Mainstreamed: The End of the Gluten-Free Experiment

Since my last post about the gluten-free experiment, I have come to a point that I am no longer gluten-free, really at all.

I had intentionally mainstreamed my diet, or at least been prepared to mostly mainstream it, so that on our epic trip to the Diocese of the Arctic, I could eat whatever was put in front of me, since we would be guests. I’d had a lot of success with homemade breads, but to keep the experiment pure, I was essentially eating GF everywhere else and with everything else.

Before we left, I took the final step towards doing this by eating normal storebought bread for a week. I had a few less-pleasant gastro-intestinal side effects, but just for a few days, nothing dramatic. It could just be the change in type and quantity of protein; I had similar adjustment periods in college whenever I went back and forth between being vegetarian and not.

Our brand of choice, based entirely on the marketing on the outside of the bag.

It’s interesting, though, that this “adjustment” period came only with the consumption of storebought bread; I had no such transitional gastro-symptoms from any of my homemade bread.

Just to add a little extra insurance, during that last week before our trip I tried to have one serving a day of something with full-on white refined flour in it, just to make sure my body didn’t totally flip. Mostly this meant having a large handful from my daughter’s giant box of goldfish.

Thank you for the picture, pepperidgefarm.com.

I was fine.

So I was comfortable enough eating regular glutenous food that I could travel without worrying about what I ate. I still expected to be kinda conscientious… But come on. I had basically paved the way for me to not be conscientious at all, and I wasn’t.

Ironically, it turned out there were not that many times that I really had to eat gluten on our trip, and I could have found my way around it if I wanted to. When we ate over at others’ houses, it isn’t as if everything was made of bread or thickened with flour. At bigger parties, there were other choices. Most of the time we were doing our own shopping in and cooking anyway, and for goodness’ sake, the North Mart has a gluten-free aisle. Iqaluit is really not the sticks.

But I did not take advantage of said gluten-free aisle. Actually, my first bit of travel-gluten was before we even got on a plane, when we made an emergency dinner stop at McDonalds at 8 p.m. Once up north, we had PB&J on storebought bread almost every day. I had bannock, donuts, crackers, whatever. If GF is a bandwagon, I was quite fallen off it.

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Now of course, when I say “I was fine,” I mean “I didn’t get sick.” Eating a bunch of refined flour never makes me feel like a million bucks, any more than eating a bunch of sugar or a ton of cheese. But when it comes to food, when I am stressed at all, I do not have a lot of self-control. Being on a GF diet for health reasons did not really impart self-control, as much as it created in an insuperable barrier for my gluttony to crash against. I could still eat half a bag of Crunchmasters and a cup of hummus in a sitting. And we won’t even talk about Fritos. But now that the GF barrier is gone, the knowledge that I’ll feel a little fuzzy-headed or moody after having a piece of cake isn’t really enough to stop me. This has been a cause for some Lenten reflection, as I ran into my max target-weight for this pregnancy with a month to spare.

But enough about my moral weakness. Back to the gluten-question.

What happened? Was with worth it? What’s next?

As you might recall, I went off gluten for hormone reasons. I did not want to take progesterone again if I got pregnant, if I could get around it, and it was possible that a very mild sensitivity to gluten (or something else associated with the processing that goes into most gluten-containing foods) had been enough to throw my system off and cause a mild progesterone deficiency. It was a surprise when going off gluten helped me lose weight and made my psoriasis go away, and it was an accident that I found psoriasis to be an indicator that I was eating something that disagreed with me.

So, was it worth it? Being 37 weeks pregnant today, having had a perfectly healthy and uneventful pregnancy so far, and not having taken any hormones, I can say yes it was worth it. It was worth it for the peace of mind (I didn’t reintroduce any gluten at all until around 27 weeks, when hormones were well established, and then it was mostly organic home-made whole-wheat stuff). It was worth it for getting around taking hormones. And, as a side benefit, it certainly kept my calorie intake under control for the first 3/4 of this pregnancy.

But what happened? What did the experiment tell me?

Here’s what I can know for sure: During the beginning of my experiment, when I was not pregnant but still in school, I could have organic, whole wheat, homemade bread without a problem. That itself tells me a lot: chances are that what I am sensitive to (if anything) is not gluten itself, but something else involved in the process that gets gluten-containing products on the shelf.

But here I am, eating pretty much the same stuff that I was eating before I went GF, including plenty of junk, and my psoriasis still hasn’t come back.

Here are the possibilities, as near as I can figure.

  • Possibility #1: Pregnancy hormones are balancing things out. My psoriasis didn’t show up in the first place until N was six months old. If it shows back up in the months after this baby is born, I can back up my experiments to pre-pregnancy, and start narrowing down again.
  • Possibility #2: The psoriasis was a fluke. Well, not really a fluke; it was a real thing, and being an auto-immune thing, it’s likely enough that it was influenced by gluten intake. My life is a bit less stressful now than it was back when the psoriasis first occurred, and a lot has changed, so if it never recurs, it could just be because of a difference in my psyche or circumstances. There’s no accounting for such things.
  • Possibility #3: I am sensitive to “malt flavoring.” That’s the specific ingredient in the Crispex I was eating every day when the psoriasis came back. Wouldn’t that be hilarious?
  • Possibility #4: I am sensitive to something else: wheat from a specific source, refined white flour, enriched flour, or any of the other things on ingredient labels that I don’t understand. If the psoriasis recurs, and I end up going back to the elimination experiment at a later date, I’ll have to get hardcore about the more industrial factors in mainstream wheat-containing products.
  • Possibility #5: And of course, it’s entirely possible that I don’t have a hormone imbalance, minor or otherwise. It’s very possible that the psoriasis and the miscarriages are entirely unrelated. It’s possible that my miscarriages were really just bad luck. Or if not, after two successful pregnancies, my hormones may balance out on their own.

Will I go GF again (or GF-except-for-organic-homemade-bread) if we try to have a 3rd child? If the psoriasis comes back, probably. If it doesn’t come back at all, I’m not sure.

No matter what I still don’t know, it has been a wonderful bit of collateral in this whole project that I have had to learn to make homemade bread, and it turns out it’s really delicious. I have a grinder now, and access to organic wheat berries in bulk, and I’m sorta on the lookout for a breadmaker. I don’t make all our bread, because gee, kneading is hard, and our life has been a little crazy. But the better I get at it, and the more I learn, the more I enjoy it. And there is no replacing the ritual of eating a slice of whole wheat bread fresh out of the oven, with nothing but butter on it.

You’ll notice the suspiciously missing end of one loaf of fresh bread. They never last intact for long.

So, for now, my gluten-free journey is at an end. Thanks for reading along. A MASSIVE amount of thanks go out to all my friends who cooked GF meals when I was coming over, or made sure to have GF cake or crackers or whatever at your potlucks or parties. You never had to, but you did anyway. Your hospitality meant a lot and still means a lot, and despite the current state of things, it was to good purpose.

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