Project Husband Continues
Post by Paula Jahn, Co-owner and Registered Dietitian at Nourish Northwest
One month ago, I wrote a post on starting a gluten- and dairy-free diet for my husband, Owen. And oh, what a project is was. Owen did an impressive job of avoiding free pizza, remembering his lunch, choking down oatmeal, taking his supplements, and asking before eating. Planning and food preparation were all me. Whew!
Here are some example meals:
Breakfast: Breakfast burrito with eggs, bacon, teff tortilla, salsa, avocado OR Steel cut oats, hemp seeds, maple syrup, raisins.
Lunch: On a good day, leftover dinner. On other days, PB&J on GF bread and a smoothie made with coconut milk, cashews and hemp seeds.
Dinner: Miso glazed salmon, quinoa pilaf, sweet potatoes OR Homemade veggie burgers with broccoli OR BBQ chicken, lemon basil potato salad and green beans or roasted cauliflower.
I diligently recorded what he ate, how he felt, what is bowel movements were like, how gassy he was, and any other daily notes. Unfortunately, there were too many confounding factors to make this research very meaningful. Owen works in education. He started his new diet at the same time he started coaching high school football, went back to work, and enrolled in another degree program. While summer has its own brand of crazy, nothing compares to the structure of early mornings, long hours away from home, and demanding teenagers. Oh yeah, and we have a toddler.
There were tears, moments of weakness, accidental gluten and dairy ingestion, and threats of giving up (mostly on my part).
Through all the challenges, I quietly observed his energy level increase. While he denied a big difference in fatigue, I knew there was no way he would have previously worked a 12 hour day, put our son to bed, then sat on the couch to do homework…all without a nap!
Other benefits: Owen experienced some significant digestive changes which, in order to preserve his dignity, I will not elaborate on. This was not mentioned in the baseline data because he didn’t know it was a problem until it wasn’t a problem. “You didn’t tell me you had issues with X!” I said. His response was, “I thought it was normal until now.” This is often how my clients respond when they start to feel the benefits of an improved diet. I had my own moment of this, too. Owen was a chronic throat-clearer. It’s always been this way; it was part of who he was when I met him and I never gave it a thought. Until there was silence. One week into the diet, and no more ahem-ing and hawking.
There were other mild improvements that became more pronounced after Owen “challenged” gluten and dairy (see The Pasta Feed).
The Pasta Feed: The First Test
The pasta feed was on day 25 of the diet and happened to coincide with one of my “I can’t do this anymore” moments of defeat. I was away for the night and hadn’t made dinner. So, Owen ate pasta. And French bread. And cheese. Three days later, the eczema on his face returned after disappearing for three weeks. Digestively, Owen says that his “intestines appreciated a gluten free diet.” Again, details not needed.
The Wedding Weekend (and a trip to fast food): The Second Test
Then, on day 28, we went to a wedding and abandoned all dietary restrictions. A couple days later, after a solid eight hours of sleep, Owen said, “I haven’t been this tired in at least a month.” This was his first recognition that his diet had possibly affected fatigue.
What I Learned as a Dietitian
I’m having a hard time reconciling priorities. As a believer in whole foods nutrition, I found it difficult to not rely on highly processed gluten free versions of wheat-based foods such as breads and cereals. I prefer Happy Campers gluten free bread for its ingredient list, but when Owen eats two sandwiches per day, an $8 loaf of bread is just not sustainable. I ended up finding some GF bread at a discount grocer for $1.50 per loaf. Its first ingredient is tapioca starch, which makes me cringe, but if gluten free is the priority…(twitch). The alternative is to always make enough dinner for leftovers; I have learned that that’s really not sustainable.
I was introduced to some new products. Owen really likes kefir and I found a dairy free product called Koji that is great in smoothies and an excellent food-based probiotic source.
Conclusions: Gluten appears to have a bigger impact on fatigue, digestion, and brain fog for Owen. We have not tested fluid milk; we suspect he is mildly lactose intolerant but other milk proteins (i.e. whey and casein) do not seem to pose a problem. Conditions like eczema may take months of diligent dietary changes to make a difference. We noticed a mild change.
Now, my conscience is clear knowing that as a dietitian, I have worked to help improve the health of my family. Project Husband continues…