Getting “Glutened” on Thanksgiving

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This Thanksgiving holiday my family and I got “glutened,” more than once. It was totally my fault. We ate it on purpose and paid the price, but before I get into the details, let me start from the beginning. . .

How Our Gluten-Free Journey Started
I started researching wheat gluten and its affect on your health about 6 years ago. Prior to that, over the years, I had tried a number of health building “diets.” (I prefer to say “eating regimens,” since I was not trying to lose weight, but rather trying to improve my health.) These eating programs included eating more alkaline, using proper food combining, eating for my blood type, reducing yeast-producing foods (Candida Diet), etc. Each had their benefits. I even became a vegetarian for a few years. . . . but that is another story.

However, six years ago, we noticed that our almost 2 year old son, Zach, would have coughing episodes after eating certain foods. It was really noticeable after eating out at Panera Bread. We finally determined that it was the whole-grain baguette that caused the immediate reaction. After doing a little more research and experimenting at home, I determined it was the gluten in several different grains. So, we started cutting gluten out of our son’s diet.

What was even more interesting was Zach’s reaction on the rare occasions that he did have gluten after we removed it from his diet. It was like clockwork: the day after eating gluten he would have a melt down. Invariably, he would have an episode of crying or have a temper tantrum, something that was extremely rare for him. Gluten can do that. It can affect your body 24 hours, 48 hours, and even 8 days after eating it. That is when we went totally gluten-free. At least he did.

I started getting stricter myself. At that point, I had been limiting my breads and grains, since I knew this was a sensitivity my Mom had and I noticed some differences as well. However, one thing I still ate was sprouted wheat bread, because at that time it was thought that a grain that had been sprouted greatly reduced the effects of the grain, including the gluten. (We now know that it not true, at least for the gluten.) I weaned myself off the sprouted bread, but on the occasion that I had a piece, I could tell my body did not like it. It affected my heart rate immediately (I could feel my heart beating faster), and it affected my brain (making it harder to concentrate) for up to 48 hours. So, I decided to totally remove gluten too.

Other Changes Over Time
Over time, after more research and experimenting, in addition to eliminating gluten, we also decided to eliminate the following:

  • Dairy – because many with a gluten sensitivity also have a sensitivity to the casein protein in dairy (we still used grass-fed butter)
  • Soy – because of its similar effect on the body as gluten and because most of it is genetically modified or GMO-contaminated 
  • Corn – because much of it is GMO-contaminated (even some organic corn, especially if packaged)

Fast forward to this summer. . . .Knowing how various foods affected my family, I put all of us on a “gut-healing” meal plan. For 30 days we only ate organic non-starchy vegetables (lots of them), quality fish and meats, quality fats (like grass-fed butter, olive oil, and coconut oil), and limited fruits. There were no sweets, no grains, no dairy, no eggs, no soy, no corn, no nuts/seeds, no night shades or legumes, and no caffeine (or alcohol).

By the end of the fourth week, all three of us were feeling great. Now it was time to start adding the other healthy foods back in. We decided that we would remain gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free, and dairy-free. The rest I added back in every few days, making sure each of us was able to tolerate the new food before the next one was added.

We were doing good. I had planned ahead before starting the gut-healing meal plan and, at this point, had a good system in place. I had good local sources for meat and eggs. I was making all the meals, including lunches for my husband and son. But then we started getting into the holidays. . . 

This Year At Thanksgiving
When we have our typically extended family dinners here in Nashville, it is not unusual for me to bring our own food to supplement what others are providing. On the rare occasion we eat out, we stick to the same limited restaurants where we knew what to order. Birthday parties and Halloween get a little trickier, especially for my son, but while in our home territory it is fairly easy to navigate around our diet restrictions. (If you don’t yet take advantage of the “Switch Witch” at Halloween, you may want to check it out.)

However, this Fall I decided to loosen up a bit. All three of us had been feeling really good. Part of me thought we could work around what was being served at the family dinners. Another part of me was curious to see how eating gluten would affect us. (As a practitioner, I knew better, but as a Mom and someone who loves food, I still wanted to try.) . . . Well, I found out!

When we had an early Thanksgiving here in Nashville I brought a few dishes to pass. We stayed away from the rolls and the turkey dressing (or stuffing as we say up North), but all three of us still had the turkey. We could feel the difference the next day. I knew there was probably gluten in the turkey since most conventional, store-bought turkeys have been injected with hydrating juices that typically contain dextrin and starch, both of which contain gluten. That is why last year I brought our own turkey meat to the family meal. (Look for other sources of hidden gluten here.)

Then we went up North to visit my family and celebrate Thanksgiving there. We always stay with my Dad. He is used to our stricter eating habits and I often bring our staple foods with us so it is easy to stick to our eating regimen. But during this Thanksgiving holiday, we had two extended family dinners and I did not tell anyone that my son and I had been strictly gluten-free and casein-free for five months. (My husband was not as strict the last few months.)

One meal was Thanksgiving and the other meal was Lasagna. On Thanksgiving, one look at the stuffing and it was over for me – it is really hard to resist a childhood favorite! Once I decided to eat that, I did not worry too much about the rest. We also had to have the homemade apple crisp dessert (at least without the ice cream).

Two nights later was the Lasagna dinner. To eliminate the dairy, Zach and I went with the kiddy option of noodles, sauce and meat balls. We could eliminate the dairy, but since we already ate the gluten in the noodles, we decided to have ginger cookies for desert too.

Everything was delicious, of course, and tasted wonderful as it was being eaten. We even took our special gluten-digesting enzyme with each meal, but that was not enough. My son and I felt the affects the next day. He was much more emotional than usual, to the point where he recognized it himself. I, however, felt the affects of it much worse than before. (Since my husband has not been as strict with his food, it was harder for him to see a reaction.)

Recognizing Reactions to Food
What was most interesting to me was that I was able to determine a distinct pattern in myself. Each time, it was about 16 hours after completing the meal: I became extremely tired, so much so that I could barely hold my eyes open and I had a hard time sitting up. I just had to lay down. I have had this feeling before but never directly correlated it to ingesting gluten.

This strong reaction is not uncommon with many of the not-so-healthy foods people eat on a regular basis. When you eat a food that is not good for you over and over, your body remains in a constant state of attack, shock, inflammation, etc. You have become so numb to it; you think that your overall state of health is your normal. It is only when you stop eating or drinking this food, eliminating it for a while, that you can really feel the results of it when you consume it once more. (Check out these other common symptoms of food sensitivities.)

It is my hope that this story helps you to see some correlations between the foods you eat and the way you and your family feels. Your food sensitivity may be gluten and/or dairy (which is not uncommon), other foods such as soy or corn, certain food additives, diet soft drinks, alcohol, etc. Reactions to culprit foods can be different for everyone. It is often closely tied to leaky gut issues. Reactions can be generational too. I know that my mother always felt better when she limited her grains. My son and I, apparently, need to eliminate gluten-type grains in addition to limiting our grains overall.

My wish to you this holiday season is that you are able to enjoy both your food and your families.

Stay healthy during the holidays!

Note: Everyone’s reaction to gluten varies. Check out this previous article for a list of the more common gluten sensitivity symptoms. You will also learn in the article that because my family ate gluten again this Thanksgiving, our bodies reintroduced the gluten-based antibodies, which we will need to work at reducing once again. If you are interested in reducing or eliminating gluten from your life, find out how to get started using baby steps. Look here for gluten-free recipes in my Blog articles (see blog categories) and Healing Foods page and find gluten-free products on the Pantry page.

This article was written by Sharon Harmon, founder of Life Design for Health. She has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website.

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