For Lent two years ago, I decided to jump on the bandwagon of hating on grains and gave them up. No bread, no cereal, no cake, no cookies, no pasta, no rice. The one exception I made was quinoa, which I later found out can technically be classified as a seed. For someone from a part Italian family in which bread is heavily featured, this was quite a daunting task. Yet I wanted a challenge and to see whether giving up grains would actually make a difference in my health. I also wanted to do something that did not involve my giving up biting my nails or chocolate. Giving up grains was the new health craze, and I wanted to see what it was all about. Lent proved the perfect opportunity, especially because people are generally much more accepting of those things when you say it's for a religious reason. Of course, I was also living in Memphis, Tennessee, at the time, so that could have something to do with it. I suppose that if I had been in California, people would have been much more open to my new endeavor.
When I told my friends I was giving up grains, they didn't understand and had no idea what I was going to eat. Surprisingly, finding foods to eat was never a problem. Instead of Cheerios or oatmeal in the morning, I would eat Greek yogurt or apples and peanut butter or eggs. For snacks, I brought carrots and hummus. Lunch was usually some vegetable medley. Dinners varied greatly, sometimes including salad, sometimes just cheese and olives. I found grain-free recipes all over Pinterest. My favorite was a recipe for granola bars that involved heating peanut butter in a pan with a bit of coconut oil and then adding in nuts or seeds or dried fruit. I would then spread it out on wax paper and freeze it. My friends all agreed they were delicious. They became a problem, really. I ate way too many of those granola bars. They also did not hold up very well, but that was fine because I'd throw the extra bits in yogurt. I still make them from time to time -- but only rarely, because I lack self-control and will eat them all in a day.
I always am asked whether I lost weight or felt healthier or what happened when I tried this. I gave up grains (with a few cheats, but very rarely) for about five months. I started eating them again when I studied abroad in France. I was not about to pass up fresh baguettes. In the beginning, my weight stayed pretty regular, probably because I ate way too many homemade granola bars. I did start to see the weight come off after about two months, but I was also exercising heavily during that time. I ended up eating more fruits, dairy and nuts. My diet became fairly fixed. I never felt that I was held back by not eating grains. Though I felt lighter and more energetic, I was tired easily and seemed to always be sore from working out. My body never seemed to fully recover. I didn't mind the feeling, but I did not feel that my body was being nourished properly.
Now that I have incorporated grains -- e.g., whole grains, rice, oatmeal -- back into my diet, I do feel better. I have not seen an increase in my weight since going back on grains. I also feel fuller after eating a slice of toast with peanut butter than I did after eating two eggs for breakfast.
Typical diets seem to center very heavily on grain products, and finding alternatives was exciting to me, as well as quite tasty. But I'm glad to have more of a balance back in my diet. I like being able to eat a slice of my sister's freshly made focaccia without feeling guilty but will try not to eat solely that for my meal, although I could. My sister makes delicious Italian breads and desserts.
Based on my experiment, my advice to people wanting to go gluten-free or grain-free is to try it. Everybody is different, and some people seem to benefit quite a bit from this experiment. My body feels healthier now, but I'm also quite glad I tried it. Overall, the old advice of eating a balanced diet is key, as well as trying to eat as naturally as possible. If a graduate student living on a stipend can eat healthful foods, almost anyone can.