Two and a half years ago, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) decided to try abstaining from gluten for a month. This idea didn’t come up because he was having stomach issues (thankfully), but he felt that his energy swings around meals were bigger than they should be. Namely, it was becoming a problem that he could barely keep his eyes open during his post-lunch meetings – which could have just been the nature of his boring corporate job, but he wanted to see if there might be another culprit, and he’d heard that gluten can affect mood and energy. Since we lived together at the time, I figured I’d do the gluten-free experiment with him. Why not – a food challenge and a bonding experience – this will be fun!
It was not fun. We traded delicious, chewy ciabatta rolls for dry, crumbly gluten-free bread. We couldn’t eat at our favorite neighborhood pizza place, where we had been regulars on Sunday nights. And we swapped rice for pasta, which we learned really did not work with some dishes (it’s spaghetti with meatballs for a reason).
But more than the food withdrawals, I had to put up with my boyfriend, who felt TERRIBLE all month. At first, we thought that he had just come down with a cold that was lingering. But he rarely gets sick, and if he does, it normally doesn’t last more than a few days. Besides, this was April, not January, and the San Francisco weather was downright lovely – not exactly cold season. We started wondering if maybe it was somehow related to this gluten experiment, instead of coincidental bad timing during a month when we were already hating ourselves.
At the end of the month, we had just barely survived our gluten-free experiment and decided to reward ourselves with some cronuts from the new bakery around the corner. They were flaky and delicious, and more importantly, my boyfriend felt amazing after eating them. We thought – ha! – forget this gluten-free thing, maybe what he really needs is MORE gluten in his diet. Back to pizza, pasta and bread that tastes like bread! But later that day, after the post-cronut high had worn off, he crashed like never before. And then popped awake in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. So he spent the rest of the night reading about how this exact reaction is a sign that you have some kind of allergy or intolerance to gluten. When you abstain for a few weeks, your body goes through withdrawal, and when you eat gluten again, it’s like giving your body crack that causes a big high followed by a big low. (Not that I really know what a crack high & low feels like, but I’ve see The Wire, so just go with me here.) I, on the other hand, felt no different whether I ate gluten or didn’t eat gluten. I mean, except for the psychological high of having scored a cronut before they ran out for the day.
Wait. So does this mean…? Oh nooo. It looked like my boyfriend was going to have to be in the gluten-free thing for the long haul. Which meant that I was in it by association.