Whether I am seeing a client who is interested in intuitive living, or a client looking to manage health concerns through diet and lifestyle changes, the subject of gluten always seems to come up. Almost everyone’s heard about going gluten-free, and many are wondering if it’s something they should do, or if it’s just another fad. Although some absolutists will tell you that everyone should go gluten-free or that no one needs to go gluten-free, I think the answer, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. Some people have Celiac disease, some people are gluten intolerant, and some are neither.
So, how can you figure out whether gluten is causing you harm? Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. There are two different types of tests that can be done for Celiac disease: Blood testing, which is not very accurate, and intestinal biopsy, which is risky and expensive. New, independent labs such as Enterolab and Cyrex, are offering innovative tests for gluten intolerance, but they too are controversial. It seems you can get a false positive or negative from any testing method, and you may lose some time and money in the process.
In the end, the cheapest and most effective method to determine if you’re gluten intolerant is probably an elimination diet. In an elimination diet, you take certain foods out of your diet for a period of time, hopefully long enough to let them fully clear out of your body, and then you add them back one at a time. People typically eliminate all common allergens, but sometimes only one or two foods are eliminated. Chris Kresser explains some of the nuances of why gluten intolerance is so complex and hard to diagnose, as well as why elimination diets make sense in this article.
Doing an elimination diet can pose it’s own challenges, of course. For most it requires an abrupt and drastic change of diet, which is never easy. After finishing the elimination phase, the “challenge phase” begins. Ideally, one has felt relief from bothersome symptoms during the elimination phase, and is starting the challenge phase with a clean slate. This isn’t always the case, but even when it is, it can be difficult to be certain of whether reintroducing a food is causing problems, or not.
Sometimes it is clear as day. You bring gluten back into your diet and you immediately notice foggy headedness, lethargy, migraines, or whatever was previously plaguing you. Other times, it is not so clear. Maybe symptoms are subtle, or you’re not sure if they’re related. There are two major reasons for this confusion. One, is a lack of gut healing. While eliminating foods can promote healing, full healing may require more effort, and you may not see the full benefit of elimination without it.
The other major reason is lack of attunement with your body. If your self-awareness is not highly developed, it will be hard to sense the shifts that occur during the elimination diet. Intuitive living is centered around the development of this sort of self-awareness. It gets us in touch with our inner wisdom about which foods nourish us, and which foods harm us. Of course, developing this level of attunement is it’s own challenging process, but it is essential, and can be made easier with the help of a qualified coach.
So, should you eliminate gluten from your diet? After exploring the issues surrounding this question, I defer to you as the expert on your own body. Ask yourself if you’ve seen any signs that eating gluten is not serving you. If so, ask yourself if you are ready, with support, to try an elimination diet. If the answer is no, I suggest being kind and patient with yourself. You have time, and when you’re ready, you’ll do a better job of it.