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5 Reasons Gluten-Free Isn't Working for You - The Maverick Mama

A Breakup Letter to Gluten

{cue “End Of the Road” softly playing in the background}

Dearest Gluten,

You’ve been on my mind lately. We had a good run, didn’t we? Sumptuously sinful wontons and ramen in Chinatown. Crusty baguettes and Brie on the French Riviera. Fresh handmade orrecchiette in the heart of Puglia. We had it all, once. But despite our sensuous 32-year love affair, I had to call it quits because, well…you were hurting me. In ways I didn’t even understand yet. Letting go of you was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Do you miss me too?

Why is it then, gluten, did I not feel better after cutting you out of my life? Why did I still battle sinus infections and wake each morning looking like an extra from The Walking Dead? Stories of miraculous recoveries made by your other exes were so inspiring and yet, that story had still not become my own. Where did I go wrong?


Endless love/hate,
Little Lea Lost

Does this story sound familiar to you?

If it does, and you’re tired of spinning your wheels trying to recover from a lifetime of gluten, this article is SO you. It took me many months, endless hours of research and a few talk-me-off-this-ledge interventions. I just got so tired of asking myself…

Why Isn't GF Working - The Maverick Mama

I feel your pain, friend. I have been there. And I’m here to help you get off the health hamster wheel of health and on the right track to wellness with these 5 reasons why gluten-free isn’t working for you alone when you’re diagnosed with Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, thyroid or other autoimmune issue.

Reason #1: You’re replacing gluten products with processed grain-based substitutes

This is by far the biggest mistake I myself and every newly diagnosed person I know made when starting on the road to gluten recovery. As someone whose personal theme song once was “If Noodling is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right”, I had a really hard time coming to terms with the idea of breaking up with my favorite foods for life. Wheat products like cereal, bread and pizza have become in-”grained” in our DNA (gluten humor!).

Luckily for us (cough cough sarcasm) the food industry has met our plight with gusto by producing thousands gluten-free products. The ever-expanding gluten-free aisles in our supermarkets and health food stores are packed to the hilt with cookies, cake, and chips that hope to fill the gluten-y void in our hearts. Last year, the gluten-free food industry raked in an estimated $10.5 billion and is expected to grow another 30% in the next two years!

Gluten-Free Aisle - 5 Reasons Gluten-Free Isn't Working - The Maverick Mama

{Soapbox alert!} To me, this is a perfect example how our society completely misses the mark on what removing gluten is supposed to help us accomplish, which is to get healthy. The problem with these products is that they often contain a host of unsavory fillers, emulsifiers, preservatives and sweeteners that are designed to mimic the taste and texture of gluten. Unfortunately many of these ingredients, such as GMO corn flour, soy lecithin, canola oil and sodium aluminum phosphate are not exactly healthy themselves!

I realize now that I was so attached to the idea of the textures and tastes of my Achilles’ heel foods (noodles of every kind) that I desperately scrambled to substitute with gluten-free simulations that would fill the void. But somehow eating these things always felt wrong, and every day I felt the same: like poop. Just because a gluten-free cookie doesn’t contain wheat, it may still contain a full day’s worth of refined sugar. Try to remember my gluten-free math equation:

My solution? Just say Gluti-NO to gluten-free fakers and focus on unprocessed, naturally sans-gluten whole foods like vegetables, fruits, meat and fish instead. These are the nutrient-dense power foods will allow your poor, damaged digestive system to actually heal.

Reason #2: Believing gluten is your only problem

Following on the heels of Reason #1, nearly all of the gluten-free replacement foods we buy are made with other grains, namely rice, corn, quinoa and other pseudo-grains. However, the regulation on the label “gluten-free” can be a bit misleading: under FDA approval, food with levels of gluten up to 20 parts per million (PPM) can be labeled “gluten-free”. This means there could be potential cross-contamination with wheat products if the food is processed on the same equipment; oats are a particular offender. Reports of gluten-free mislabeling found in cross-contaminated chicken nuggets in 2008 shook the confidence of the entire Celiac community in GF pre-packaged goods.

