Thursday, January 12, 2012

Coming Out Of The Culinary Closet

Two months ago I made a decision. When I made that decision it never once crossed my mind that it would upset people. But unfortunately it has. The good news is most people have been very supportive. Thankfully that group includes my closest friends. The bad news is that the majority of the flack I have received has come from members of my own family. Sadly, that would be close family. Had it been fifth cousins seventeen times removed it wouldn't have seemed so bad.

So what is this divisive, controversial decision I have made? Simply this. I have stopped eating wheat. Last fall I heard about Wheat Belly, a new book by Dr. William Davis. This coincided with a nasty flare up of a condition I have called ocular rosacea. Rosacea is an inflammatory condition, and after reading Wheat Belly and discovering wheat can cause inflammation I decided it would be worth giving up this grain for awhile to see if my eye would improve.


In the worst case scenario ocular rosacea can damage the cornea and lead to loss of vision. The standard treatment of this disease, a disease which is not at all well understood, is to put the patient on a very long-term dose of antibiotics. This seems to me to be trading one problem for another. The only way I would ever consider taking antibiotics in this fashion would be if I was in immediate danger of losing my vision. But I was seeing my optometrist regularly and knew that so far my cornea was unaffected. This was good news on two fronts. One, it meant my vision wasn't in imminent danger. Two, it meant I had some time to try to find a safe, alternative way of dealing with the problem.

When I decided to stop eating wheat I never said I was giving it up forever. Not that it should make a difference! I never said anyone else should stop eating it. (Well, except for Alexandra, but that's another story.) I simply informed people about what I was doing, why I was doing it, and suggested that if they wanted a better understanding they could read the book for themselves. It didn't matter to me if they agreed or disagreed with the author. I was coming from the angle of simply wanting them to understand why I was doing what I was doing.

Perhaps it is because I come from a farming family. Maybe there is a special attachment to wheat because of that. But I don't think that's the whole story, because some non-farming family members have had negative reactions as well. What is it that challenges people so much when they hear someone isn't eating wheat? Would they have had the same reaction if I said I was giving up turnips? Rather doubtful.

One mistake I made in the early days was saying I was going gluten-free. To me it just seemed easier for people to wrap their minds around since there is so much press about gluten-free diets right now. But I have not intentionally cut barley and rye from my diet. Rye was already out simply because Alexandra is horribly allergic to it so I never have it in the house. Even breathing in the fumes makes her react. I don't have many things with barley in them, but the few I do I have continued to consume (that would mainly be the Guinness I use in the Jamie Oliver stew, along with a rare wee dram of whiskey).

What I hadn't counted on is the minute someone hears "gluten-free" they automatically think "celiac." Oddly, ocular rosacea doesn't pop into the listener's mind when they hear gluten-free. Their brain gets stuck on the celiac setting and can't seem to move on from there.

So now you know the ugly truth about me. I am currently a non-consumer of wheat. I hope you will continue to read my blog in spite of this shortcoming. I promise not to preach at you about what to eat or not to eat. After all, I am the person who linked to the amazing Nanaimo bar recipe in my last post, a recipe that happens to call for wheat. Which reminds me that not all family members have been Negative Nellies. Rebekah made a wheat-free version of Nanaimo bars for Christmas that was to die for.

And the ocular rosacea? It's gone, except for a small amount of scarring on the lower eyelid which I expect will gradually fade away. So was wheat playing a role? Impossible to say, but as long as I remain rosaea-free I think I will also stick with being wheat-free.


38 comments:

  1. Ah Kristie, I am wholeheartedly behind you, and further offer a cautionary tale ... don't let the gainsayer's grind you down!

    I gave up wheat a few years back in an attempt to eat myself well (I have quite a few health problems), actually I gave up processed sugar too but that's another story. I managed perfectly without wheat, I stopped eating bread altogether and didn't miss it at all once I got used to not eating it, I ate a lot of oats instead, I felt a whole lot better. But it is difficult to manage being 'wheat free' if eating out in restaurants and at friends homes, I was "no fun" to eat with any more they said, and so slowly but surely I let wheat slip back in, and my problems returned ten fold. I am just now giving it up again. So from one who understands ... good luck and be well x

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    1. That is indeed a cautionary tale! It is interesting that when you let wheat back into your diet your problems returned. I hope you are able to regain your health now that you are getting rid of the wheat again. The pressure from others to "just have a little bit, it won't hurt" is very hard to deal with. I know I should probably give up sugar for awhile too, but I just don't have the willpower. Are you going off sugar again as well?

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  2. (Hmmm...Wordpress account doesn't want to let me comment. Let's try my Google identity.)

    Trying to figure out what in your diet is contributing to your health issues can be so frustrating but so interesting and informative, too. I've gone through a lot of that in the last few years of trying to control my migraines (bye-bye, wine and soy). I haven't run into the resistance from others that you have, but I'm familiar with the feeling. Any time you don't do what the majority of the people in the room think is normal, you're in for some trouble, I've found.

