The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement seven days at a time.
If you're the type of person who follows health and food trends, you already know that going gluten-free is the Atkins craze for a new decade of dieters, with "wheat" occupying the same dirty-word status once held by carbs. About six per cent of the population suffers from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but it's more than just medical necessity that has spurred a multibillion-dollar industry in gluten-free eating in North America.
Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus shared their tales of wheatless weight loss earlier this year. The medical community is still at odds over the validity of this diet for people who do not need it. Detractors say that gluten promotes heart and immune system health, and point out that slapping a "gluten-free" label on a box of high-calorie cookies doesn't make them healthy.
But given that Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health has spent more than 25 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, it would appear that the train has left the station (with Kim Kardashian as conductor – help us).
Food bigotry and faking it
I began Operation: G-Free by contemplating my own wheat-related issues. I don't have celiac, but the far more common "gluten sensitivity" is hard to diagnose, with symptoms such as headaches, bloating and fatigue. (Check, check and check). I admit I have not been all that sensitive to food sensitivity issues in the past, a gentle way of saying I have been known to judge people based on the persnicketiness of their diets.
I guess this makes me a food bigot, and ignorant: My biggest trepidation about going gluten-free over Thanksgiving weekend was missing out on mashed potatoes. I must have mentioned this to three people before a friend finally pointed out that potatoes don't contain gluten. "But what about butter and cream and salt?" I challenged. No gluten there either.
A lot of the food I consumed over my gluten-free week was delicious, and a lot of it (I'm looking at you, gluten-free crackers) was subpar. The least successful meals were what I refer to as "faking-it food," similar to when a vegetarian tries to make shepherd's pie using veggie ground round. Rather than attempting spaghetti and meatballs with rice pasta (which is just not good), I made Asian stir-fry on rice (no soy sauce!) and broccoli coconut milk soup. I missed my morning granola bar and my afternoon Easy Mac, but overall, being gluten-free was no harder or easier than any diet in that it required self-control. (Admittedly, I did this for a week. A lifetime without baguettes seems like cruel and unusual punishment).
Smile on your wheat-intolerant brother
Cutting out gluten is obviously a godsend for those whose bodies reject the protein. I chatted with one family member whose ailments, including psoriasis and stomach pain, all disappeared on a wheat-free diet. A co-worker said that before making the switch she spent years avoiding social gatherings for fear of a bathroom emergency.
I didn't notice a lot of change in my experiment. I lost three pounds, but that's likely the result of paying attention to what I put in my mouth. And being under the mistaken impression that regular chips contain gluten, which meant abandoning my late-night binging ritual.)
The most significant takeaway was my discomfort over politely refusing food in other people's homes because of my diet. I felt like an inconvenience and a killjoy saying no to three different kinds of pie or not wanting to share a snack at the movies. Normally, I am the one rolling her eyes at the guest with the annoying dietary restrictions, which I now realize is mean and unfair. I don't anticipate joining the gluten-free army, but I have resolved to eat and let eat, which is a Thanksgiving miracle in and of itself.
The next challenge: We all have a lot to learn from the generations that came before us, so why not set aside some time to acquire a new skill from a parent (or grandparent)? Bake a pie from scratch, learn how to drive stick. Bonus points if you let mom or dad choose the lesson. Share your experience at fb.me/globelifestream