Plus, there is growing research around a condition called Leaky Gut, where the cell lining of  our digestive system isn’t “sealed” properly and basically let the proteins from grains fly around our bloodstream like a pinball. Leaky Gut is particularly prevalent in Celiac and autoimmune patients, but unfortunately not enough patients are guided through a leaky gut protocol. If that’s not enough, there’s a secret, sneaky compound lurking in the hull of each grain called phytic acid, an enzyme inhibitor which blocks the absorption of other nutrients in your food! As if you needed another problem.

Phytic Acid in Rice - Real Food 101 - The Maverick Mama

My solution? Try removing all grains from your diet to see how you feel, even just for a few months. BELIEVE ME, I know how hard that sounds. I still have dreams of dancing, depthless bowls of brown rice spaghetti marinara and mirin-laced sushi rice (too weird?). For more ideas on how to break up with all grains and adopt the Paleo or Primal approach, read on to the end where I have some great recommendations! Now, the next thing you need to ask yourself is…

Am I suffering from gluten cross-reactivity?

This was one of the most important revelations in my quest to wellness this year. If you’ve been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or Celiac and your practitioner’s only recommendation is to remove gluten, you may end up wasting a lot of time waiting for a miraculous recovery.

There is a phrase you need to get acquainted with real fast: cross-reactivity. I’m no scientist and can’t get into the nitty-gritty, but it boils down to this: if you react to gluten proteins, it is quite likely that you also react to similar proteins in corn, rice, soy and even eggs! Without getting too technical, the amino acid sequence of these foods is so similar to gluten that your body thinks you’re still eating gluten. I know…FML. I treaded water by only removing gluten for 8 months before I realized something else was afoot.

That’s when I discovered the magic of real food Paleo, which minimizes processed foods and removes offending grains. It wasn’t until I removed dairy, soy, and finally grains that I started seeing a light at the end of my wellness tunnel. When I removed dairy, my nasal congestion got better. When I removed soy, my menstrual cramps alleviated. Sure, I had plenty of other issues to tackle and I’m still very much a work in progress. But these were real changes that helped each day get a little bit easier.

My solution? As hard as this sounds, seriously consider dropping dairy, corn, soy and other possible offenders from your diet. If you’d like to geek out on the concept of gluten cross-reactivity and what to do about it, check out this article by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, voice behind The Paleo Mom and possibly the foremost authority on the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol. Her two books, The Paleo Approach and The Paleo Approach Cookbook, are essential volumes for anyone struggling with a new Celiac or autoimmune diagnosis.

Reason #3: You aren’t preparing in advance for dining out

MAN did I learn this the hard way! One of my first restaurant trips in since going gluten-free was to a popular seafood chain in Boston noted for its gluten-free-friendliness. I was leaping out of my seat to try their gluten-free bread rolls.  I couldn’t believe the rich, chewy sourdough texture and aroma. It was almost…too good to be true. Moments later, a second waiter arrived with two pallid, crumbly blocks of dust that turned out to be…my gluten-free rolls. It suddenly dawned on me that our waitress unwittingly put the highly glutinous sourdough bread rolls in front of me, which I was now enthusiastically chomping. A feeling of dread crept over me as I realized…I’d just been “glutened”.
GLUTENED! - 5 Reasons Gluten-Free Isn't Working - The Maverick Mama
Did I get sick on the spot and rush to the little girl’s room? Nope, but that’s not how my body reacts to gluten. Instead, a cold I had fought all week blew up into the worst sinus infection of that year, requiring a 3-week stint on the firebomb of antibiotics, Agent Levaquin. A terrible experience that I’d rather not repeat.

My solution? It’s a lot more work and planning but…I now bring my own food everywhere, or I eat in advance. I carefully scan restaurant menus and call ahead to confirm they can accommodate my needs. I politely refuse party food that I know will be an issue. And I am dang unapologetic about it (but wasn’t always) because my health is more important than party etiquette. They’ll understand, and if they don’t, who cares? It won’t be them suffering a painful stint on the throne two hours later.

P.S. – The bonus moral of that story is, I could have completely avoided that particular #oops if i hadn’t tried to fill my gluten void by eating that replicant bread thing. See Reason #1 for a refresher.

