Gluten Liberation Part 2: The Experiment and its Results

This is part 2 of a short series sharing my gluten-free experiment. Yesterday I reflected more on the existential angle of things; today I’m going to tell you a bit more about the experiment itself and what has come of it so far.

As I said, my reason for considering going gluten free was the information that new research was suggesting that “mild” celiac (without uncomfortable digestive symptoms) had been implicated in repeated miscarriage.

After hearing my friend’s take, I started doing my own research. The whole “mild celiac” thing is somewhat controversial, but I started hearing about and reading doctors talking about minor thyroid problems being linked generally to auto-immune disorders and gluten sensitivity. In turn, a nutritionist Jared and I had respected for ages, Marilyn Shannon, had long ago linked low progesterone with mild, untestable thyroid problems, the evidence for which was low basal body temperatures. Haven taken my temps every morning as part of natural family planning, I knew they were chronically very, very low, but my thyroid always tested fine, so I didn’t know what to do with that information. Now I had a candidate: low progesterone caused by an only-slightly-screwy thyroid, caused (or at least exacerbated) by some form of gluten sensitivity.

My kitchen helper, who has discovered quite the taste for GF bread. Her main job in the kitchen is putting silverware in the dishwasher, which she will happily do, though usually not until after she's taken everything else out first.

My kitchen helper, who has discovered quite the taste for GF bread. Her main job in the kitchen is putting silverware in the dishwasher, which she will happily do, though usually not until after she’s taken everything else out first.

My plan was to go off gluten from January 1st until April 30th, 2013. Four months should be long enough for any gluten-hating antibodies to get out of my system, if they were there – and see if my basal body temperature went up. Objective, scientific, limited, purposed. Four months later, here is what resulted:

The first thing that happened, to my surprise, was the my psoriasis cleared up. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, psoriasis has not been definitively linked to gluten intolerance, but many people have reported improvement of their symptoms on a GF diet. Psoriasis runs in my family, and I had gotten a very nasty and annoying case of it on my palms during the last quarter of 2013. I hadn’t gotten around to seeing a doctor about it, but I’d seen psoriasis enough times to know precisely what it was. But within a few weeks of going GF, it cleared up completely.

The second thing that happened – try not to hate me – was I lost a bunch more weight. I had already been shedding an average of 3-4 lbs/month since Naomi was born, and was about 10 lbs shy of pre-pregnancy weight when I went GF. I was very pleased with this achievement, considering that I had gained at least 60 during that pregnancy, and had long-ago decided to love my new body and not try to achieve any standard of skinniness. So when I went GF I didn’t make any particular attempt to count calories or anything; I just tried to maintain the modestly healthy habits I had been developing: my overeating was generally under control, and I exercised maybe 15 minutes walking 2-3x a week while carrying a baby on my back. But after my first two months of going GF, I had lost another 20 lbs. I still remember the week my metabolism kicked over; I kept getting hungry right after big meals. My body was telling me, eat more now! You are still feeding a child with food your body makes! I think my weight has more or less stabilized; I intentionally do not own a scale.

Now, this weight loss might be mostly because gluten-freedom (or, as I like to call it, gluten liberation) means, for me, going off most sugary foods – simply because I am too cheap to buy expensive replacements! But I wasn’t religious about it; I ate my share of Debbie Bliss GF box brownies. Still, this diet also meant going off a large percentage of carbs. But I still eat a lot of grains and legumes, as well as a lot of diary and nuts, and I do not shy away from animal fat. So the jury’s still out on whether this weight loss has anything to do with going GF, or whether it’s just evidence that the whole low-carb high-fat diet thing has something to it. (I was always suspicious of “no fat” yogurt.) I suspect both are true.

The third thing that happened was that all my random joint pain went away. I had assumed my achy creakyness was a consequence of pregnancy weight, but that didn’t explain why it still hung around after I’d lost the first 50 lbs. I just chalked it up to getting older and having a crappy couch. But within a few weeks of going GF, all my joint pain was gone. This could also be attributed to the weight loss, but joint pain is a symptom of gluten sensitivity. Darn you, confounding variables!

The fourth thing that happened was that sloooowly… incrementally… slightly… my basal body temperature went up. Only by an average of three tenths of a degree, and still well below what would be considered normal for a healthy thyroid, but a non-negligible difference. It turns out the measure I thought would be most objective was the least incontrovertible! My period did finally come back, not as often as would be considered “normal,” but more often than it had been for me for years before.

All these factors sound significant, but I wouldn’t call them conclusive. So it’s time to take the experiment to the next level. More on that tomorrow.

8 thoughts on “Gluten Liberation Part 2: The Experiment and its Results

  1. Becky says:

    Rebecca,

    Thanks so much for posting this. I can’t BELIEVE how similar our stories are…psoriosis, miscarriages, random pain post-partum (for me it was intense neurological problems). I’ve been gluten free (moreso wheat-free)for over two months. After about a month of being gluten free I started feeling less dizzy, less clumsy, etc. Then two weeks ago, after seeing an amazingly attentive and knowledgeable Osteopathic Doctor, we decided I should go dairy-free and corn-free. I can’t believe how much better I feel this week! Before just now I never related my psoriosis to food sensitivies, but I just looked at my elbows and ankles and they are nearly all clear! Wow. I’ve also dropped a lot of weight. What a journey. Thanks for sharing yours! Now I’m thinking I should start temping, too, to see what’s what! You are doing an excellent job documenting your story and I hope it continues to help others just like it’s helping me 🙂

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  2. admin says:

    Great job, Becky! Our crazy parallel stories continue. 🙂 Yeah I don’t know if I can afford to go to an osteopathic doctor but MAN I would love to. I would cry for weeks if I went dairy free. Is it the casein or the lactose that’s the problem? (i.e. can you still have properly-made cheese and yogurt?)

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  3. Linda says:

    WOW!! All those positives surely have made this GF diet worth it!! I’ve been really proud of you and pleased for you.

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  4. Kathy H. says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I just thought I’d let you know about my own food experiment. I cut out all the whites – sugar, white bread, mayo, white rice and potatoes, last November. I also stopped eating starches, and just went to protein (mostly seafood and yogurt), healthy fats (olives, avocado, some nut butters). I’m eating more fruits and veggies. And I’m doing skim milk and just a little bit of cheese. Since Nov., I’ve lost 50 lbs, and I plan to keep on going. I’ve added back in some potato and whole grain in small amounts, and that is working fine. I don’t think of it as a diet, and it doesn’t feel like a struggle like it did in the past. I just had a food epiphany! I should stop eating and drinking stuff that makes me feel bad (even coffee!), and start eating stuff that makes me feel good. I have more energy than I had ten years ago, and I’ve never been so regular. 🙂

    I’m anxious to hear about the progress of your new experiment. Keep writing!

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  5. Rebecca says:

    Kathy, thank you for sharing! I wouldn’t have thought of “cutting out all the whites” as a thing, though I do try to do that generally speaking. That is a neat goal. I’m so glad you’ve experienced improved health!

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  6. Alisa Crowe says:

    Hi Rebecca, hopefully this finds you. I am one of your students for the colorwork afghan. Would you be willing to help me with a brioche hat? I seem to be making a consistent “mess”. Can’t imagine the head that it would serve. Thanks, Lisa

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  7. […] my gluten-free experiment. In part one I talked about the more existential side of things, and in part two I described the success I’ve had so far in going gluten-free. This third and final part […]

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  8. […] as you know, if you’ve been reading along, my gluten-free journey has been a little unusual. I had good reason to try it, and I’ve had some big turnarounds, but there are confounding variables to rule out, and I […]

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