    Anyway, as much as I love bread, I'm sure I won't have trouble overlooking the wheat thing so I can continue to read your blog!

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    1. Glad to hear you plan to keep reading my blog in spite of the fact wheat won't be featured here any time soon. :-)

      That is great that you were able to pin down what causes you to have migraines, and also that you haven't been harassed about your choices.

      Blogger just changed the commenting so replies can be made within the comment section. I suspect there are still a few bugs being worked out, which might account for you not being able to use your Wordpress ID to comment. Hopefully it all sorts itself out in the next few days.

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  3. whoa, that's just amazing. my daughter marnie had a collection of terrible (relatively minor but very troubling) health problems, and when she cut out wheat they all went away. i'm so glad the ocular rosacea is gone, that's just great. bread and other wheat products are tasty, but so not worth the potential loss of your vision!

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    1. It is so interesting to hear how many people have had their health issues clear up when they go off wheat. Of course, there is no way I can prove my ocular rosacea cleared up because I quit eating wheat, but for now I am going to assume that is what it was. I am so glad your daughter was able to sort her health issues out!

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  4. I, too, have considered cutting way back on wheat; I think it would be very difficult to cut it out completely considering that both John and I love bread. I know that my daughter is gluten intolerant (we're not going so far as to say celiac) and she feels much better when she avoids wheat. For that reason alone, I'd like to cut back but I have to tell you, I LOVE bread and crackers (with butter please) and baked goods in general but I have noticed that I feel rather bloated any time I indulge in gluten-rich foods (and by that I mean bread more than anything).

    And if it helps me lose a few pounds, even better!

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    1. I thought it would be harder than it is. It has been a surprise to me that I have not really wanted to eat anything with wheat in it. The only thing I have missed is baking with it, but I am now experimenting at cooking with other flours so that helps. I think my next blog post will be abut my latest attempt at a wheat-free dessert.

      I think many people suffer from that bloated feeling you are describing, at least judging by what I have read on the Wheat Belly blog. My daughter-in-law Anita stopped eating wheat about a month ago and she has noticed that bloated feeling has disappeared.

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  5. I'm reading this right after I made cinnamon buns (All white for Anton's work meeting) and cranberry-orange scones (1/3 WW at least).

    I'm trying to cut back on carbs in general, especially after Christmas. While we never ate tons, we eat less pasta, probably because I buy white as Anton isn't a fan of ww; it's mostly a lazy fallback now.

    I'm getting into the habit of cooking more beans and lentils—which you should be proud of since I didn't used to like them much. Beans are actually ok, it's just kidney beans I can do without.

    Oatmeal is another grain we've been having a lot more of for breakfast. Again, sweet oatmeal for breakfast was never a favorite, but Anton got me on eating it with some cheese, egg, sausage/bacon, etc. I like it a lot better savory.

    I still haven't been completely successful at cooking Kasha (Buckwheat) though—too hard once, then mushy when I tried soaking it overnight. Hopefully the third time will be a charm, though I can't say I'm a huge fan of the flavour. Anton told me it's really common in Russia though.

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    1. I find what I miss way more than actually eating things like cinnamon buns and scones is making them. Today I made something out of an alternate flour, and I think it will be the subject of my next blog post. As long as I can find alternative things to bake I should be able to stick with it. Which reminds me - can I get the recipe you used to make the GF Nanaimo bars for Christmas? Not that I need any more Nanaimo bars any time soon! :-)

      Anton is right about having the oatmeal with one of those things. They are all protein items, and when you eat oatmeal with a protein it fills you up. Eaten on its own it will spike your blood sugar like crazy and you will be starving just an hour or so after having it. That is one of the reasons I have my oatmeal with hemp seeds.

      I have zero experience with buckwheat. Let me know if you get it perfected!

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  6. The diet I was on last year had very little wheat or processed sugar. I felt a big change in the way I felt. (Auto immune issues.) I am trying to get back on track, but am not there yet. You have my support!

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    1. I remember your diet from last year - I think you had started it about the same time I found your blog. Thanks for the support!

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  7. Oh glad to hear your eye is doing better. I don't think I'll ever go back to wheat. I feel so much better and a great side effect is no more cravings - I never crave carbs anymore. I do use spelt though for baking. It is a type of wheat I believe but with a more digestible gluten and not genetically modified. I also picked up a barley/quinoa bread from Nature's Fare that I like. Its still hard feeding kids and a carb craving husband, I hope to convert them all though. Rebekah have you tried quinoa for breakfast? Its a great source of protein.

