21-Day Gluten-Free Experiment

Observant readers (my mom) might have noticed me complaining more about digestive issues lately.

I’ve had ‘em since college, though they’ve been a lot better in the past few years since adopting a healthier lifestyle and finding a probiotic I loved. Well, that probiotic is now unavailable, and my stomach is just a hot mess as of late.

In the past, I’ve gone in a frustrating circle of: regular doctor, allergy doctor or gastro, invasive test, told it’s IBS and not given much guidance on how to treat it, repeat. COOL.

I went for a physical a few weeks ago to make sure I was healthy overall, and everything came back fine, but I still felt crappy. Literally.

Too many meals out and too many Starbucks/Dunkin’ breakfast sandwiches have shown in my waist and on the scale, so I figured they haven’t helped my digestive system either. I knew I should take a look at what I’m eating, figure out what works and what doesn’t, so I decided to see an RD yesterday. I found her through ZocDoc, of course, and she even takes my insurance!

She looked at my blood work, we talked about past medical tests and their results, and we talked about what I was doing now and how I felt. I told her that I’d been tested for celiac a few years ago, and she said if my levels were high enough for them to give me an endoscopy, it was likely I was gluten-sensitive even though the celiac test had come back negative.

“Would you consider trying a gluten-free diet for three weeks?” she asked.

21 day gluten free experiment

“Sure, why not?” I just wanted to feel better.

She worked with me to come up with several types of options for each meal time and for different scenarios, including a late night that involves wine (she gets me already) or a early night at home.

Reading my old post about celiac testing, I can’t believe I cried. Although I did let loose a whole string of curses when Leticia reminded me of the lack of bagels that would be in my life. From having lots of gluten-free friends, I’ve seen that it’s easier than ever to be gluten-free in NYC, so if this is a lifetime thing, I’ll just never leave NYC.

I made a promise to the RD and to myself that I’d try this for 3 weeks, so here goes nothing! It really hasn’t been too bad too far. I’m also going to try my best to stay away from all of the processed gluten-free substitutes.

Gluten-free people: any advice?

41 comments on “21-Day Gluten-Free Experiment

  1. Annie

    Same thing happened to me almost exactly. I bit the bullet and have been totally gluten free for almost 6 months now (with the exception of one dinner out where I accidentally ate something I should not have. That was a rough weekend.)

    The best advice I got when I started this was to never…EVER…eat any gluten free bread product without toasting it first. It’s really the only way to make it edible. Also, coconut flour is delicious.

      1. Annie

        @Theodora Blanchfield: It is really remarkable. It took maybe 7 to 10 days or so, and I still have the occasional off day, but nothing like what I’d been going through. I’m by no means an expert, but if you’ve got any questions or want some good (simple) food blog recommendations feel free to shoot me an email!

  2. Jen

    Best thing I ever did. I never had stomach issues but did it for issues related to my thyroid. The best advice is to eat as little “gluten free” replacement food as possible. Much of that is processed and not great for your health. Granted might be good at helping your stomach issues. I really just eat real food. The biggest difference i found was no cravings for food and less interest in sugar. I realized I was eating a ton of wheat or grain products. I will eat quinoa on occasion but really stick to protein, veggies and fruit and healthy fats. You will do great and I cannot wait to hear if you feel better.

  3. Claire

    I was diagnosed with celiac just about 6 months ago and haven’t looked back since! Of course it is excellent advice to avoid all of the gluten free processed junk, but go ahead and look at your new diet as a cause for celebration rather than mourning. The day after I got my test results my friend took me to Babycakes on the lower east side for gluten free cupcakes. I almost cried because it actually tasted like a real cupcake!! I realized that I would be just fine without gluten.
    Not only does my stomach feel better since going gluten free but so many other random things with my body have improved. My fingernails are growing faster, my hair is thicker, my skin is less dry… it’s just crazy!
    Good luck to you!! Hope you find some answers too 🙂

