Living without gluten or white sugar.  Trendy?  Absolutely.  Necessary?  It is for me.

I don’t have Celiac Disease.  My journey to a gluten-free, refined sugar-free life was a little different.

The question I get most often is this: “What’s gluten?”  Simply defined, it’s the protein in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten is what gives baked goods a great texture consistency.  The question that follows is, “How did you quit eating sugar and wheat?”  Before we talk about how, let’s talk about why.

A Lifetime of Failure

I gave up wheat and white sugar because I was just fat.

Well, maybe not just fat. You can add in depressed, moody, irritable, and frequently in bed with a migraine. By 5th grade I was officially obese.  I stayed that way for the next 14 years. I got to be a world class yo-yo dieter.  I was either eating large quantities of food or trying to lose the weight I gained from binging.

Never did I let anyone see me eat a bag of chocolate chips or an entire box of animal crackers.  But I did.  And for some reason I was always dismayed when my pants no longer fit.

At my heaviest, I was 5’ 5”, over 180 pounds and 21 years old.  Most days I was unable to do what most people take for granted.  Out of sheer desperation I saw an doctor that practiced alternative medicine.  After spending some time with me, he told me to quit eating sugar and wheat.  His words were, “It’s going to kill you.” Though the change was difficult, I followed his instructions carefully.  After a few weeks I started to feel better.  Life felt good again.

I was young, though, and didn’t understand the full implications. I started eating wheat and sugar again.  Shortly thereafter commenced the binge eating.  Any weight that I lost was quickly regained.  The next six years were a physical and emotional roller coaster.

The inevitable day came when I accepted that as long as I ate wheat and sugar, I had no control of what or how much I ate. This is why I failed at every diet I’ve ever tried.

Drawing a Line – Wheat-Free or Gluten-Free?

Years ago, a friend with a similar history told me that she could eat sprouted wheat relatives, like spelt and kamut.  After some deliberation, I bought a popular brand and made a sandwich.  It didn’t set off any binge eating, but knowing that it was in my house set me on edge.  I have a loaf of Udi’s gluten-free bread in my freezer, and quite honestly if I weren’t writing this article I would have forgotten it was there.

Not that Udi’s isn’t a fabulous product, because it is.  It just doesn’t cause a mental obsession for me.  That being said, I don’t have to be as vigilant about cross contamination as someone with Celiac Disease does. If my chicken is grilled in the same place as a whole wheat bun, I’m ok.

So How Did I Do It?

It was simple – I stopped putting sugar and wheat in my mouth.  I know, not the answer anyone wants. There is no easy, magical solution.  But it is simple.

Whole, nourishing foods were the perfect place for me to start.  My body needed time to recalibrate.  I started eating three smaller meals and one – two snacks a day, depending on how hungry I was.  If I needed a sweet fix, I ate fruit. My old stand-by is Cottage Cheese and Fruit Salad.

I do the same thing today as I did then.  Of course, now I can throw in a gluten-free, sugar-free dessert with no problem.  But it took a while to get there.

Most importantly, I do it just for right now, just for the meal in front of me.  I don’t worry about what I’m going to eat at Aunt Suzie’s house at Christmas two months from now.  Yes, I take care of myself and plan ahead. But keeping the focus on right now takes away the obsession and fear that initially brought me to my knees.

Eating this way has helped me maintain a 60+ pound weight loss for nearly 7 years.  I don’t ever recommend that anyone follow in my footsteps – I failed a hundred times over trying to do what worked for everyone else.  Instead, I had to learn to listen to my body and walk my own path with food. Everyone’s journey is unique and special.  Every woman deserves to decide for herself what foods work for her body and experience the dignity of eating in a way that brings richness to her life.

Here are some of the recipes that have helped me along the way:
• Shredded Chicken Tortilla Soup
• Quinoa, Black Bean, & Butternut Squash Salad
• Healthy 5 Minute Blueberry Banana Ice Cream

This Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash & Swiss Chard is one of my favorites…it’s on my list to make this weekend.

Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash & Swiss Chard
serves 4 as a main course
adapted from bon appetit fast, easy, fresh

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
• 3 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane
• 2 1/2 cups butternut squash, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
• 2 tablespoons light ancho chili powder
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 3 (14.5) ounce cans of reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
• 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
• 1 (14.5) ounce can of diced tomatoes with juice
• 1 large bunch swiss chard, cleaned, stemmed, and roughly chopped
• kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In a 6 quart stock pot or enameled dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium low heat.  Add onion and sauté for 10 minutes, until onion is soft.  Add garlic and sauté for a minute more, then add butternut squash and stir for 2 minutes.

Add chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon.  Stir to combine.  Add black beans, vegetable stock, and diced tomatoes with juice.  Bring to a light boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 15 minutes or until butternut squash is soft.  Stir in swiss chard.  Simmer for 3 – 4 minutes until swiss chard is tender but still bright green.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls and serve.

Thanks so much to Amy Green for this post!  Are you familiar with gluten intolerance and/or Celiac Disease?  Have you or anyone you know had a similar experience?