Reason #4: You’re not working with a skilled functional practitioner

I credit my first functional doctor with finally finding the primary root cause of my chronic illness, which was genetic gluten intolerance. Unfortunately, the dietary guidance ended with “just go 80% gluten-free and you’ll do fine”. Fast forward 12 months later, and I still was very much not fine: hair falling out, rampant insomnia and clinging fatigue. My own research revealed a lot of stones left unturned. Do I wish this person had brought cross-reactivity to my attention and saved me months of water-treading? Do I wish they’d proposed further testing for things like thyroid malfunction, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and parasites and saved me a lot of headache? Sure. But because of that, I’m here today helping you skip to the head of the class!

My solution? First, here’s where I step on my trusty “do as I say, not as I do” soapbox. As a Northern Greek and Scorpio, I have a stubbornness gene so strong that getting an Olympian mountain goat to let go of a carrot is easier than getting me to listen. Despite haranguing from caring friends and family, I still chose to experiment with three drastically limited healing diets in the space of 4 months without professional guidance. Now I have a huge love for self-directed research and empowerment, but this really came back to bite me in the you-know-what. It was NOT pretty. DON’T DO THIS.

I finally found the right practitioner for me, albeit through unconventional means, and I’ll be posting more on that later. Your best bet is to either visit The Institute of Functional Medicine to find a qualified integrative physician, or even better, ask friends who might have had similar diagnoses for recommendations. But please don’t suffer alone…even if your first functional doctor doesn’t work out, you’ll be on the right path and will eventually find your match.

Reason #5: You don’t have access to the latest gluten research

If I could take a Delorean back to one year ago to the day of my intolerance diagnosis, I would block-tackle my sad self leaving my doctor’s office and yell at me to start reading up on the science behind gluten intolerance, cross-reactivity and all of the things I just talked about. I would get subscriptions to the very best real food and Paleo resources out there including:

P.S. – The real moral of that story is, Deloreans are freaking AWESOME and no home should be without one.

But if there’s just one resource I can give you to get you started on the right path right now, it’s the incredible online and FREE Women’s Gluten-Free Health Summit starting this Monday, September 8th:

Women's Gluten-Free Health Summit - The Maverick Mama

Hosted by Jennifer Fugo, fearless founder of the Gluten-Free School, this event is jam-packed with the 29 of the world’s leading authorities on gluten-free living and full-body health and wellness. You won’t find sneaky gluten-free product placement here; this is the real deal on how to finally get better through real food resources and hot-off-the-press wellness research. Just a sampling of the amazing speakers:

and so many more!

Here’s why you need to attend this incredible event:

  1. It’s created by women, hosted by a woman and deals with topics specific to gluten-sensitive women like you!
  2. There’s no medical jargon, confusing terminology, or “doctor speak”. Everything is easy to understand and breaks down complicated topics so that us common folk can fully understand what’s discussed.
  3. The entire event is presented online! You can conveniently tune in from your computer, couch or even your car!
  4. All the interviews are only 30 minutes long, making them very focused and highly “digestible” for the busiest of ladies!

Seriously, these folks are brilliant and you will “leave” the summit feeling refreshed and energized by the amazing content. Click here to sign up; you really don’t want to miss this!

So, there are 5 key reasons why gluten-free living may not be working for you. Don’t shoot yourself in your newly gluten-free foot and cripple your walk to wellness by making this very typical mistakes. Arm yourself with real food, solid information and a great functional doctor and get rolling. It’s high time we send gluten and all of its sinister Doppelgangers a very clear message: It’s not me. It’s most definitely you.

And that’s my real food for thought.


What’s in your breakup letter to Gluten? See you at the Summit!

5 Reasons Gluten-Free Isn't Working - The Maverick Mama - Pinterest

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am not a medical professional, and the information on this blog is not intended to replace professional guidance from your doctor.  See my full disclosure here.

Photo Credits:
Gluten-Free Aisle: Flickr / Memphis CVB
Rice: Flickr / Ray_From_LA
Bread roll: Flickr / comedy_nose

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Lea, The Maverick Mama

Head Chef at MavericKitchen
Lea is Head Chef of MavericKitchen, where she offers real food for thought on healing nutrition, holistic health, and progressive parenting. She is a seasoned digital marketer and doting mother of the monolithic Judgey Bear, her delicious deputy in smoking out sneaky toxins in the food we eat and products we use. She lives in the gardens of New Jersey where she feverishly hunts down elusive farmers’ markets and pastured egg purveyors.