Gluten Free: Does it really make a difference?

For years “gluten free” has been a favourite for all health nuts, so much so that it has become somewhat of a controversial joke. Some people say going gluten free is good for you others warn wholeheartedly against it with claims that it can actually damage your health – so who do you believe?

Let me start off by pointing out that I am not a medical professional – in any capacity – nor am I a scientist who has spent years researching this in a lab and I’m not about to get into the debate about what’s right and wrong but what I am is someone who is sensitive to gluten. Now before you tut and brush me off for saying that let me give you a little background into my experiences.

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From the moment I could hold my breath underwater I was a swimmer, I competed in every gala, I trained twice a day for at least two hours at a time and I lived and breathed (mostly metaphorically) water.

As a result I ate a pretty carb heavy diet to keep me going and my go to was pasta – be in spaghetti bolognese, lasagne or a simple bowl of pasta with butter and grated cheese; it was easy and I could cook it myself.

When I was about 9 or 10 (maybe even younger) I started getting tonsillitis a lot – and I’m not exaggerating, I was laid up in bed every few weeks with swollen tonsils, a fever and dizzy spells. Yet every time I went to the doctor and he poked and prodded my throat he would tell me they weren’t inflamed enough to warrant removing them but no one could figure out why I kept getting sick.

Trip after trip we would sit in the waiting room – me with my little cone of water from the drinking fountain, waiting to be taken and weighed and measured, (I was in so often nothing ever changed much) then I’d go back to the waiting room and annoy my mum until my name was called. Trundle, trundle into the doctors office, climb onto his table shaped like an elephant and sit there expectantly waiting for the same routine: check the lungs, the heart, “open your mouth and say ah!”, nasty tasting wooden stick, poke poke, check the ears, “okay get down”. Every time it was the same thing (except that once when it was strep throat instead – what an exciting day that was) and I would talk all the drugs, get all the rest and still a few weeks later I’d be doing a very good impression of a bullfrog once again.

Eventually my mum got fed up, there was only so many times she could listen to the same thing, fight with me to take the same medicine and call the school with the same excuse for my absence. She started looking for someone else to help, to figure out why my illness kept coming back, which is when she met Judy Cole, a kinesiologist, nutritionist and author of the book Body Talks.

I remember the appointment with Judy; sitting on her exam table with my gangly legs hanging over the edge, nervous and not sure what to expect… “what on earth is kinesiology” I remember thinking. She came in and explained that she was going to talk to my body and find out what was wrong – “yeah okay crazy lady”, I didn’t believe a word of it.

She took my arm and told me to hold it out in front of me, just relaxed. Then she asked me a question and lightly pushed on my arm, it dropped a bit. Then she asked another and pushed on my arm, it didn’t move…I looked at her confused and she explained that when my arm dropped it meant yes and when it stayed strong it meant no (or vice versa I can’t remember it was over 10 years ago!). She asked my body about various foods, tomatoes – no, peanut butter – no, bread…my arm dropped into my lap like it had just given up. Same thing with pasta, cake, anything with gluten.

There lies the problem.

I sat on the table looking panicked as Judy explained to my mum that I’d have to cut out this, that and the other, oh, and more importantly than anything else, no more gluten, I was intolerant to it and I had to do it for at least 6 months. I couldn’t believe it, what was I going to eat?!

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In the early 2000s gluten free was not “a thing” in Dubai, it was barely “a thing” in the rest of the world and there was just one place that had gluten free(ish) bread and that was Park ‘n’ Shop. The bakery there had started making spelt bread and while spelt flour still has gluten in it, it is a lot more friendly on the stomach for those with gluten sensitivity (well some of us anyway). So I started cutting out gluten and I quickly ran into two problems:

  1. EVERYTHING has gluten in it. Everything. Do you know how boring my school lunch box became?!
  2. The spelt bread…yeah, it tasted like cardboard. The bakery had yet to perfect the recipe and while you wouldn’t tell the difference now, back then a box was more appetising.

So I powered through, I hated everyone for a long while because I was the only person I knew who couldn’t eat this weird gluten stuff and it was really hard.

