Thursday, March 13, 2014

Where's the Beef? Part 1

I could have written this:

Well, maybe not as well.  And my own situation wasn't as dramatic.  I was a vegetarian long-term, but only vegan for a short while because I went downhill more rapidly than he did.

Like Rhys, I was tired on the vegan diet.  I also struggled with restless legs, lots of skin problems and I caught every cold and flu version that passed my way.

For me, being vegetarian did "fix" certain problems, like weight and monthly hormones, but eventually it caught up with me.  I tried dozens of prescription and non-prescription creams and lotions for my skin, every type of shampoo and soap for my scalp, and every kind of laundry detergent on my clothing, but nothing helped.

Like Rhys, my gateway drug back to omnivorism was not bacon, it was a bottle of omega 3 capsules.  My skin and hair improved considerably.  My restless legs mostly stopped when I started taking Cal-Mag tablets.  My peripheral neuropathy stopped after I went on a low-carb diet.  I haven't gotten sick ever since I started supplementing with vitamin D over two years ago, so even a Paleo/Primal diet with sunshine didn't fully help.

However, unlike Rhys, I think it was my whole-foods macrobiotic diet that allowed me to be a vegetarian for so long without such severe consequences.  At least I had seaweed and a goodly amount of brown rice for my carbs, instead of wheat.  For me at least, I think an excess of wheat was the main culprit the whole time.  I remember when I became a vegetarian for the first time in my teens.  I had a huge bowl of wheat germ with milk for breakfast every morning, and my skin started to break out more.  Eventually I stopped eating the wheat germ so constantly, because it came in a little jar and I got tired of buying so much of it.

This winter I have allowed a bit of wheat back into my diet.  I was always following some sort of 80/20 rule, and didn't worry too much about going out to dinner, or the occasional cookie.  Right around Thanksgiving, we had a few goodies around the house, then with all the other holidays, there were more wheat options.  I tried to eat wheat only every other day, but eventually I started eating more.

You see, I work in the food rescue business, and most days I am working with mounds of bagels, boxes and bags of pastries, wonderful artisan loaves of bread wheat pasta.  So, a bagel here, a piece of broken cookie there, well you know the drill.

I started gaining weight around the holidays, and then I fell.  4 times!  Every time I fell, I would hurt my knee or something, then get stiff, then trip over something else in the garden.  My last fall was the worst.  I tripped on the vacuum cleaner, went sailing into a hope chest, and rolled down right on my already-injured knee.  My baby toe got numb and I still have problems with my knee several months later.  But then something really weird started happening.  My other toe got numb, and then my baby fingers.  I started running into everything and losing my balance.  And perhaps how I was sitting was causing a problem.  I used to sit anywhere, usually cross-legged on the floor and I could no longer bend my knee that far, or get up off the floor without damaging my knee further.  I couldn't do strengthening exercises or walking either.

I suspected that wheat was causing the problem, since the same symptoms happened after Thanksgiving.  I did a bit of reading and found that there is a condition called "gluten ataxia".  I don't think I have that, since my condition improved immediately after stopping all wheat.  I have been totally wheat-free for about two weeks now, and I am also doing Dr. Davis' wheatlessMarch challenge.  I know there is something else that is causing problems, and if I am not 100% better in a month, I will be eliminating other foods that could either be contaminating or cross-reactive.

This is so weird!  Who knew wheat could cause me to lose my balance?  Who knew it could cause nerve damage that may be permanent?  (OK, maybe Dr. Perlmutter.) Currently, I am experimenting with non-gluten grains to see if they are also a problem.  I don't know if it is due to the wheat proteins or the high-glycemic index of wheat products.  I KNOW that certain other foods are still a bother.  Now that I have drained the wheat swamp, other problems present immediately and dramatically.

I am not sure if I am ready to be one of those people who can't have absolutely any wheat.  In the meantime, I will continue to be one of those faddy people swept up in the anti-gluten craze.

Here's more info on gluten ataxia.


  1. wow! that was a strong reaction! while on vacation this week, i've had a bit more wheat than i generally allow myself, too, and the worst thing i find is that when i squat down i just can't easily rise again. :-( my daughter (who is sensitive too) tried some of my sourdough rye and had intestinal reactions, though i do pretty well on it. do you handle rye well?

  2. I don't eat rye all by itself, so who knows? I think I have a problem with corn and oats, but I haven't really tested clean oats yet. Rice is fine, even white rice in large-ish quantities. Today is the first day in awhile that I had a trace of wheat. I ate the top off some pizza, and there were a few crumbs of bread stuck to it. I had quite an allergic reaction about an hour later. My face looked like I was out in the sun for an hour. It was really just a dash through a parking lot for my car.

  3. I am sorry to learn about your falls. Get well soon.
    I think the worst thing about grains - most people have very dull reaction which takes a lot of time time to clear up. It took my son about 6 month of a gluten-free diet to notice the effect. The effect of other allergies gone looked like a miracle, but who would wait that long?

  4. Sorry to read about your falls, hope you're better soon.

    Food and our reaction to it is not always solved overnight, but do please take care and wish you well soon.

    All the best Jan