Last fall, I started testing a gluten free diet on my body.
I was long skeptical of the whole “gluten free” craze because doctors say there’s nothing wrong with gluten unless you have celiac disease. Celiac disease prevents you from properly digesting gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and can give you stomach aches, nausea and other unpleasant symptoms when you eat these items.
But a convergence of events in my life led me to start experimenting with the gluten free diet nonetheless. One was turning vegan. This drove me initially to seek to obtain my calories largely from whole grain breakfast cereal and whole grain pasta.
These items are both jam-packed with gluten. And, though I didn’t initially make the connection, I had a long stretch, while I was eating these foods in large quantities, where I would get paralyzingly tired in the afternoon. I don’t mean an afternoon drowsiness; I mean a crushing, overwhelming fatigue that would actually force me to lay down and nap for up to an hour even after getting a full night’s sleep.
I initially wondered whether I’d always felt that way in the afternoon (we as humans do naturally have a drop in the afternoon in accordance with our “circadian rhythms.” But just as I was starting to doubt I’d ever lived my entire life this way, I came across an article on tennis star Novak Djokovic, who attributed a surge in mental clarity–and a sharp improvement on the tennis court–to going gluten free. I did a little more googling on the gluten free diet, and I found that others complained about just what I was suffering: fatigue and a general feeling of lethargy.
So I gave it a shot, cutting out wheat, barley and rye. (The latter two were tougher to cut than they may seem, as they play a starring role in some of my favorite alcoholic beverages. Wheat was tough because I was likely deriving 70% or more of my daily calories from wheat at the time.)
The change seemed to work–I was feeling better in the afternoons. But that’s a very subjective test–how I feel–and it also resulted from a dramatic shift, from about 70% wheat to 0%. So I wasn’t entirely sure that the gluten free diet was having an impact, and I certainly wasn’t sure I’d do badly on a diet that did include gluten but wasn’t dominated by it.
And my confusion over cause, effect and results was escalated by the fact that I went caffeine-free a exactly the same time. So it could have been the end of coffee as a dominant part of my diet that caused the uplift in afternoon energy as well.
I haven’t written much lately by way of updating my views on the gluten free diet, but I had a recent experience that inspired this post. And I’m more confident now about the role of gluten in my energy levels.
I’ve been more or less a raw vegan now for a couple months. I’ve slipped a lot since I started training for a marathon, because I’m having enormous difficulty getting enough calories every day from truly raw foods. I’ve been supplementing with what I figure is the next best thing: relatively nutritious cooked foods, largely in the form of Chipotle. (Also, I had a couple beers at the Yankees’ game last night; I’m not perfect about it.) But being largely raw, I’ve been having almost zero wheat; I’m unaware of any form of wheat I can consume in its raw form.
So it was a stark dietary change when, the other day, rather than stop by Chipotle to get some calories into my body, I cooked myself a bowl of pasta. I didn’t have a full pound, as I’d often have before going gluten-free, but I had a decent amount. (Probably about 3/4 pound.)
And I felt terrible afterward. The same sort of fatigue snuck back in, and, forgetting why I’d gone gluten free (since it’s never a concern for me on the raw diet), I only made this connection the following day. (So I don’t think it was psychosomatic, though you never know.) So at this point I’m pretty well convinced that my body doesn’t react well to gluten. I’m pretty sure I’m not celiac (I don’t get pains or nausea), but I still don’t do well on the stuff.
Of course, my three beers last night at the Stadium don’t seem to have had any impact on my body, and those are wheat. So you never know. But I did just go home and fall asleep after the game, so maybe I wouldn’t have known if they’d made my paralyzingly fatigued.
Do you ever find yourself extra-tired after a large wheat-based meal?