Most of us are aware that the food we eat has implications for our mood. Chocolate gives us a small temporary high, for example. But how many of us know that gluten can cause depression and anxiety? Even Celiacs are unaware of the effects of this stuff on their brain. It is a digestive issue isn’t it? Well no. Actually. In fact, more of us could be suffering from a gluten sensitivity mood disorder than digestive disorder.
A report by Celiac Central showed that patients who struggled with gluten-caused mood issues such as anxiety and depression only had digestive system symptoms 13 percent of the time. Which means that many people could have a mood disorder as a result of gluten sensitivity without knowing it because they don’t have digestive system issues associated with the disease.
One year ago, I was anxious, cranky and extremely intolerant. The tiniest little transgression by my two boys would bring on my intense frustration. It wasn’t just a case of being in a bad mood, like stubbing your toe bad mood. My diet was negatively colouring my perception; a small communication problem suddenly turned into a massive deal-breaker. I was seeing major problems in my life where there was only actually a minor irritation. My moods were a rollercoaster that took me from high to low in a matter of seconds and which slowed, I eventually realised, only after a period of not eating sugar. That gave me the clue that my moods were very dependent upon the food I ate.
A paper submitted by The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 diseases caused or exacerbated by eating gluten, which include depression and anxiety. My disturbance of mood it seemed, was possibly an indicator of a gluten sensitivity. Gluten inhibits production of serotonin. Wheat in particular has been associated with psychiatric problems, due to an army of brain-disruptive opioid peptides, and wheat germ lectin (WGA), which is thought to be toxic to the brain. Wheat also affects our blood sugar levels which, in turn effect our hormones. I decided that enough was enough, I’d had it with wheat.
After one very tough and miserable week of no wheat; no bread, no pasta PASTA?!?, pastry, biscuits or cakes, (man, it was tough!) I felt as though a black fog was lifting. I was calmer, more tolerant and so much more positive about life. I had a long way yet to go, but already I realised that the majority of my mood problems had all been food related. It got easier and my improved mood spurred me on. It’s been 5 months now and I no longer get the urge to eat wheat.
I still can’t be sure whether it was the lack of gluten or the steadying blood sugar levels that improved my mood. What I can be sure of is that avoiding wheat got easier, I learned to enjoy substitutes. I lost my muffin top, my moods stabilised and I had more mental and physical energy than I knew what to do with. And on the odd occasion when I succumbed to the siren call of a piece of toast, I immediately felt bloated, irritable and short-tempered.
I won’t lie, it was hard work but by reminding myself of the changes I wanted to make to my mood – to be calm and patient and not influenced by my fluctuating hormones, (a result of the wheat on my blood sugar levels) I stayed strong. Here are my 5 tips for anyone thinking of doing it:
Start slowly – try reducing intake of wheat one meal at a time. So rather than eating bread or pasta with breakfast, lunch and dinner, try limiting it to breakfast and dinner for a few days, then go down to one meal a day before cutting it out altogether.
Eat plenty of protein – protein helps us to feel full so we’re less likely to want to fill up on the empty calories that bread provides. Go for a plate of scrambled eggs first thing in the morning, for example, or try porridge with raisins.
Choose good substitute carb products – I eat a lot of oatcakes which don’t contain wheat or gluten but are still very filling. They are delicious with Cashew nut butter or hummus. There is also a good range of pasta taste-a-likes on the market these days too with spaghetti and noodles made from rice flour. With a delicious tomato sauce, it really is very difficult to notice the difference. Rice is a good substitute too and means you don’t have to miss out on takeaway food, although avoid the soy sauce because that contains both wheat and sugar!
Don’t weaken – treat wheat as though you absolutely CANNOT eat it for health reasons, and it’ll be a lot easier to avoid without the painful deliberation our brains go through when trying to avoid a certain food.
Be creative – learn about the foods that you CAN eat on a wheat free diet and create some new recipes. There are hundreds of books or websites with wheat free recipes so do some research, be inventive. It can be quite fun to cook with restricted ingredients.
Since they were born I’ve been conscious of the health of my children. I limit their sugar intake; they eat vegetables every day, and get plenty of fresh air and exercise. But as they get older I worry that I’m not doing enough, but then how far do we take it? With such conflicting advice afloat in the media stratosphere, how do we know what is best for our children?
It is our job as parents to instil habits that will serve them well in their lives. I want my children to grow up eating foods that will enable their young bodies grow strong and healthy, so they are not debilitated by health issues and so that they have the energy to find fulfilment in their lives, no matter what that means.