  4. Barb

    Slowly, more people are gluten free. I have been doing Medifast and many of their meals are gluten free. I’ve lost some good amount of pounds without much exercise. So, I am slowly getting more gluten out of my diet. I have no stomach or food issues (though I do not like dairy/milk nor coffee) as I can eat Chicago pizza for breakfast. My coworkers wife owns Rose’s bakery in Evanston, Il which is all gluten free. Blaze pizza near me in Chicago (think Chipotle with pizza concept) has a gluten free dough option. Djorvak (tennis) became gluten free and won lots of tournaments. I have a student as I am a teacher who is gluten free and a coworker.

  5. heather

    You can do it!! My advice would be to not try to replace your favorite gluten filled things with gluten free versions. They wont taste the same (although some are still good!) and will leave you unsatisfied. Instead find naturally gluten free alternatives. Like sweet potato noodles instead of rice noodles. Or ice cream instead of gluten free cake. Those are bad examples. But maybe you know what I mean anyways.

  6. haley

    My advice is to avoid the “gluten free” substitute baked products, at least during this first 3 weeks. Concentrate on REAL food: veggies, protein, fat, fruit. Do not forget your probiotics: kraut, kombucha, etc. There are some great local brands out there!

    GOOD LUCK! You can do anything for 3 weeks!

  7. Vicky

    You can do it! It’s a good experiment, I hope you find something that will be helpful. I’ve been wanting to suggest the book The Plan by Lyn-Genet Recitas. It’s about finding foods that cause you inflammation. It’s not unlike going gluten free if you’re sensitive to gluten–find the few foods that cause you problems and your life gets so much better! And trust me, when you find them, eliminate them, get cocky and have something and have a reaction after having felt so good, they won’t seem the least bit appealing anymore!

  8. Beth

    I’ve had almost EXACTLY the same experience as you. I’ve been tested for celiac TWICE and both times it came back negative. About a year ago I decided to go gluten free, and I’ve felt SO MUCH better. So yes you can do it, and I hope it helps you.

    But I’m not going to lie, I have really, really missed a lot of wonderful gluten filled things. I used to be an avid baker, and since I’ve been unable to find a good GF flour that doesn’t break the bank, I’ve had to essentially give up one of my favorite hobbies. My husband is also big time into beer. I’ve always liked wine more, but it is sad not to have that to share with him anymore. Yes, it’s been worth it to feel better. But it hasn’t always been easy.

  9. Kelly R

    I’ve been toying with the idea of going GF but it’s hard because I’m in college right now without access to a kitchen. Only options in the dining hall are toast and salad so I guess I’ll be waiting till summer to test it out.

  10. Betsy

    I started trying a gluten free diet about a month ago to see if it would improve my migraines and overall feeling like crap and for the most part, it has (knock on wood!). After the first few days, it got easier and I noticed I had lost a few pounds and felt less bloated overall. I agree on the bagels though, that’s the hardest part! Good luck, I hope it makes you feel better.

  11. Leslie

    I sometimes I have a hard time being open to trying new things, but I like your approach of saying you are going to try it for three weeks. When I tell myself that I am just going to try something, it makes me much more open!!!

  12. Ashley

    I am a newish reader and this post caught my attention! I went gluten and dairy free in August 2013 and it has been life changing! I went through a lot of physicians as well and am celiac negative, but I found a doctor who ran a blood test that broke the possibility of celiacs into three markers. I had 1 out of the three which means I am gluten sensitive. I didn’t really feel a huge change until I was 2-3 months in so you may want to give it a few more weeks than 3, but really I would never go back! I still have occasional problems but that is more because my lipase enzyme is low so its hard for my body to digest fats. I think living gluten free is really easy this day and age even outside of NY! For me, the dairy free part is the hardest, but you will quickly learn tricks that make being GF work for you 🙂 Good luck! My next step is to give digestive enzymes a try…

  13. erin

    I just became gluten free because I was having the same issues –was not positive for celiac but was feeling sluggish and had stomach issues after I ate.
    I’ve been GF for 2 months now and have never felt better. I thought it was going to be hard, but there are SO MANY options now.
    Check out http://www.vitacost.com to have products delivered (In Charlotte, there are so many main stream stores that are now selling GF options).