Cut to six months later and we were in Thailand; I was counting the days until I could eat pasta again, and the day came, I had some noodles and I was okay. More importantly than my plate of pad thai though was the fact that in those six months I had not been sick, my tonsils stayed their normal size and I went to school like a normal child because I had starved the virus that was living in my body, feeding off the gluten, and to this day (touch wood) I have never had tonsillitis again.

Now, after my six months of strict gluten freeness I threw in the towel. Nothing was going to stand between me and my mums mac and cheese. My intolerance was gone and I was free to eat what I liked…YOLO and all that.

Cut to years later, enter an auto immune disease and a whole lot of pain…oh yeah, and the resurfacing of that pesky gluten sensitivity. I’d over done it and my body was pissed, every time I ate a bread rolls it made me feel ill, every bowl of pasta made me bloat – but did it stop me…hell no.

Yes, I’m an idiot, I know.

It took a few years for me to find out I had psoriasis and then a little while more before I found out that gluten is one of the biggest aggravators. So I tried cutting out the gluten again, and I tried going paleo and I tried incorporating ayurvedic principals and I got overwhelmed with all the restrictions and the knowledge – I suddenly knew too much about the food I should or should not be eating and I freaked. I didn’t want to cook, I lost my appetite, I just could not be bothered – but through all of this my head was better, less itchy, less flakey, less general pain…but was it all a placebo effect? Did I just think it was better because I had been told that by cutting out gluten things would get better…

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About a month ago now I decided to just stop trying to keep up with all the rules and restrictions in an effort to find my passion for food again, I missed being in the kitchen but at the same time I had no desire to try cooking anything. I decided to go back to the simple things, the food I ate as a kid, easy dinners that were nutritious but not complicated.

In those three weeks I cooked my first complete roast dinner on my own, I made spaghetti bolognese, tarragon chicken, I packed myself lunch boxes of grapes, cheese cubes, carrot stick, hummus and sandwiches and for breakfast I had cereal, yoghurt and porridge…old school.

I ate what I wanted when I wanted and I quickly got my appetite back, I found that I was less hungry and had less of a desire to snack between meals because I wasn’t fixated on what I couldn’t eat.

Sounds good right? Wrong.

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For the last two or so years my psoriasis has been bearable because of my on off attempts to eat properly and other things that I’ve been doing but since I started eating what I wanted I have had the most unbearable flare which started a few days into it. My scalp has been on fire, so much so that it hurts to brush it, my eyes had been sore and dry and I’ve been struggling more than normal to see properly, my brain fog has been absolutely ridiculous and my joint pain is back to being crippling at times.

It has made me realise that there is merit in going gluten free if it is what works for you – just like anything else – and I’ll be going back to limiting my gluten consumption because being in this much pain is not worth being able to eat what ever I want.


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44 comments

    • Thank you for taking the time to read it 🙂 It’s always good to listen to your body, which is why I totally agree with you that something doesn’t make you feel great or you feel better without it, avoid it, intolerance or not 😀

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  1. For some it is a real issue. For some it is the in thing. I have friends who were sensitive to gluten. Now they eat it no problems.

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    • With an intolerance you can get rid of it by avoiding that food for a while – which is why after I went of gluten the first time six months later I was fine eating it again.

      Intolerances normally develop when we eat too much of one thing – ie. gluten which is in most processed foods as well as the copious amounts of bread and pasta we all tend to eat, which is why so many people have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

      It is only people with things like celiac disease who can’t tolerate it and people with auto immune diseases who should avoid it, intolerance or not.

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  2. I try not to limit my diet too strictly, because then the cravings are crazy, but I totally believe in eating what makes you feel good ans stay away from foods that make you sick…for me gluten does make me feel a bit icky, so I limit as much as I can

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    • That is exactly how I feel, when you put restrictions on yourself it makes eating such a chore! Always listen to your body and if something doesn’t make you feel good, get rid of it.

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  3. I appreciate you sharing your story. That must have been tough, needing to avoid gluten as a child before it was trendy. As a mom, I want to be aware of how my children’s bodies are affected by the food they eat, so I really am thankful for your insights!

    Hope you’re feeling better soon!

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  4. experiential learning can be painful but it doesn’t lie. i’m gluten sensitive too and it drives me nuts to have to explain to people it’s not a diet, but i don’t care to eat things that make me sick. cheers to your health!