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    1. Thanks Jennifer! That is great that you are doing so well on a wheat-free diet. I was using a lot of spelt before I gave up wheat, and I think in a month or two I will introduce it back into my diet. My understanding about spelt is the same as yours. Apparently the spelt we get now is the same as someone would have eaten a thousand years ago. Do you get the light spelt at Nature's Fare? I really like that one for baking.

      It would be a lot harder if I had young kids, so I don't envy you that. What do you do with your quinoa for breakfast - just eat it plain??

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  8. For health reasons I have had to give up some other foods. The hardest one for people to accept is that I don't drink caffeine (not even decaf) or fruit juices. I'm mostly drinking water. People look at me oddly when I don't eat citrus, and they usually ask why I've cut them out. But caffeine is the big one - it's such a social thing.

    I'm glad your eye is feeling better.

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    1. Maybe you are on to something when you talk about the social aspect. It is much the same with wheat. Whether it is pizza, wedding cake, holiday cookies or a burger, wheat makes an appearance in so many places where our lives intersect with others. Interesting that you have run into much the same response, but around caffeinated drinks.

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  9. How very strange that you should have had such a negative reaction. I have friends who have chosen to cut out things fir health reasons. My friend with endometriosis has cut out gluten and dairy and she longer has evil period pain. I think people can't comprehend if you have health problems the inconvenience of a more limited menu choice while eating out is well worth not having to put extra chemicals in your body or being pain free.

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    1. The strange thing is that all of the negative reaction has come from my own family. Not all of them of course, but the ones who have been negative have been very negative. Stranger still is the fact that one of the negative ones has multiple health problems. Interesting about your friend with endometriosis. I am glad she is better, and I am sure she would say giving up gluten and dairy is a small price to pay for health.

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  10. How interesting! How long were you wheat free before the ocular rosacea resolved? My husband has an autoimmune condition that I've heard may be improved with a gluten free diet. I'm putting this one on my reading list!

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    1. It slowly started to get better over the past month, which means I had been wheat-free for about one month before I noticed a difference. I wasn't expecting it to resolve right away, and have been pleasantly surprised with the results. Of course, like I said in my blog post there is no way to know for sure that giving up the wheat has been what made the difference. If your husband has an autoimmune condition that has even the slightest chance of improving if he gives up gluten it is worth a try!

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  11. Huh... Wonder why people get so up in a bunch about something that doesn't affect them. Gluten free is becoming an incredibly popular way to eat! I'm sure people will get used to the idea. When I switched to a vegetarian diet I had a similar reaction; 10 years later, it's commonplace and accepted by all my family and friends.

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    1. It is a mystery to me too. If I was asking them to make the same choice it would be understandable, but I'm not! Interesting that you had the same reaction when you went vegetarian. How many years did it take before your family and friends accepted the fact you had stopped eating meat?

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  12. There was an excellent article a while back about how if you want to be successful with a diet (or eating regiment) you shouldn't tell anyone you're doing one.

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/14/health/lose-weight-mouth-shut-secret/index.html

    I think you'll identify.

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    1. Thanks for the link to that article. I found this bit especially applicable.

      "Deliberately or not, the family, the friends, the other people who are part of that individual's culture will resist the change," Walz says. "(They) will try to change them back to what the culture tolerates.""

      Her before and after pictures are amazing. It was sad to read the part where she actually lost friends when she lost weight. It just leaves me shaking my head, wondering what the heck is wrong with some people.

      Unfortunately, when you give up eating wheat you are pretty much forced to tell people, at least the people you sound a lot of time with.

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  13. So glad your eye is responding to the diet change, Kristie. That's what matters most. When I went vegetarian in the mid-90s, my family also gave me trouble. When I said I didn't want any turkey at Thanksgiving, you'd have thought I said I worshipped the devil or something! They had no idea why it mattered. Then of course when I began to answer their questions, they quickly changed the subject. I guess hearing about factory farming and animal cruelty at the dinner table is unpleasant (tee hee). Anyway, my vegetarianism only lasted a bit longer than a year. I still try to limit my consumption of animal products, but don't make a big deal of it to other people. It's just easier that way.

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    1. Ha! Yes, telling people you aren't eating the Thanskgiving turkey would definitely push some buttons! :-)

      Not making a big deal of it is a good strategy. I have tried to keep the no wheat thing low-key, but clearly failed.

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  14. I'm surprised by the reaction given how popular a gluten-free diet seems to be lately. I'm especially surprised by the reaction given that you weren't asking your family to accompany your journey...merely understand it. Huh. Glad your eye is getting better!

    I'll try to overlook the gluten-free part of the blog...and remain a reader.

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    1. I almost think the popularity of gluten-free diets has worked against me in a way. I think the people who are negative think I am just jumping on a bandwagon. Which is really odd considering I have never been the kind of person who jumps on bandwagons.