    Pinterest also helped to figure out some recipes. Last night I made GF Vegan “fried” pickles and vegan ranch. AMAHZING.

  14. Jen

    For those liking to bake cup 4cup from William Sonoma is amazing. It is not cheap but it is an exact substitute and works well. I have tried others and non are this good.

    And for beer two bothers is great but it is in the Midwest not sir if it is everywhere. I love it and we live in a smaller town and everywhere has it. There are tons of others but this one is my favorite so far.

  15. Malinda

    I went Gluten Free about 6 weeks ago. I read the book “Wheat Belly” to help guide me through it. It was fascinating to read about all the changes to wheat over the years and how that affects us today. It also warned me of the withdrawal I would have once I cut out gluten. Knowing what I was feeling those first few weeks help me to fight through it. Apparently wheat is quite addictive. However, once you get over that addiction, you really stop craving those foods as much and it’s not too difficult to switch. Most restaurants are happy to help with meal modifications and such. You do need to be careful though, gluten hides in secret places, such as Soy Sauce, Wasabi and Salad Dressings. Just read your labels carefully. Good luck, I bet it will help!

  16. Jillian

    Hi there. First of all, I love your blog. I stumbled upon it right before the NYC Half this year (I was looking for random tips and advice). I became a runner 2 years ago when I decided to get my ass in shape and signed up for the Seattle half. I was completely out of shape, didn’t even go to the gym, and over weight. Still over weight, but working on it and am now an avid runner. Anyways, last year I went to a GI doc because my dumb primary told me I tested positive for celiac antibodies. The GI doc said I didn’t have celiac markers, but i did show a very heightened sensitivity to gluten. Whomp whomp. When you say you have stomach issues, I TOTALLY GET IT! Last June I did a gluten free test for myself. I went 6 weeks. I actually didn’t notice too much of a difference in the first 2-3, but after the 3 week mark the difference was UNREAL. I didn’t realize I was bloated, until I wasn’t. I had more energy, I slept better, and over all felt fantastic. The reason I haven’t gone GF for good is really because I don’t want to become so intolerant to it that the tiniest little bit will make me violently sick, I enjoy gluten too much to make that total lifestyle change. I now very much limit the amount of gluten I eat (I try to be GF during the week, and have a little on weekends if the opportunity arises). I have noticed a HUGE decrease in the number of stomach “attacks” I have. Good luck with your challenge! My recommendation would be to try to extend it another couple of weeks if you don’t notice a big change in the first 21 days.


    PS… the only good gluten free beer I have discovered is Omission (pale ale or IPA). It’s actually quite good!

  17. joelle @ on a pink typewriter

    Good for you for taking your health into your hands and finding a RD. I’m sure you can go gluten free in NYC without any issues… I personally love Udi’s gluten free wheat bread and rolls (and I’m not even gluten intol!), so I’d suggest you give it a try! I think they make bagels too, not that they’d be quiiiite the same as a real NY one.

  18. Kate

    I gave gluten up for Lent a few years ago as an experiment and basically felt no difference, except sadness for lack of sandwiches. I figured I was just one of those lucky humans who can handle it (even though I do have IBS-type issues occasionally, they apparently aren’t gluten-related. I refuse to attempt a lactose-free diet. I eat all the cheese.). I fully support going GF for a while and see if it makes a difference, though. I lived in NYC when I gave it up and had zero problems with meals. Though I did once walk 15 blocks for a gluten-free panini. Desperate times, man. Good luck! Can’t wait to hear how it turns out.

