On giving up the grain… T+8 days and counting

by Patricia Eddy on March 8, 2011

Last week, in a post titled A little experiment, I talked about my decision to eliminate grain (corn, wheat, rice) and soy from my diet for a few weeks to see if it would help my sleeping issues, my inability to lose weight, and my nasal allergies. I wasn’t having serious digestive problems, and I didn’t feel sick,  but I just didn’t feel as good as I thought I should.  In researching these symptoms, I came across a number of endurance athletes who had gone gluten or grain free for a time to improve performance and drop a few pounds in preparation for major athletic events. Since there’s little downside to this plan nutritionally, it seemed worth a try. My initial goal was to go without grain for 2-4 weeks.  This is the second in a series of grain-free status updates.

I’ve been officially grain-free for eight days now*. My nasal allergies have virtually disappeared. I haven’t taken an allergy pill since this experiment started. My weight has remained stable but my energy level is high and I feel good. This weekend I had two incredibly hard workouts with no fatigue issues. I’ve only felt very slightly deprived**, and can see myself eating this way, more or less, for a long time.

Really, the only grain based product I miss is beer. I love beer. I love good beer. Beer, as you know, is made with wheat. So technically it’s off the menu for now. However, in a few weeks, after my first triathlon, I’m going to reintroduce some beer to my life. I won’t have it often, no more than once a week and likely not even that often, but I will hopefully no longer be avoiding it. I know there are some gluten free beers on the market, but honestly, since I can live quite happily with gluten in my life, albeit with needing to take an allergy pill from time to time, I’m not interested in completely eliminating wheat based beer from my diet.

Sure, I could go for a slice of warm bread with butter, or a bowl of popcorn, but really, I’d rather have a beer. Once this first triathlon is over, I’ll eat a bowl of popcorn and bake a loaf of bread (with gluten). I won’t do both on the same day, and I won’t consume huge amounts of either, but I’ll relax just a little bit. After my triathlon, I’ll probably even suggest my husband take me out for sushi to celebrate.  Assuming the occasional cheat doesn’t cause my body to have a major reaction, that’s the general plan I’ll stick with. Mostly grain free, with planned splurges once a week or so. Then, in June, during the core preparation for my marathon and my second triathlon, I’ll go strictly grain-free again for a few weeks. I think I feel vaguely better off grain than I do on it. What remains to be seen is whether I’l feel better than I do now if I stay off grain longer and whether I can maintain this vaguely better feeling while consuming the occasional beer, slice of bread, or bowl of popcorn. Those tests are still to come.

I have 12 days until my first triathlon. With the exception of my cheat days* (see below), I plan to remain grain-free until it’s over and done with.

*I admit, I had a “cheat day” on Sunday. We ate dinner at Joule for their Winter Supper Series. I ate half of a Johnny Cake (which contained cornmeal), a cod cake (which may have had some flour as a binder), two small thin pieces of sourdough toast, and a small slice of Boston Cream Pie. I was expecting to need to take an allergy pill on Sunday night after all that grain, but I didn’t need one. This pleased me greatly. I did have a few minor allergy issues on Monday evening, but they were transient. For the next few weeks, we’re planning on making Sundays our cheat day. On those days, we won’t actively seek out grain products, but if we want to have some, for example when we’re at Joule for dinner, we’re not going to worry about it.

**A quick word to those who are grain free or gluten free for medical reasons. I read several gluten-free blogs from time to time. On some of them, there is a distinct attitude that being gluten-free does not mean deprivation. I love that attitude. I really do. However, in order to have that attitude, you need to be willing to cook with a lot of ingredients (mainly flours) that simply aren’t local. While I would certainly investigate that if I had a serious medical reason to be grain or gluten-free, I don’t.  Gluten seems to cause my nasal allergies to flare up, and that means that I don’t sleep as well as I should. Medically though, I’m healthy. I get regular checkups and from a medical standpoint, there’s no reason for me to give up grain. So I’m not planning on switching to gluten free baking as a way of life. That said, I love the fact that those who do need to do this for medical reasons have a wealth of resources at their fingertips so they don’t have to feel deprived at all. For one of my favorites, visit  The Art of Gluten Free Baking.

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Zibi March 8, 2011 at 6:34 am

Sounds like you’re are taking a very sensible approach to your new diet. My husband and I have been doing the same thing for a little over a year and we’re feeling better. As with you my allergies are almost none existent, my husband has lost weight, even without giving up beer ;) . I think the biggest benefit so far, is that throughout my pregnancy, I have not suffered any annoying symptoms such as morning sickness, excessive swelling, headaches etc… I think this may be a benefit of reducing grains ands sugar.

Good luck with your triathalon :)

Andrew March 8, 2011 at 8:19 am

If grains are causing your allergies than you do have some sort of reaction to them that should be explored. Allergies a pretty scary inflammatory response. Anthropologists can readily tell the difference between the fossils of agriculturist and hunter gathers because the decrease in density after the introduction of grains. The presence of intestinal permeability is closely associated with ADHD and has been proposed to be the underline cause of most autoimmune disease. IP is almost always caused by wheat. Wheat has other anti-nutrients besides gluten: phytates, phytic acid, sapponins, WGA, and lectins.

I don’t have that big of a problem with grain in general but the wheat we use today isn’t local and isn’t sustainable. It’s what Dr. William Davis calls dwarf mutant wheat. There’s 50% more gluten in wheat today than there was 50 years ago. Dr. Tom O’Bryan has written a great amount on gluten sensitivity. A lot of health professionals aren’t educated about it and don’t know that the testing of celiac only indicative of the complete destruction of the microvilli. Sorry if that was rant-ish.

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