[I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but it’s true. We are officially *not* a gluten-free family anymore, as of sometime in July 2014. Here is our story.]
It has been four long years since we first took that plunge into the world of gluten-free for our 23-month-old firstborn (who is now almost six). And now we’re starting all over again in the opposite direction.
How we Decided to Go Gluten-Free Four Years Ago
Believe me when I tell you that we did not initially enter into going GF lightly.
As a toddler, our little one had been experiencing digestive issues, coupled with mood swings and behavioural weirdness (going into meltdown mode with what we dubbed the “crazy eyes”) that we directly connected to gluten consumption again and again.
We didn’t really want to go gluten-free – it sounded hard and scary and restrictive, and I’m generally not a sucker for punishment. I am fiercely protective of my remaining shreds of sanity, and thus not muchly inclined to doing hard crap unless super-duper necessary. It’s just a fact, peeps. A cold hard fact.
We did some trials, some hemming and hawing, and tons of reading and research… and every time we’d stay away from gluten for a few days and then try it again, our suspicions would be proven over and over. Eventually we couldn’t deny it any longer: a gluten-free diet would be best for our little guy.
We went strictly gluten-free for him (with hubs and I and the newborn baby being “sorta” GF), and treated him like he could have celiac disease. We learned about cross-contamination, the right questions to ask at restaurants, and the “safe” food options at the grocery store. I dove into the world of GF baking and cooking (the latter being much easier of the two) and even developed many of my own recipes using gluten-free flours and ingredients.
We saw much improvement in the symptoms – his bowels normalized and he was then able to easily learn to use the toilet. His behaviour calmed down and became more along the lines of regular toddler meltdowns instead of the “crazy-eyes” type. He seemed to be thriving without gluten, and so we settled in for the long haul.
Was it Celiac Disease?
We never got celiac testing done because we learned (too late) that you have to be eating gluten (a lot of it) for a minimum of 6 weeks (some sources say 12!) in order to take the test. Well, if you do have celiac disease, that’s the last thing you want to do. So we decided to hold off.
I have slowly came to the realization over the last couple of years that we were not dealing with celiac disease. The symptoms just didn’t add up to lead me to conclusion. I scrutinized and researched every little detail, but I finally became convinced that we were “only” dealing with a food intolerance/sensitivity.
Over the last four years we have seen a handful of slip-ups in regards to cross-contamination with various degrees of reactions. At first, we saw a reaction every time. Family and friends could tell, we could tell, and it was plain as day.
However, the hubs and I have noticed over the last year or so that the reactions have seemed non-existent. We were pretty good at the GF thing by then, but still – I wondered – was he still sensitive?
Can you grow out of a sensitivity?
Most sources say yes, absolutely. My take on it is to say yes, and that it is actually based on gut health. I think that after abstaining from a certain offending food for a long period of time (years), it is possible to heal the gut to the extent that a person could enjoy that food again, and no longer be sensitive to it.
I think that is exactly what has happened in our story.
How we ended four years of being gluten-free
Last summer when I started thinking about this, I thought that trying a few bites of traditional sourdough bread would be a good place to start. Traditionally made sourdough (made with an actual sourdough starter, and properly prepared for easier digestibility) is recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation, whose nutritional teachings we loosely follow.
But wouldn’t you know it – the summer farmer’s market where I knew I could get a loaf of genuine sourdough eluded me week after week due to the baby’s naptime schedule, and I missed my opportunity.
This summer, I was prepared. I wanted to know the truth… and I wanted to stop expending so much effort and expense on a gluten-free diet if it was not strictly necessary.
photo credit: surlygirl
So in June I found some sourdough bread and brought it home. We made toast, slathered it in butter, and savoured those bites with exuberance. Mmmm, homemade bread… (Oh ma GAWSH. Nom-nom-nom.)
Then we waited. He was like a ticking time bomb as we waited to see when he would go off.
Except that he didn’t.
You wanna know what happened?
Nothing. Nothing happened. Nothing at all out of the ordinary. I was elated and shocked (and somehow simultaneously not surprised at all).
And so it ended. Four years of being strictly gluten-free. The kids questioned it at first, and were a bit apprehensive (we had spent 4 years “villainizing” gluten so that they could learn to avoid it strictly), but soon revelled in their new freedom.
So was there ever a sensitivity at all?
I definitely think that he was sensitive to gluten at the time we removed it from his diet. I want to emphasize this, because there are many naysayers out there that claim that the need to be gluten-free is a fad or a hoax or just plain overblown. I disagree with this… in fact I think that more people should try a GF diet (hint, hint, family members!) to see how it might effect their health. Modern wheat is very different now, even from 50-75 years ago. It is now less nutritious, and gluten-related health issues are more common than most people realize.
As an advocate for natural living and whole food eating, I am often under a bit of a magnifying glass for my choices. I have defended and explained our decision to keep our kids strictly gluten-free over and over again, and have sighed and rolled my eyes at the articles decrying GF as the latest fad diet with no actual benefit (disclaimer at the end usually given about “except for celiacs”). I don’t agree that it’s simply a fad diet.
The big question: now what??
I have been a bit nervous about sharing this story with the world at large. I do not want to be interpreted as criticizing the gluten-free movement and crossing party lines. I am not a traitor. I am simply a mom trying to do her best to provide healthy eating for her family, day in and day out.
Image credit: Tim VanReenen
As I’ve mentioned, in the last 6 months our family has been on a journey of high-stress and tumultuous family crisis. We are now on the other side (mostly) and things are so much better. However, we’ve made many compromises in our diet over these months as we’ve focused simply on survival and getting though.
We’ve bought lots of convenience foods and even fast food (which we regretted every time – yuck), and when the price tag for these things is 3x more expensive ($6-7 for a small loaf of GF bread at the store!), you start seriously questioning the necessity! (Totally a rip-off, and worse ingredients than the regular wheat bakery bread!)
At the end of the day, each family is so unique and has their own health preferences and needs – it’s a bit of an ebb and flow. As with many things in life: when you realize that you may not be on the right path any longer, it’s best to just stop, admit that it’s not working, and change course. That’s what I’m doing. It may be humbling and a bit nerve-wracking, but on we go.
Next on the agenda is figuring out what the heck sort of role we would like wheat to have in our lives. Will we get into ordering our own ancient grain flour? Will I wind up purchasing a grain grinder to grind my own wheat berries fresh? Will I get into sourdough making, and all that it entails? Will I learn the art of soaking and sprouting? Maybe we’ll start experiencing negative repercussions, and we’ll wind up going GF again. I don’t know.
I’ll be honest with you right now: I have no sweet clue where to go from here. I have spent 4 years not thinking much about wheat, and I don’t really have a firm stance on it. I’m certain that will change soon enough, but for now – I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever made big changes in a health decision for your family? And:
I’ve been on/off gluten for a number of years now. I start to feel less bloat when eating gluten-free, then, even though I stick with the diet, I feel pretty miserable again. Real gut issues, among many other symptoms. Well, it turns out I’m not gluten intolerant, but have a yeast overgrowth. When I go after the yeast and attempt to bring balance to my gut microbiome with antifungals and probiotics, I start feeling better right away. The yeast and a magnesium deficiency might just be the cause of my Fibromyalga. Just something for you to think about? Thank you for your upfront honesty. This can be so confusing and I admire you putting yourself out here.