Gluten. The nemesis of the wellness tribe. It's a sticky mess that's almost exclusively associated with processed foods—cakes, cookies, bagels, pizza and so forth. You know, those foods you wouldn't even conceive of ingesting. But sometimes, gluten takes on a prettier form. It presents itself as toasted Ezekiel bread topped with avocado, flaky croissants in Paris, or fresh pasta made by your sexy Italian friend. These are the times that even the most staunch gluten-hater succumbs.
And thank goodness for that.
What would life be like without enjoying these rich pleasures?
If you've been following a gluten-free diet for some time now, you know the drill. You swap the Ezekiel bread for gluten-free bread, you eat an omelet for breakfast in Paris, and you ask your Italian friend for a vegetable antipasto plate.
But after a while, it gets tiring. You want the real thing. And you should (provided you don't have celiac disease). When the surroundings are right and when it will be memorable. Not when you're irritated and emotionally spent from work, your relationships (or lack there of) or life itself.
As a general guideline, I recommend gluten no more than once per month. And if you're tempted to indulge more often, below are five valid reasons for increasing your intake of it:
1. You need to put on five pounds.
Eat gluten. And you'll be five pounds heavier. It's only temporary. It lasts for about four days. It's not even fat. Just water that the body retains in an attempt to clear gluten from your system. Your smart body perceives gluten as a virus and sends the immune troops in to expel it. Think about the swelling that happens when you cut your hand. This is what happens at a cellular level when you eat gluten. Do so on a regular basis and you'll routinely hold more water. And you'll look and feel a little fatter. Great news for those of you who want that!
2. You love being bloated.
Or maybe you want to see what it's like to be pregnant when you're not. How big does your belly get? Challenge yourself by eating gluten at every meal (a very easy task). You'll allow the microbes in your GI tract to ferment the carbs attached to the gluten and they'll have a big, gassy party in your honor. It will be a long party too, one that might keep you up all night and the next day. Ditch the big booty, it's big belly time!
3. You love mood swings.
It excites you to be a little manic. You never know what emotion may arise. You might feel a little sad because you've abstained from gluten for a day and then you might feel highly elated because you've just consumed a bowl of it.
Gluten interferes with your brain chemistry. It triggers the release of dopamine and activates opioid receptors in the brain. The more gluten you eat, the more your brain stops listening to these neurotransmitters and the more gluten you need to get your "fix." If you want your moods to be hijacked by your food, keep eating gluten.
4. You like going to restaurants and being high-maintenance.
You love attention—good or bad. Well, good news, because the more gluten you eat, the more you set yourself up for food sensitivities. No longer will gluten just be the problem—it will be dairy and other random things like garlic, tomatoes, and black pepper. Fun for you at an Italian restaurant! Gluten is a highly abrasive molecule that aggravates the delicate lining of the GI tract. When this happens, you end up with "leaky gut" and this allows more food to enter the bloodstream and trigger an antibody reaction. This means more inflammation, more water, and more foods you need to avoid. The waiters will love you! You'll be one of "those" people.
5. You like taking naps under your desk.
It's your afternoon meditation time. You, under the desk, asleep. No-one will miss you. Your brain has been a little screwy from all the gluten anyway. After you wake, you won't feel more refreshed, but at least it's closer to finishing time. Phew! You got through another day. The thought of being vibrant and full of energy is a little scary ... You don't quite know what you'd be like, what you'd do, or how you can handle being a star at work. It's frightening. Another bite of a pretzel to numb the emotions, please.
Consuming gluten is all about balance. I don't recommend it as part of your regular diet but on an occasional basis, it won't do much harm. The body is very robust and adaptable. Find your peace with it.