Welcome to Healthy Living Week at OnMilwaukee.com! The resolutions are made, now the real work begins. But we're here to help get you – and keep you – on track with stories about medicine, diet, exercise, spiritual and emotional health, and more. Healthy Living Week is brought to you by Pairdd: easy gluten-free cooking at your fingertips.
Two winters ago, I tried going gluten-free. For the six months I committed myself to the mission, I lost about 20 pounds – very quickly. I felt healthier and had much more energy. Most of what I ate tasted liked cardboard, however, and grocery shopping was much more expensive.
The gluten-free lifestyle definitely works, but it’s a sacrifice.
I got the idea when I visited Dr. John Whitcomb at the Brookfield Longevity and Healthy Living Clinic at the end of 2011, with the idea to do a story on anti-aging. Near the end of our conversation, and I’m paraphrasing, he asked me if I knew why I was fat. I said, "Because I eat too much?"
"No," he replied. "Wheat."
Whitcomb explained to me how gluten turns to sugar and leaves you feeling starving when you crash. You can find plenty of resources that explain this, but I’m only here to share my personal experience.
Whitcomb explained that going gluten-free doesn’t mean scaling back on wheat, it means cutting it out completely. So that day, I went shopping at the Gluten-Free Trading Company. I spent tons of money on pastas and cereals and gluten-free bread and desserts. Food was incredibly expensive at this market, where I learned an important lesson quickly: if you try to replace wheat with fake wheat, you’ll spend a lot of money.
But, I started that day and the results were immediate. In the first week, I dropped from 206 pounds to 198. I actually ate more in the beginning, since I was trying all sorts of new gluten-free foods. Most of them didn’t taste very good: the rice pastas were sticky and slimy; the bread was passable if you toasted it. Cereal was about the same (Chex are naturally gluten-free).
I quickly learned that a better method was to eat normal foods that didn’t have wheat in them. Our office was down the street from Whole Foods back then; I ate lunch from the salad bar, discovering quinoa for the first time. My wife helped out and made several very good gluten-free meals. Cutting out beer was easy. Things were going well.
The first month, I dropped a few more pounds, and by spring, I was hovering around 190. At this point, I eased back a little, including the occasional bagel or pizza into my routine. I’d weigh myself the morning after allowing for a wheaty meal. I’d usually gain three pounds, but it would drop back off when I returned to going gluten-free. I slept better and felt better, although my chronic back/leg pain that didn’t get better after surgery in 2011 still hadn’t gone away.
By summer 2012, I hit my lowest weight in a decade: 185.5 pounds. And then I gave up. It took about a year, but I have since gained back all of the weight.
Why did I quit? I tell people that I don’t want to live in a world without pizza, bagels and beer, but that’s only partially true. Being gluten-free takes a lot of work. It’s tough to do at work lunches or socially. It’s expensive. For me, someone who loves carbs, it’s not very enjoyable, either, and food ceases to be a source of pleasure. Also, as my back pain has increased, I’ve found it harder and harder to be disciplined about anything, much less opting against a bagel on a Sunday morning.
I will certainly try going gluten-free again someday, perhaps soon. This time, however, I will do it differently. I won’t necessarily shop at the specialty stores or even in the expensive gluten-free aisle. Rather, I’ll just seek out meals that don’t have gluten in them.
Also, I’ll plan out my wheaty meals. If I’m having pizza for dinner, then no muffin the next morning. I found that keeping the glutenous food isolated, with days of gluten-free on either side, has the best effects. Similarly, I expect I’ll have more willpower once I get this back pain under control.
Maybe gluten-free isn’t for everyone, but for me, it was the real deal. I’m a picky eater, and it wasn’t fun.
But is dieting ever fun? Probably not, and I didn’t really find myself eating any less during that six-month period.
Parting advice: if you’re going to try it, you have to really commit. Replacing one meal a day won’t do the trick. At the very least, it’s probably worth a two-week experiment, because you’ll see results by then. Let me know how it goes!
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.