      Thanks for sticking with my now wheat-free blog. I promise not to give up the knitting though, no matter how bad I might find it is for one's health! :-)

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    2. I almost wrote this in my first comment but didn't. I would agree that the popularity has probably worked against you. I have to admit that I raise an eyebrow each new time I hear of someone 'jumping on the bandwagon'. I think that there are many people with legitimate allergies and or issues with certain types of food (I know of a number in my circle). But I also think that as a culture we are maybe taking this a little too far...and at times it feels like just another extreme diet. Your health issue (and those of other commenters)...and the fact that after doing research and removing wheat from your diet made things better...that is something I can stand behind and support. Hearing from news sources that 95% of the population has food allergies, particularly to wheat, dairy, and eggs...I'm not yet convinced that the number is that high. As a culture, we seem to blame so many things on food...forgetting about those other facets of our lifestyles that can cause just as many, if not more, problems.

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  15. First, you need to do what is healthy for you. Secondly, going wheat free, while a pain at the start is not that bad in the long run. Two years ago we discovered that my Husband as a serious wheat intolerance that was causing a lot of medical problems for him including mouth, tongue, lip and throat ulcers, night sweats, (we would have to change the sheets almost every night), headaches, and intestinal issues. Within three days of going wheat free almost everything cleared up and the other issues started to resolve themselves. Two years later, he can now have the occasional sandwich without issues. It becomes the norm very quickly, but the first 3 or 4 months are the hardest. Look for bread made with potato flour, it the best by far.
    Stick with it and I'm going to look far that book.
    PS watch out for hidden wheat. I had no idea how many items use wheat as a filler until I started looking.

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    1. That is great about your husband recovering his health once he went off wheat! I think you would find the book very interesting, especially given that you know your husband has a problem with wheat. And thanks for the tip about the bread, and about looking for wheat in hidden places. I have been a label reader for a long time, but had not been on the lookout for wheat in the past. I am shocked at how many things it has been added to now that I am looking for it!

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  16. Why are people so hung up on wheat? Seriously, if you (and I) aren't eating it more for them! There are many, many good things to eat without it. My sons adore quinoa, and we'd have never tried it if I hadn't been having problems.

    And if you can get it, Udi's bread and other baked goods are by far the best ones, IME. It's even good without toasting it. I don't know if that brand is available in Canada though.

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    1. I wish I had an answer to your question. Nutritionists seem happy if people are having wheat for every one of their grain servings each day. I wonder if they would be as happy if people just ate the same vegetable and the same fruit for all of their servings, day in and day out.

      Quinoa is delicious, but I have had an interesting experience with it, which should be my next blog post, or the one after. Thanks for the tip about the Udi's bread. I don't think we have it here, but it is a good one to know for when I visit my mom.

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  17. I'm glad the ocular rosacea has improved. I'd never heard of it before. It's certainly worth not eating wheat. Are there any potential health problems associated with not eating wheat? I couldn't find any.

    People are funny about food--especially foods they eat themselves. It's like a personal insult to them if you don't eat it too (and like it).

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    1. It is easy to find health problems associated with eating it, but like you I have yet to see a legitimate health problem named if you don't eat it. And yes, people seem to be very attached to their foods. Nice to see you commenting again!

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  18. Sarah at Down by the Sea pointed me towards this post as I suffer from rosacea too. Mine affects my nose, it's really hideous, or at least it was until my ongoing course of laser treatment - here's a link to my first post in case you're interested, and then you can see the other few posts (post treatment) via the label 'rosacea' on my blog

    http://roachling.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/rosy-revelations.html

    I've also suffered occular rosacea, it comes and goes for me, but I know what it's like. My boyfriend is wheat intolerant - not coeliac, just intolerant to wheat and had very unpleasant reactions when he eats it. He cuts out all gluten to be sure as it doesn't take a lot to trigger a reaction in him but it has been hard switching from a 'normal' diet to wheat free and everyone does assume he has coeliac disease. He's been wheat free for three years now and feels so much better for it. I've never thought about cutting it out myself, I'd find it really hard, but I'd be interested to see if my skin improved a bit if I reduced the amount of wheat I ate. It's much easier nowadays as so many people are on wheat free diets there has become market for it so most cafes, restaurants and supermarkets have gluten free menus and options.

    This was very interesting to read and had made me think about wheat and my rosacea, thanks for writing it.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Louise. I am headed over to your blog right now to read what you have written about rosacea!

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  19. i am currently reading What Belly and am stunned by all the things that wheat negatively effects inside the human body. I have rosacea and have tried multiple treatments, all to no avail after spending hundreds of dollars on creams and lotions. I can't believe that not one dermatologist (and I've seen 4 at this point) has explained that rosacea is an inflammatory issue. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Any insight you can offer regarding a wheat-free diet/lifestyle would be helpful. It seems overwhelmingly limited so I'm trying to keep an open mind.

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