Elimination Diets: Gluten-Free

Over the past couple of weeks, we've explored the pros and cons of the Paleo Diet through the eyes of pro paddler Chase Kosterlitz, and taken a look at the ins and outs of veganism with Kip Hoffman. Now we're examining what it means to go gluten free. With more and more people eliminating gluten due to celiac disease (whereby the body wages war on the small intestine when gluten is consumed—a problem the Mayo Clinic claims is affecting 1.8 million Americans) and gluten sensitivity (a further 18 million people), and “leaky gut syndrome,” gluten free products can be found in almost every grocery store. Indeed, manufacturers of gluten free bread, cereal, and other products saw a jump to $10.5 billion in sales in 2014. Before we jump into paddler Nicole Madosik's story of going gluten free, we’ll take a look at some of the basics. —Phil White

A nutrition approach that excludes gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat and other grains, which many experts believe causes digestive illnesses and ailments.

Not to be too obvious, but any and all foods that contain gluten or have been processed in facilities that also manufacture foods containing gluten.

Avoid leaky gut syndrome, celiac disease, GI irritation, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and other digestive complaints.

That many gluten free products are highly processed and cut out crucial trace minerals (magnesium, zinc, etc.) usually found in whole grain pasta, bread and other products. Also, only one percent of the US population is allergic to gluten, so complete elimination may be unnecessary.

Photo: Chuck Patterson

Photo: Chuck Patterson

Nicole Madosik got into the Oahu SUP scene so early that when she saw a car drive by with a board on top she knew who owned it. Back then, she pretty much ate anything she wanted, and as she could see progression in training and races, didn't pay much attention to diet.

But then, in 2012, Nicole visited Vancouver for a long weekend getaway and met up with a physician friend. He asked her about her nutrition plan and she said there was no plan really—she just tried to eat mainly whole foods. When asked if she was having any health problems, she realized she did feel uncomfortable after a lot of meals. Sometimes it was bloating, other times she felt hungry even though she just ate. They went over Nicole's typical 'day in the life' food plan together. "Then he looked at me and said, ‘You know, you should probably cut out gluten and dairy.'” Returning to her home on Oahu the next day, that's exactly what she did. Here's what happened next:

What did it feel like when you went 'cold turkey' with gluten and dairy products?
I'd love to say it was great right away, but it wasn't. For about nine or 10 days I just felt weird, I was angry a lot, and my friends and family probably wondered what the heck was going on! I shocked my body by completely changing my diet, and was also having to learn how to eat again without these two food groups. Plus, I didn't know how much to eat and when. It took almost two weeks for my system to reset.


Since that initial problem, how have you felt?
I'd say that nine out of 10 days—no, more like 19 out of 20—I feel great. I'm not bloated anymore, I don't have energy crashes at odd times of day, and I don't feel hungry just after eating like I often used to. I train a lot, paddling as many days as I can and doing muay thai two to four times a week, so I'm a hungry girl. Now I eat what I need to refuel, but I'm not putting things into my body that it doesn't know how to handle.

What’s been the impact on your paddling?
I typically measure my performance by seeing how I'm doing against Morgan [Hoesterey] and my other training partners, and since going gluten and dairy free, I can see continual improvement. They push me, and I'm able to respond better than when I was just eating whatever, whenever. I feel stronger, I have more energy, and I don't feel uncomfortable after eating.

One of the knocks on the gluten free diet is that it removes a lot of the trace minerals found in whole grains. What do you say about that?
I think that most people who think that way aren't getting as much of a balanced diet as they might think. And the minerals your body needs—potassium, magnesium, zinc and so on—there are a lot of foods that are rich sources beyond grain-based products. I know that women need quite a bit of iron, so I eat spinach as part of my lunch most days, for example. If you eat a wide variety of foods, you'll be just fine.


Is it hard to not cheat and just say, "Forget it, I want wheat bread so I'm going to have it?"
You know, I'm not fanatical about my diet. I try to only drink gluten-free beer, but if I'm out with friends and that's not an option I'll have a regular beer and not worry about it. A lot of restaurants have no gluten free options, so it's either French fries or something with dairy or gluten! As long as I'm staying away from gluten and dairy most of the time, it's fine. You've got to live your life.

It sounds like you might do things differently if you had the choice again between gradually eliminating gluten and dairy, versus immediately cutting both. Is that right?
Everyone's body is different and reacts in certain ways to each food and beverage. So I'd advise people to just experiment with what works for them, and what doesn't. Listen to your body. But don't just try something new for a day and then quit when you don't get immediate results. It takes time for your body to adapt to dietary changes. My sister just called me to say she's on the Paleo Diet and that's great for her—I'm not going to tell her she's doing the wrong thing or that my approach is better.

View Part I of this series, focusing on the Paleo Diet.
View Part II of this series, focusing on veganism.

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