Hot dogs and Quinoa: I’ve got to break (gluten) free

What if I told you that making a change in your habits, or a change in your diet could actually change your life? This is the story of how I started making changes in my diet, and some of the reasons why I continue to maintain those changes years later.

It all started at a holiday with my grandmother. She had made a dietary change over the summer and had cut out wheat from her diet. I chatted with her a bit and she said it was to help improve her arthritis in her hip. This piqued my interest, and I did some digging, checking out information on a gluten free diet.

What I was reading confirmed what grandma had said, that avoiding gluten could improve some arthritis symptoms and reduce inflammation in the body. I ran this idea of a gluten free diet by my mom, who had started having some of these symptoms. I thought if anyone could benefit from reduced inflammation and pain it was her. I remember clearly, she shot me down. Mom said, “Honey, it is just too hard to do. It is too expensive, and it isn’t a realistic change anyone can make.” I took her shooting down this idea as a personal challenge. I decided I was going to go six months without eating wheat or gluten to see if I could make that change.

I’ve got to break free
I want to break free, Yeah
I want, I want, I want, I want to break free


At first, the things I ate just changed a little bit. I was still eating the same portions but moving away from wheat. I’d have chicken soup with rice and broccoli, instead of chicken and noodles. I’d make gravy with cornstarch instead of flour. I would have corn tortillas instead of flour shells for tacos. I made meatloaf with oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs, or I’d have oat cereal instead of wheat flakes in the morning.

By the second week I was starting to add more vegetables in my cooking. I didn’t feel like I had tons of options staying away from wheat and rice was getting boring. I experimented with sweet potatoes, peppers, spinach, and lettuce wraps. I was definitely eating more fiber with all of the vegetables. I felt off the first couple weeks, like I had the flu. I was a bit grumpy and my body needed a little time to adjust.

A positive change that I noticed right away after adjusting my diet, was I was experiencing fewer headaches throughout the week. After three weeks of eating differently, I felt less pain in my hips and I was less drained on Fridays. I also noticed after I was done eating, I didn’t feel like I was carrying a brick in my stomach. My body was feeling better.

The real surprise was that I was thinking more clearly. A month in and a co-worker noticed. She asked me what I was doing. Was I taking a new vitamin? Had I gotten some kind of new prescription that improved my thinking? She said you can see all these solutions when an issue comes up, and you remember everything, schedules, changes, conversations that were had earlier in the week. I have worked with you for five years and something is different.

I told her, “No, I’m not taking some vitamin and I haven’t started a prescription. I have honestly just been eating different for the past month. I notice it too. I feel mentally sharper, and my body is feeling better, and I don’t think I am ever going back to wheat. Change your diet, change your life, right?” It is interesting because I thought I felt fine before. The diet change helped me actually start feeling good. And I could compare that back and really see how not fine I had been.

Some things to consider when you start eating differently whether it is paleo, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, whole foods, whatever, how you decide to nourish your body might ruffle some feathers. You need to be prepared to offend some folks. Our culture has a lot of implied meaning into the eating of specific foods. To Kevin at work with his mom’s famous chicken enchiladas, “I’m sorry. I appreciate the gesture. I understand that you are telling us all, ‘Thank you for a great job,’ but I am still not willing to eat those flour tortillas.” And, “No Aunt Karen, I will not have any of these potato chips because they have wheat in the seasoning. I am not going to budge on my commitment to myself, even on Christmas.”

Another part of eating differently, there is a bit of convenience you will need to be willing to break up with. After a long day at work, I don’t just stop at the grocery and pick up a bucket of chicken for dinner. Most pizza options will never make it to my table. The big fast food places don’t cater to the gluten free, paleo, vegan, or the whole food crowd. Even convenience meals, like canned soup or frozen dinners are loaded with wheat, or dairy, or corn syrup. You’ll realize they taste pretty junky anyway, once you start eating real food.

When you are making dietary changes, you will need to give yourself permission to say “No.” This might mean saying “No” to going out for a beer or walking away from an abandoned dozen doughnuts left in the breakroom. You may be choosing to refuse a slice of free pie at Burger King (Hungry Jack’s).

While we are here, I also give you permission to say, “yes.”

Say yes to doing things that will make you feel good.

Say yes to investing in your health.

Say yes to changing your diet.

Say yes to listening to your body.

Say yes to trying a new recipe. (Like my cheddar and mushroom meatloaf)

Say yes to a health challenge, or a, health reboot.

Fast forward to now and I am still doing health challenges. I am in a six-week health reboot, and I have challenged myself to a nightly gratitude journal. Update for that, I really like the pause before I go to sleep to reflect and put my day to rest. I like the mental break I am taking from my phone, from social media, and from stress. I am not writing pages and pages. Just writing a few sentences in the journal feels like the right amount. As far as my consistency, I was fantastic the first week not missing any days. This week I am having a rougher time with my consistency. I missed a night yesterday, but I have made space in my evening tonight to get back to my gratitude journal.

I think it is important to acknowledge that sometimes we get off track. I am usually good at keeping up with a dietary challenge, but when it comes to dealing with stress, writing, being creative, or incorporating exercise, I know I need some support. I have a fantastic group of friends that stuck with me through a challenge of 30 days of 50 squats. I also have a group of work people who walked a mile a day with me, every day, for a month. Those experiences felt easier because I had that accountability group.

Remember to be gentle with yourself. Sometimes I super fail at my attempts for eating better or exercising…but, it has been ten years and I am still gluten free. Who knows what little change will change your life? Seriously. If you are on the fence about taking steps to improve your wellness, your stress levels, your health, your life… I challenge you to try just one new healthier habit and maybe you will decide that you aren’t ever going back.

Blog written by Sarah Holtz on 15th June 2021