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    • Too right! I’ve just given up trying to explain it because I’m sick of the backlash and people telling me gluten intolerance or sensitivity is a myth, I just shrug it off and carry on my day.

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  5. Wow, what a struggle! I’ve heard so many stories of random health issues and it all relates to a gluten intolerance. It still blows my mind that food can cause such pain. Thank you for sharing!!

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    • It’s more than just gluten, a lot of foods we eat cause a number of health problems for people, namely soy and dairy along with gluten…but on the flip side food also makes a wonderful medicine and I wish more people realised that if bad food can make you so sick then good food can make you so much better!

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  6. Thanks for sharing! While we don’t have gluten sensitivities (so far in our household), our daughter is allergic to dairy and soy. Just the smallest amount and hidden forms of it can cause her to have a reaction. It surely is a pain but for the health of our daughter, we do what needs to be done.

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  7. argh, i was hoping you were gonna say eat all the things – i definitely think i do have a gluten problem, although I have never been tested. I have over the years noticed certain foods do horrible things to my body. I think there will come a time in my future that I will have to actually do something about it. At least this post has made me realise I am not the only one trying to ignore it.

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    • Haha I wish I could say eat all the things! It’s always best to listen to your body, tested or not you know how you feel and at a point you just have to ask yourself is it worth feeling crappy or is it easier to struggle a bit until you get into the habit of avoiding certain things…it’s isn’t taking that step that is so damn hard!

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  8. Goodness, I get the struggle with food! I’ve been going through giving up gluten as well as dairy, because my brain fog has been off the charts. And as soon as I think I’ve got something figured out, I get a flare up again. Good luck sorting everything!

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  9. Thanks for sharing your story. I have psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis as well. I have been gluten free for 5+ years and haven’t had a bad flare up since I gave up gluten. As you know psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder, like celiac disease. As a nutrition student, I have learned that, for the most part, autoimmune disorders are basically the same disorder, a malfunctioning immune system. The different “diseases” are just the immune system affecting different parts of the body. In the case of psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis, it’s the skin and joints. For celiac, the digestive system. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story. BTW, I found you on “grow your blog” facebook group. Have a great weekend. 🙂

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    • Auto immune diseases are everywhere, they suck so much but so many people suffer unnecessarily when they could do themselves the world of good by just changing their diet! I can only imagine how tough it must be as a nutrition student trying to get people to see food as medicine when we’re so programmed to just eat what the tv tells us too! Thanks for your comment it’s always great to know other people are following the same train of thought as me.

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      • I know what you mean, since getting rid of tonsillitis I’ve always known the power of food as medicine but I’ve never truly appreciated it until my mum got very sick and had to go on a number of meds that made her sicker in other ways – she stopped taking them all and two years later she’s still off them and doing so much better just because of what she eats. I now have such a deep appreciation of the value of natural food!

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  10. Oh boy can I relate. My blog is about this exact thing and more. I deal with not only many allergies and autoimmune illnesses but also a mystery illness! Fun… NOT. I understand completely. You may find some of the products I mention on my blog and some of the recipes helpful to you. The soup is filled with veggies and beef and chicken and great on a rainy or snowy day. I hope this helps you or others! Stay positive, look at the pros. 🙂

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    • I’ll definitely have a look! I know all about the great mystery illnesses – they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my mum for ages, nearly killed her in the process (turns out it was a rare form of Graves). It’s not fun! We don’t get much rain or snow here but I can always turn the AC down really low and pretend so I can enjoy a lovely soup!

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  11. My friend’s Mum was diagnosed with celiac disease (i.e. an allergy to gluten) way before it was fashionable or even well-known. She came up in big weals on her body. There was no doubt it caused her harm. There is gluten in everything now and that is not a good thing – plus the way modern wheat varieties are grown produces gluten in a different (more concentrated) way. The problem is that this is seen as a ‘health issue’ for all now. A previous comment says about avoiding gluten to ‘stay safe’. I think your honesty about gluten and the effect it has on you and your eating habits is incredibly candid and helpful. I really hope you find a way to balance your psoriasis and enjoying your food to the full.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Sally 🙂

      It is scary how much stuff you find gluten in now – how many different names it’s hidden under too! I don’t believe everyone should avoid gluten or that it’s this awful devil food, like I’ve seen a lot of people preaching, but it does make many people feel a bit iffy because of the changes in the way the gluten is produced as you mentioned. I always think you should just listen to your body because everyone is different – if you feel better not eating it then don’t, it’s simple really which is exactly what eating should be!