  19. Ally D

    I never comment, but this sounds just like me. I had been told for years I had IBs. I went to a chiropractor and got a blood test for food sensitivities and gave up gluten and dairy. I rarely get stomach aches now. I’ve been gfdf for 3 years and it’s not hard now. At first it was difficult but it didnt matter because I felt immediately better in 3 days. Gluten free oats are a staple for breakfast. Food for Life brown rice tortillas are the best for wraps for lunch.
    Also Cooking for Isaiah is a great cookbook although it’s gfdf. The brownies are amazing. Thai, sushi, and Mexican are the easiest restaurants to eat at. Good luck!

  20. dorry

    good for you! I hope eliminating gluten helps your stomach issues. I’ve been eating GF for over 3 years – not 100%, but pretty damn close. my staples: sweet potatoes, quinoa, black beans, chickpeas, hummus, lentils, chicken/turkey/lean beef, eggs, fruits, vegetables, avocado, nuts, seeds, almond butter, etc. I eat GF oats/oat bran most mornings and if I’m craving something salty/crunchy, I love Beanfields chips. if I’m craving bread (which I eat a lot with scrambled eggs or to make French toast) I love Canyon Bakehouse (sold at WF). and if a restaurant doesn’t have GF bread options, say for brunch, I eat potatoes or hashbrowns. 🙂

  21. Heidi

    Good luck lady! a friend of mine has a lot of great gluten free recipes – check out her blog at http://www.cleanandproper.com – she has a section, she’s gluten intolerant (though not celiac) so thats a big thing – she does a lot of paleo and raw recipes 🙂 Hope you feel better soon, it sucks when you just consistently feel crappy especially when you can’t pinpoint why.

  22. Tara

    Good luck, I hope this helps you to some extent.
    I do not have digestive issues, however, I am always soo , so tired. I have no reason to be-no kids, sleep 7 hrs a night, workout 4-5 days a week and eat 80% whole foods. I do wonder if its Wheat that is making me so tired. I mean, when I get home from work at 6pm, I want to crawl into bed. I have had tests done to see if I have any thyroid issues, but all come back negative and all blood work looks great.
    I wonder if trying a lower gluten diet will give me more energy? Hmm, something to research.

  23. Alexa

    As a celiac, my words of advice are, you must truly be gluten free fully to have the rewards of the diet. That means, a different toaster from before, not using the same peanut butter, checking on cross contamination at restaurants, etc. You will be so happy if the diet works for you if you do it 110%.

  24. Megan

    I’ve been gluten free for the last three years. I don’t have celiac, but I made the change to my diet and I feel so much better. At the beginning, I thought I couldn’t eat anything, but slowly found my way to eating “normal” foods. I eat a lot of fresh fruit, veggies and meat. One of my new found favorite recipes is a banana oat muffin recipe. It’s the perfect little pre-workout snack. I use Bob’s Red Mill oat flour and oats. http://abc.go.com/shows/the-chew/recipes/banana-oat-muffins-daphne-oz

  25. Claudia Smarkola

    Thank you for your comments on the gluten free diet. I have bought gluten free flour so you can still make cookies and other goodies if you wanted. It’s amazing all the things you can make gluten free. My weight loss blog can support your weight loss blog by touching on the psychology of losing weight. See my blog at innerblockstolosingweight.com.

