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Celiac Disease, Gluten, and Diet

How to Talk About Being Wheat-Free

Having conversations about your new wheat-free diet can become one of the most rewarding and frustrating aspects of your change experience. Some people will ask you legitimate scientific questions, while others will ask condescending questions and mock your answers.

The types of questions most often heard typically refer to the effects wheat has on your health. The trick is to answer them in layperson's terms as much as possible; if you get too scientific about blood sugar and insulin, inflammation, and so on, the listener starts to glaze over.

Basically, the argument is for eating unprocessed whole foods such as meats, fish, chicken, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. The greatest challenge is using this information.

It never pays to be pushy. Knowledge is power; the more you know, the more easily you can correct inaccurate beliefs. But overloading people with information or giving the appearance of force-feeding them the anti-wheat ideal will only turn them off. Be gentle in your answers.

There are common questions and statements you're likely to hear when someone finds out you live a wheat-free lifestyle. You follow each one with information you can use to satisfy other people's curiosity.

“Where do you get your fiber, vitamins, and minerals?”

You actually get significantly more fiber, vitamins, and minerals from fruits and vegetables than from wheat. Insoluble fiber's only real purpose is to spread out the benefits of the fermentable soluble fiber and move along the digestion process.

Of course, this “advantage” comes with wheat's harmful effects. Whole wheat's vitamin and mineral content is a bit misleading anyway; several minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium are blocked from absorption. This malabsorption can lead to nutrient deficiencies and a whole list of other problems.

“What about healthy whole grains in the USDA food pyramid?”

The USDA Food Guide Pyramid, which was drawn up in 1992, suggested that Americans eat 6 to 11 servings per day from the grain group. The pyramid setup has since been abandoned in favor of the MyPlate model unveiled in 2011. However, one-quarter of the plate is still set aside for grains, breads, cereals, and pasta.

MyPlate still places the focus on eating grains. In a perfect world, grains would disappear from the MyPlate recommendations much like sugar has. Healthy fats would have a significant presence — at least 50 percent of the calories consumed — with protein, fruits, vegetables, and dairy filling out the rest of the plate. The fruit section would be much smaller than the current model.

“You must have a problem with wheat. I don't.”

Most experts agree that wheat gluten affects everyone; it just depends to what degree. For some people, the slightest amount of wheat can lead to an extremely dangerous situation; others simply experience a low-grade allergy that they blame on something in the air. Most people probably fall somewhere between those two extremes.

Many people don't realize they have a problem with wheat because they've never seen how their bodies behave without it. Take the example of someone who doesn't believe he has a vision problem until he gets glasses and realizes how much better he can see.

When symptoms occur after weeks, months, or even years of a particular behavior, it's very easy to blame the symptoms on some other cause. This tendency makes identifying the problem very difficult. You could suggest to someone who is curious that they remove wheat and grains from their diets for a period of time to see what changes they notice.

“I think everything in moderation.”

When people play the “everything in moderation” card, what they're really saying is, “I can't give up wheat.” or “I'd rather not debate you on the problems associated with eating wheat.” They're trying to end the conversation as politely as they can because they feel they're comfortable with their current lifestyle.

Your best bet is to simply change the subject and make your wheat-free case by letting your actions and improved health speak for you.

“Moderation” is often an attempt to rationalize behavior by flirting with disaster. After all, when was the last time you had only one potato chip or cookie? The term moderation itself is relative anyway. What one person considers moderate may seem excessive to another and minimal to a third.

“All of my favorite foods are loaded with wheat. I couldn't give them up.”

This comment is a cousin to the standby “Eating wheat-free/grain-free is too restrictive.” At first, most people struggle with the idea of giving up delicious wheat-filled treats. To some, it's an insurmountable task because of wheat's addictive qualities. The reason they believe they can't stop eating those foods is because they continue to eat them. The more they eat them, the more they want them.

In reality, eating wheat-free is liberating. When you eliminate wheat from your diet, you don't crave it anymore. You develop a taste for other healthy, wheat-free foods. Plenty of tasty and healthy wheat-free foods are out there that you've probably never experienced. You also notice an increase in energy, a loss of bloating and gastric distress, a feeling of satiation, and possible weight loss.

“I've been wheat-free for a while, and I haven't lost any weight to speak of.”

When you eat naturally wheat-free food, you diminish the fat storing effects of elevated blood sugar. By decreasing your carbohydrate intake, you keep your insulin production low, and your body burns fat as your primary fuel source. This shift usually leads to weight loss. However, the degree to which you metabolize carbohydrates directly affects how much weight you lose.

If you're not losing the amount of weight you want, a couple of possibilities exist:

  • You may be eating foods with hidden wheat and sugar. Everybody metabolizes carbohydrates differently, such that some can lose weight by just reducing their carbohydrate intake, whereas others must eliminate carbs altogether to see the changes they're looking for.

  • In your effort to cut wheat and sugar, you may have upped your protein intake rather than your fat intake. For many, the word fat still leads to images of clogged arteries, so they shy away from it and load up on protein instead. But too much protein leads to glucose production, which creates a similar blood sugar response to that of a high-wheat/high-sugar diet.

If you try these approaches and you still don't see the scale change, fear not; it doesn't mean that your efforts are for naught. Weight loss isn't the only advantage to living wheat-free. The “unseen” benefits are well documented.

Your inflammation levels improve, you reduce your joint pain and allergies, and much, much more. Most of these benefits are difficult to specifically identify without a blood test, elimination diet, or allergy test, but using these markers will only confirm your improved feeling of well-being.

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