      It’s tough fighting against the stigma of being gluten free because it’s cool, I’m sure your friends mum felt the same when it suddenly did become “a thing”. While there’s lots more available for you, you also end up having daily arguments with people who think they know better. But I suppose we just have to get on with things and brush it off!

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  12. This is my take on it: for most peiple gluten isnt going to effect them, but for peiple who actually are gluten intolerant, they truly do need the help. Thats kind of why its become a joke, because a lot of people aren’t gluten intolerant, just pretending. It really hurts the cause of people who really are.

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    • You said it! Everyone I know who is actually gluten sensitive hates telling anyone they are because it always turns into a nutrition lecture. I suppose it’s a bit like being vegan and getting stick from people for that. If people who can eat it choose not to that’s fine but they really shouldn’t pretend they are doing it because they’re intolerant, just say you don’t want to eat it.

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  13. Isn’t it crazy just how much food can effect us? Your right, there certainly is a lot of hype about being gluten-free .. but for some people it really is better! The good new too is there are so many great products out there now .. that it doesn’t feel like you have to miss out

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  14. Thank you – this is very interesting. I hate being gluten intollerant – it makes life so complicated. I can’t really even go out to restaurants anymore and eating in other people’s houses is a nightmare. If I inadvertently eat some, I end up with incredible stomach and joint pain for a week. I hardly ever talk about it because since it’s become a ‘thing’, I sometimes worry that it sollicits a certain amount of eye-rolling…

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  15. A lot of people sneer when you mention food intolerance of any kind dismissing it as “all in your head”. This is very unfair and as a person with a real sensitivity to gluten I can assure you that its a real and valid problem. I can eat it once in a blue moon but if I continue I’m buckled over with horrific stomach cramps.

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    • I am totally on the same page! Some people need to get over themselves and leave people be. I’d rather not be made to feel like a weirdo just because I can’t eat something

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  16. After dealing with arthritis of both hands and absolutely nothing positive on the blood panel,and been put on methotrexate weekly by a rheumatologist I did my food intolerance,and kind of deciphered myself that gluten dairy and nut intolerance could ve caused repeated trigger finger anda arthritis.
    I ‘ve stopped Methotrexate (myself,my rheumat dint agree much) with complete exclusion of gluten dairy and nut.
    Finger crossed ,I m feeling almost normal and hoping to continue feeling hood woth this dietary exclusion.
    I m so surprised that not many orthopedics,rheumatologist and physician are are much aware about the havoc gluten can cause.

    Like

  17. After dealing with arthritis of both hands and absolutely nothing positive on the blood panel,and been put on methotrexate weekly by a rheumatologist I did my food intolerance,and kind of deciphered myself that gluten dairy and nut intolerance could ve caused repeated trigger finger anda arthritis.
    I ‘ve stopped Methotrexate (myself,my rheumat dint agree much) with complete exclusion of gluten dairy and nut.
    Finger crossed ,I m feeling almost normal and hoping to continue feeling good with this dietary exclusion.
    I m so surprised that not many orthopedics,rheumatologist and physician are are much aware about the havoc gluten can cause.

    Like

  18. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with having an intolerance to gluten. It is comforting to know that I am not the only one feeling this way and that there is positivity to come from this. I have been advised by my GP to cut out gluten and see if I have any improvements in my symptoms, my tests for coeliac disease came back clear. For the last 3 weeks I have been gluten free and I have been struggling with not being able to eat what I want to eat like I have been able to do for the last 22 years of my life. I have seen a big improvement in my symptoms, I have also noticed that when I do decide to eat something containing gluten the symptoms reappear. I have been considering just carrying on to eat gluten and ignoring the symptoms, I had never thought of it harming my body in the way you describe. Thank you for explaining it in this way!

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