Monday, April 9, 2012

Living Wheat Free on a Budget Part I: Get Tested and Eliminate!

It has been almost two years since I found out that wheat was making me so sick after every single meal. I was pretty devastated by this news and so I have spent a lot of time learning how to cook new foods, learning how to resist temptation and learning how to eat at restaurants and at other people's houses without being a burden.

All of these things hard to deal with, but what is most irritating is the literal price you have to pay to eat wheat/gluten free foods. These replacement foods can completely blow your food budget and I cringe every time I have to buy them. In an attempt to help any newbie wheat free eater's out there, I am going to spend this week going through the tricks that I've learned to stay on a budget and still eat wheat free (and some tricks for dealing with the other problems I listed).

Trick #1: Get Tested

Not this type of test; a blood test. It took years to figure out what was going on with me. Part of this reason was that I tested negative for Celiac Disease. I was tested 4 times over the course of 2 years because my symptoms kept pointing to this being the issue but every test was negative. This, however, is not the case for everyone and if you are having major digestive issues (which I'm not going to get into here; you can look them up) you should set up an appointment with your doctor to discuss this and get tested. This is important because Celiac Disease can lead to malnutrition and you need to be really careful with this.

I do not have Celiac Disease though. Why is this good for my budget? People with Celiac Disease need to avoid Gluten which is in more than just wheat. Since I know I don't have Celiac Disease, I can be a little less restrictive in what I eat and so I'm not force to buy only the most expensive foods out there.

Trick #2: Eliminate

So you've tested negative for Celiac Disease (and in my case also had a colonoscopy and tried 3 different types of IBS drugs) and you're a little frustrated that a solution hasn't come to the surface yet and you're still getting sick. Now is the time to eliminate wheat from your diet. This was finally suggested to me by a nutritionist and it was a really hard task. You don't really realize how prevalent wheat is in the American diet until you try to not eat it. Also, you neet to write down EVERYTHING you eat which is a pain. I didn't eat wheat for 2 weeks and by the end of the 2 weeks I wasn't getting sick anymore. I then reintroduced wheat into my diet and proceeded to get sicker than I had in a really long time. I repeated this elimination to make sure the first time through wasn't a fluke and not surprisingly, the same thing happened.

I had found my culprit. I was pretty upset at the time since it is really hard to eliminate such a huge thing from your diet. As time went on though, I continued to do elimination diets to test my sensitivity. Everybody that I know who can't eat wheat has different levels of sensitivity. I know some people that if a piece of bread touches their food, they will get sick and others that if they eat a small amount, they get sick within an hour. If you know your level, then this can help your budget and help you out with going out or eating at other people's houses.

It turns out that in the grand scheme of things, I'm relatively lucky. I can have small amounts of wheat without having a huge reaction and I have learned that I will have a reaction 24 hours after ingesting too much wheat. This basically means that my large intestines are getting irritated, most likely from an allergic reaction to the wheat, and as long as I don't irritate them too much, then I won't get sick.

For example, if at work I eat a quesadilla from the cafe (which consists of one small flour tortilla folded in half) once a week, I won't get sick. However, if I ate that Monday-Friday, I would be sick Wednesday-Sunday because by the second day I would have irritated my system too much and would continue to irritate it for the rest of the week.

Basically, using elimination to figure out what effects you and what doesn't allows you to both save money on some things because you can buy the regular brands (I can eat Cheerios and regular Rice Krispies which are processed in plants that process wheat and so can have trace amounts) and allows you to feel like a normal human being every once in awhile.

Come back tomorrow to find out how to save at the grocery store!


  1. Nice post- thanks so much for sharing this. I find it pretty interesting that your reaction to wheat is also dependent on how much you eat, not whether or not you eat it. This adds another layer of complication to testing/eliminating! Looking forward to reading about this more. My mom and a close friend of mine are both gluten free and I am dairy-free.

    1. Thanks for commenting. It's taken a lot of work to get to the point where I know how sensitive I am and the only reason I've spent so much time experimenting is because I hate restricting my diet. 95% of the time I eat no wheat whatsoever just so I can, every once in awhile, eat a "treat" or not worry if someone has put a teaspoon of flour into a meal that I eat at a friends house. I honestly don't think I could do dairy free since I'm pretty much addicted to ice cream!