Back at the end of November (November 30, to be exact), I decided to eliminate wheat from my diet. Not to lose weight. Not to fit into my skinny jeans. And not as a “quick fix” to shed pounds before the Holidays. Instead, it was to see if wheat was causing, or at least contributing to, the eczema that had been on my face for quite some time.
And after one week of being on the “diet” (no, not THAT kind of diet) I blogged about it. (To read more about my Elimination Diet and why “going on one” can be helpful at times, read my original blog post about it here.)
So though I LOVE wheat (you could say it’s ‘my crack’ as I could easily get addicted to it) I decided to eliminate it from my diet for at least a period of four weeks (but ended up doing it for five). Then, as elimination diets go, one slowly adds back the food into their diet to see if it really is the “culprit.”
So here’s a lowdown of how it went for me, and what was in my thoughts during the process:
Week One: At first never thought I’d survive (there’s SO MUCH wheat in the American diet, even for someone like me who eats healthy). First few days were difficult. You know how you want what you can’t have? But I knew, at least for a little while, it was only temporary. But then by the end of the week I was feeling GREAT! I was sleeping better, less bloated, had more energy, and my often ‘runny nose’ was going away. Things were really looking up. And my skin was getting better.
Week Two: Wow, can’t believe how good I feel. And I’m not missing wheat so much anymore. Thinking to myself, “why didn’t I do this before?” Pants started to fit better, and though I did NOT weight myself — I’m guessing I lost a pound or two. Okay, not much, but I don’t NEED to lose weight, and it wasn’t my goal. Still sleeping good, got lots of energy, and overall feeling great.
Week Three: Oh my goodness, I miss pasta. And bread. And pizza. And cereal. And I feel like I’m running out of things to eat. Energy just okay…..feel like I need to snack (on things like nuts) in order to keep my energy level up. And missing my breakfast of cereal or whole wheat bread with all-natural peanut butter. I eat breakfast and 2 hours later I’m hungry!! Hmmm, what’s going on? And, my eczema: though skin looked like it was getting better the first week, is back to normal again. Eczema is still here. Argh….probably why I feel like I want wheat. But I keep on the road.
Week Four: (Christmas week) Cravings (that were in my head in Week Three) are gone. Don’t really care if I ever have pasta again (okay, who am I kidding??). But seriously, I know that I can survive on eating a lot less wheat. And went to Christmas Eve party where there was LOTS of wheat (think pasta, sandwiches on big thick rolls, cookies, more pasta….) I didn’t eat any…..and I was happy with it! But was still able to eat and enjoy myself at the festivities. Ditto for Christmas Day. But my skin hasn’t really improved much. Eczema is still there. Same as before. Runny nose coming back a bit (though less than it was before).
Week Five: (New Year’s week) Still not seeing improvement in my skin or runny nose. Though overall I’m feeling good, and my energy level is also pretty good, I’m getting a bit bored. Yeah, my pants were feeling a bit better but now they’re back to where they were at Week One. By not eating wheat I’m finding it “easy” to eat too many potatoes, and I even had potato chips at party two weeks ago. And I’m finding I’m eating these foods (which I normally don’t each much, if at all) because I feel like “I can” and “I’m allowed too, ‘cuz hey, I’m not eating wheat!” Which is exactly what happens to a lot of first-time vegetarians (but that’s a blog post for another time).
As the New Year rolls around, I decided to slowly let wheat back into my body. Slowly. And you know what? Nothing changed. Skin didn’t get worse, neither did runny nose.
So here’s my diagnosis (and I’m not a doctor….this is based on my personal and educated knowledge of both food and my body): it’s not the wheat that is the culprit (or part of the culprit) to my eczema.
So what’s the reason for my increased energy, better sleeping, and what looked like better skin? And what about my pants fitting slightly better???
Well, that’s simply because by not eating wheat, I WAS eating TON of vegetables. On a regular day/week I eat a lot more vegetables than the average American, and I already eat fairly healthy….but I was eating really, really well those first 2 weeks (until I started eating potato chips and other junk to replace the wheat). I was the “Veggie Queen” and loving it. And I was eating more fruits than normally this time of year (as it’s not really fruit season here in Boston, if you know what I mean).
So in order to “replace” the wheat, I was eating a lot more vegetables. And yes, I was eating really healthy things like quinoa (a personal favorite) and lentils (lentils are awesome! I first “discovered” them when I lived in France and a great alternative to animal protein too), and beans. Oh, and water too. Don’t ask me why but I found myself drinking a lot of water (which is more difficult to do during the winter months)
So it WAN’T the fact that I “eliminated wheat” from my diet — but rather it WAS the fact that I was “adding in” a lot more really good things for me (that is, until I started eating potato chips….haven’t I mentioned that like 5 times already?)
So what am I doing now? Well, to get rid of the eczema: instead of the $50 bucks cream my dermatologist prescribed for me (which irritated my skin even more) — I bought the generic $3 bucks over-the-counter Hydrocortisone which has done wonders.
And I’m now eating less wheat than before, and I’m feeling really good. Though I do need to make it a conscious effort sometimes to think “lentils, beans, or quinoa” instead of wheat, I’m amazed how easy it is to still eat SOME wheat, but cut it down a lot (without missing it). Oh, and now that I “can” eat wheat, I’m not eating things like potato chips to satisfy my “craving.”
AND, during those five weeks of my Elimination Diet I tried a lot of new recipes like lentil soup and different bean soups, chickpeas, edamame…I could go on & on….and ate a lot of variety especially in my veggies. I had forgotten how much I loved things like butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and other winter and root vegetables. And it got me eating a lot of foods I liked, but hadn’t eaten for a while (like the lentils, chickpeas, edamame, parsnips).
So — moral of the story? — even for ME, an expert in food & nutrition who has been able to keep her weight in a healthy range for many years and got over emotional eating…..time to time needs to “shake things up” a bit. And that doesn’t mean you have to (or should) eliminate one food (or food group) from your diet.
The reason I did the elimination diet was to see if I had a SENSITIVITY or ALLERGY to a food — NOT to lose weight.
And I’m a better person for it as I’m eating a lot of foods I had forgotten about. And it reminded me that nature has given us so many wonderful and good tasting foods that one doesn’t need to go looking for the perfect food or the fat-blasting superfood…..all foods that nature gave us are “super”. We just need to eat a wide variety and keep (and maybe discover) new things all the time.