  26. Meredith

    I had very similar issues about 2.5 years ago. For me, it was intermittant— and of course the stomach pains would strike at the worst time (my birthday, etc) and there was nothing you could do/take to stop them. Mine were more like waves of cramps. Anyway, I went to a GI and over the course of 2 years had every test possible- endocscopy (because my celiac tests also showed enough to warrant an endoscopy, and my aunt has it), colonoscopy, hida-scan, MRI of abdomen, CT scan of abdoment, etc. The good news was that everything came back normal but the bad news is that I still was having problems. A co-worker told me about how he had similar problems for years until he went off gluten. He ate paleo so I started doing it too and I never got the stomach pains afterwards. Of course I slipped up on Thanksgiving with lots of gluten filled treats, a few weeks later, and the stomach pains came back. SO, my GI said…if eating gluten free helps me…then to stick with it, and I’m probably gluten sensitive. Nowadays, I eat mostly gluten free but I have occasional cheats. For me, the occasional cheat doesnt bothr me, it just seems that if i overdo it and have a lot of gluten, my body reacts. Everyone is different though and you have to do what works for you. If you love spaghetti….try spaghetti squash. No, it’s not pasta, but if you make a nice meat sauce and put it over spaghetti squash, it will be reminiscent of spaghetti and it tastes awesome in its own right! Eggs, bacon, frittattas, etc are great b’fast choices. Bunless burgers, steaks, et will become your friend. I know these are processed but after awhile, you’ll want to have some options when you crave bread type products- rice crackers are good; Udi’s bread is really good toasted,actually; the frozen GF waffles they have at all the grocery stores are good as well. I hope the experiment helps you!

  27. Laura

    I have very similar issues and a diagnosis of IBS – I went dairy-free in the fall and it really helped! I tried gluten free as well, but it didn’t make as big of a difference. Sadly, the incredible results I had seen from going dairy-free have not lasted, and my stomach issues have slowly returned. I recently started eating a low-fiber diet (based on the book Fiber Menace) and haven’t felt the bloating and cramping in 10 days!!

    Was it you who recommended the Garden of Life RAW probiotics on your blog? I just started them yesterday and felt sick – did they work for you?

    Good luck!

    1. Theodora

      @Laura: I’ve been what I call dairy-light (no yogurt or milk, but some cheese) for the past few years, and that’s definitely helped a ton. I’ve also tried to eat probably medium-fiber? Like, enough to keep things moving and stay full but definitely not as much as someone following a normal healthy diet would eat, probably. Big, raw salads have always been way too much for me. So, it’s now been a week gluten-free and so far, so good, it seems, but we’ll see.

      As for the Garden of Life probiotics, yup, that was me. I will say it did take me a few weeks to get used to them. I probably started them a month ago and they maybe started really helping in the last week or two.

      1. Laura

        @Theodora: I’ll stick with the probiotics then!! It’s funny you call it dairy-light, because I’d probably say I eat gluten-light. I like the Canyon House (at Whole Foods here) quinoa bread and eat it just for fun:) It’s pretty easy for me to eat gluten free, dairy free, or low fiber at any given time, but just too hard to do it all at once – I just wish I could figure out which one makes the most difference! This stuff is so annoying:(

  28. Laura

    Hey there,
    I am so glad I came upon your post.
    I am currently doing a food elimination test, by choice, because I believe that perhaps gluten is upsetting my digestive system.
    It is good to read about someone else who is familiar with the struggles involved. I live in New Zealand where, although better than it used to be, gluten free products are relatively scarce and really expensive.
    Funnily enough, despite knowing that gluten is sometimes hidden in food, I accidently (perhaps part of me knew and ignored it) at something with gluten in and wouldn’t you know it. I have a tummy ache. I wonder if the placebo effect extends to food.
    Anyway. Thank you for your article. I’ve recently started writing about my own experience for my blog. So it is great to compare. Thanks. 🙂

  29. Richard|Gluten Free Foods

    Everyone is different and experiences different reactions to gluten in their bodies, and you don’t have to have celiac disease to have an intolerance to gluten. Some don’t notice any effect when eating it while others feel sick immediately after consumption.So, what is the difference between gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity?According to Shari Lieberman, PhD, CNS, “gluten sensitivity can masquerade as everything from digestive disorders (irritable bowel) to skin disorders (eczema, acne, psoriasis), neurological disorders (behavior problems, headaches, brain fog), and even autoimmune diseases (MS).”The biggest difference between the two is that symptoms with an intolerance appear quickly after eating wheat or other gluten-dense foods and include discomforts like cramping, gas, and diarrhea.


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