I want my children to be happy and I genuinely believe that happiness starts with healthiness. I didn’t always believe this. In the past when my body worked fairly well regardless of what crap I put into it, I couldn’t give a stuff, I assumed it would always work that way and those people who were turning to healthy eating, obviously didn’t have enough excitement in their lives. Since I hit my forties, things have changed. Every day my body aches a little more, sags a little more and responds more significantly to what I put inside it. I have been gaining weight, although my intake of fattening foods has never really changed, it is just that my body is no longer as amenable as it once was.
I needed to make a change but changes are hard to sustain, as we all know. So it had to be a change that I would incorporate into my life, as a permanent thing, but more than that I wanted it to be something I enjoyed. I didn’t want to count calories and agonise over everything I put into my mouth, I wanted to enjoy eating the foods I love, and as much of it as I wanted, but also to know that what I was eating was having a beneficial effect on my body. Mostly I wanted to show my boys that eating healthily is not a prison sentence, that just because it can be a challenge sometimes when you’re caught out with no real food and only McDonalds for as far as the eye can see, that it doesn’t mean that all the enjoyment has gone from life. I want them to see that I enjoy the food I eat, not that I yearn to eat food that, according to my diet, I cannot have. This above all else is not sustainable. Because there will come a time when my resolve will weaken and this form of denial eating will get the better of me and I will end up gorging on all the crap that I’ve been denying myself for weeks. These kinds of diets don’t work; regardless of the steely resolve we have initially to make it so.
I want to show my children that I care about what goes in my mouth but I also want them to see that I take pleasure in the food that I eat, that healthy is not boring, plain, tasteless, so that they can take my example into their adult lives and live in their bodies as they were meant to.
I’d got to a stage where I was foggy, groggy, lethargic and ratty, no it wasn’t PMT, these are all symptoms of the effects of wheat consumption, and there are many more besides. The absolute havoc that the wheat protein gluten plays with our health, so much so that it is said to be instrumental in causing ailments such as diabetes, type 1 and 2, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and many more, you’d think that we’d avoid it like the plague. So much conflicting advice, much of it funded in one way or another by the wheat industry, has confused us all.
I’ve been a wheat eater my whole life, bread, cakes, biscuits, cereal, more bread and a little bit of toast in there too. Whole grains are part of a healthy diet or so we are led to believe, but did you know that wheat, and not just the soft, glistening fluffy white stuff, increases blood sugar as much as table sugar?
Wheat has been the main ingredient of my diet since my mother weaned me off the boob all those many years ago. It was my breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening snack (which was called supper in our house and was usually bread and jam).
That’s why it was so hard for me to give it up. I struggled at first, before I really knew why I was doing it. Back then I’d read snippets of information that wheat was not particularly good for you. Health experts in UK and in the US advocated very strongly that if we give up wheat we’ll be so much the healthier for it. So I tried it. It didn’t go well.
I decided that the first step was to try to replace wheat with oats and rye. These still both contain gluten, the damaging protein in wheat but not in nearly the same quantities. Rye bread was foul, like eating the odour eaters of a 30-stone soap dodger. Oat cakes weren’t too bad, if spread liberally with hummus or cashew butter. They don’t, by any means, taste as good as hot buttered toast and marmite.
The cakes and biscuits were a bit easier to cut down on. I just needed to get used to not stuffing custard crèmes down my throat at every opportunity. Pasta was tricky as my boys love it and we have it at least twice a week in our house. Avoiding breakfast cereals was a doddle as I didn’t eat them anyway and I limit them to weekends only for my sons, because of the sugar content.
So, bread and toast were my weakness, my kryptonite, and the more I resolved not to have it, the more I wanted it. It was almost physically painful. So in a fit of rage at the injustice of denying myself something I so loved, I surrendered and went back to bread and marmite in the mornings. The guilt hit me like a tonne of house bricks. Then I read a book. It was called Wheat Belly.
My (pathetic excuse for) resolve strengthened with every word I read, especially when the author, Dr Davis explained about how modern day wheat affects our insulin levels and how this helps us to retain fat, and so I decided to quit again. For the first couple of weeks it was difficult but the words in the book echoed around my head whenever the smell of hot buttered toast threatened to tempt me with its evil ways. I’ve now been steadily reducing wheat in my diet for about 6 weeks. The changes are astounding, truly. I’ve lost weight, not loads but slowly, steadily looking and feeling trimmer. I no longer have fuzzy brain, no longer need a nap after lunch and have more energy that I know what to do with.