How Going Gluten-Free Before the Holidays Had an Unexpected Effect

by Charisse Kenion

In the Beginning of Going Gluten-Free

Before I get into it, I feel I would be remiss to not let you know that I, Charisse Kenion, am not a quitter. As in, if you tell me or challenge me to quit sugar, bread, alcohol, cheese –  I’ll probably just laugh at you while I eat my cream cheese-frosted cinnamon roll with a shot of rum. I don’t know if I believe in willpower as such, but I do know that the thought of me giving up anything often results in me feeling cornered and destined for defeat. For instance, over the years, I’ve tried to quit sugar, but the fact that I have a sweet tooth and I love to bake – it’s kind of a therapy thing for me – it’s just never happened. And if you’d suggested that perhaps I gave up bread and pasta, well, I guess we just wouldn’t be friends anymore.

But it was a friend of mine who actually made me see things differently. My makeup artist friend Katie, is an advocate of going gluten-free; not because she has coeliac disease (an autoimmune disorder that affects digestion) but because she has a health issue that can cause weight gain. So, she chooses to maintain her weight by sticking with gluten-free foods. She told me it helps her feel light and energetic, which was something that I, in my tired, sluggish body, could relate to. 

Who doesn’t want to feel like that?

I think so many of us just eat what we eat without really thinking about how food affects how we feel. And come the festive season, we are even more prepared to fill our bodies with enough carbs to put us in a coma, all in the spirit of cheer. But if food really is medicine, maybe it makes sense to pay more attention to what we’re putting in our mouths?

 

Around the same time that Katie was espousing the merits of gluten-free, my husband came home one day enthused after listening to a podcast where comedian Kevin Hart, said that he challenged himself to give up something every single month. I gingerly suggested that we could give up gluten for November, and I can’t lie –  I was hoping he would say ‘hell no, don’t take my pasta away!’

 

But instead he was so up for it, like instantly. So, for November we committed to eating zero pasta (we usually ate pasta twice a week), zero bread (something we ate daily), and no cakes or biscuits. I would normally perhaps buy one pack of biscuits per week but also baked twice a week. We were positively convinced giving up gluten would mean we would eat even more veg – we’re a flexitarian household, meaning we eat what we feel, with meat being on the menu perhaps twice a month.

 

Early Progress Going 

During the first two weeks it was clear that our menu wasn’t as varied and vibrant as we thought. Suddenly eggs made me feel nauseous, because my usual scramble just wasn’t the same without my multigrain toast and salted butter. On days when I needed to cook dinner, I felt really uninspired because there was no more spaghetti with pepper and olive oil, no more stove top macaroni cheese – not even a basic tuna pasta bake was an option.

 

I switched to Greek yoghurt with fruit most mornings for breakfast, and did squeeze in a few more smoothies than usual. But I also found I was sneaking more sugar into my morning coffees. I think my slick self was telling itself, ‘well, you’re going without gluten, why not add a little sweetness to your day?’ 

 

But it wasn’t just my coffee; for some reason I bought more chocolate, and even my husband nibbled at it way more often than usual – pretty much every night after dinner. I also discovered crisps! Not something that I buy too often but again, my slick mind managed to hone in on flavors such as ketchup and bacon and maple, because they, despite being in crisp form, were also giving me a sugar buzz.

 

Halfway through our gluten-free month, we did try a couple of gluten-free cakes when we went for coffee, but found them just dry, and boring. We knew that we should keep an eye on the sugar intake, but instead of cutting that out too, we decided to focus more on the color on our plates. I brought out some of my favorite vegan recipes and focused on featuring more reds, yellows, and greens in our food. I remembered the wealth of ‘hard’ foods that my Jamaican heritage embraced, such as green banana, plantain, yam, as well as ackee and jackfruit – both West Indian fruits that are eaten as savory dishes. 

A Surprising Reality in Going Gluten-Free

As soon we were feeling like we’d mastered going gluten-free, there was something bothering us, down below. Now, as a couple we have super regular toilet trips (not together!), which we proudly put down to our high fibre and low animal protein intake. But wow, during the first three weeks of going gluten-free, something was seriously amiss. We had assumed gluten-free eating would mean that our toilet habits would go even more er, smoothly, but instead we were backed UP. 

 

Once we re-traced our steps, it clicked: yes, we were eating gluten-free, but a lot of the foods that contain gluten kind of help things along. Also, changing your diet doesn’t necessarily show any benefits overnight, and it can take a while for your body to adjust, which could also explain the constipation.

In the final week we focused even more on getting the kale, broccoli, and cauliflower in and it seemed a lot easier. If I’m honest, that probably came down to the fact that I was literally counting down the days to when I could eat some hot, buttered toast and gnocchi enrobed in parmesan. I even planned what we would have for breakfast that first glutinous morning!

Nowadays

When the day came, if you’d wafted a toasted brioche bun in my face, I may have pushed you aside. Those cravings and urges for dense carbs simply weren’t there. And while I did buy us a loaf of hard dough bread (a sweet, soft bread from the Jamaican bakery), we ate it mindfully and then didn’t buy anymore. At the time of writing this, we still haven’t had even a morsel of pasta, and that daily toast for breakfast is a thing of the past.

We both lost weight around our waist – my husband so much so that he decided to bring his morning porridge back into rotation, but he still stayed lean. While neither of us weighed ourselves, inch loss was clearly visible. 

Honestly, I can’t believe I stuck to it. Me? Sticking to a challenge? But it’s taught me so much, and I really think it might just have prepared the way for a sugar kick in January. Even as I plan to host Christmas lunch, I’m reminding myself that we don’t need cornbread on top of everything else, and that no, I don’t have to bake three cakes so we have ‘options’. I think I might be approaching that delicate old ‘b’ word: balance. And I know my body is grateful.

Featured Image via @kurnyk_photo

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