is what I'm used to. I love not eating gluten simply because I feel so much better - and the fact that iHerb and other GF companies make such delicious gluten free foods only makes it easier.
My tips for re-introducing gluten on an elimination diet: 
  • Be specific! - don't try and introduce too many things at once because you won't know what's the problem. For example, you want to see if you can tolerate oats - have a serving of oats for breakfast and then continue eating your GF diet. Continue this for two days, recording your symptoms before you try it again - see if your symptoms are changed and then according to the results, decide if it's a problem for you or not. 
  • Don't add in new foods - when you're reintroducing gluten, don't add in new foods to your diet at the same time. For instance, when you're trying your oats - don't add cacao nibs or a new fruit if you've never eaten them before. This way you're only changing one component and you have a better idea of what's going on. 
  • Be patient -  it's tempting to go straight back into eating gluten, but you'll never know what the problem is. Elimination diets are frustrating and take a long time, but can really change how you feel if you do them right and work out what the problem is. 
  • Symptoms might not show up right away - I find, with gluten, it now takes between 2-6 hours for it to really hit me (usually around 6). This is because my digestive system is reaaaaally slow - for you it might take minutes or it might not occur until the next day. That's why it's important to leave breaks between introducing foods. 
  • Wait until your system is settled - There's no point in re-introducing new foods if you're symptoms are still extreme because you won't be able to tell the difference. You need to be able to see a difference to find out whether something is a problem or not. 
  • Record everything - what you eat, what you drink, when you eat it, emotional factors, bathroom habits etc. It might not seem like it'd make a difference, but it can. My IBS flares up when I'm stressed, so it'd be silly to try something new on a day where I'm stressed as my IBS symptoms could mimic a reaction. 

So tell me - have you ever suffered from GI issues or food intolerances?


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