Glutton for Gluten

GremlinI wish I could say that I made it through Thanksgiving unscathed, but I didn’t. What I can say, however, is that I made it out the other side better off than in years past, and I’m pretty happy about that. Here’s how it went down…

We had company basically from the Friday before Thanksgiving until the Friday after Thanksgiving, except for one night in the middle. They were all wonderful visits with dear friends and much of the time slightly indulgent, but still paleo, foods were on the menu. There were a few cocktails, there was some cheese, and there were some treats made from good, whole ingredients. But somewhere along the way, or more precisely, the day after Thanksgiving, I gave in to my desire to have good old-fashioned-totally unhealthy-oh my gosh-what am I eating??-dessert for breakfast. There was gluten and sugar and a few crazy ingredients in it and my brain did backflips.

Unfortunately, I am not far enough removed from eating things like this and my brain grabbed hold and went a little crazy. The brain is an amazing thing and I believe the food industry has done a phenomenal job of creating things that tap into the reward center in our brains and compel them to do certain things. I’m not using this as a cop-out. I also believe that it is wholly my responsibility to make healthy choices for my mind and my body, regardless of scientific, societal, or other pressures. I’m a big girl, I can handle it, but for some people (and I believe I am one of those people), the call is very strong.

One of the cool things about this experiment is I got to see quite clearly what happens when I eat gluten and sugar. It’s not the worst – some people run immediately to the bathroom or suffer from extreme stomachaches or worse – but I did have some clear signs.

  • A slight but noticeable headache begins within minutes of consuming sugar. It happens with either straight sugar or high-sugar alcohol (like liqueur). I think I will also notice it with natural sugar like honey or maple syrup but didn’t test it.
  • When I eat gluten, as in a slice of bread or graham cracker crust, I immediately lose all recognition of satiety. This is the scariest of the psychological responses for me – I have NO idea that I am full. The desire for MORE is completely overwhelming. The drive to overeat becomes extremely persistent. I start looking through the fridge or pantry for things that are outside my normal, desirable eating patterns. I want snacks while I’m making the next meal. I simply can not wait.
  • The day after gluten, my eyes are puffy and I have deep, dark circles. I can’t say that I noticed the lack of circles when I was doing my Whole 30, but I plan to pay attention next time. What I can say is that when I woke up, I couldn’t find my eyes and that hadn’t been happening.
  • Even after returning to my healthy, energizing whole foods, I am hungry all the time for a day or two afterwards and have to use will power to break the cycle.

I am grateful for what I learned, but I’m also sad. Sad that despite knowing how fantastic I feel when I eat right, the pull to eat things that are not good for me continues to be so strong. Sad that I eat so many different delicious things every day but still feel compelled to revert to old habits.

Here’s the bottom line, though. Last year after my Whole 30 and a paleo Thanksgiving, I got completely derailed and spent months trying to get back on track. During that time, I kept wanting my old favorites – a cocktail, some cheese, baked goods and treats, any social event to use as an excuse to overeat. This year I had a few days that were less than perfect, but I am craving something different this time – I am honestly craving whole foods and bubbly water. I’ll take that!