Let’s face it, ditching gluten isn’t easy. Wheat- the major gluten containing food in America – is a cultural staple and found in our most beloved foods – probably the ones you don’t even want to think about giving up but which are actually actively destroying your health either through gluten-induced inflammation, gluten sensitivities/allergies or from the blood sugar level spiking effect of our gluten-laden foods, especially the processed ones. There’s also the little reported fact that the gluten in wheat and a few other grains breaks down into morphine-like chemicals that bind to our brain’s opiate receptors. Quitting gluten is like quitting any addiction so to break free, it’s best to approach it that way rather than think will power alone is going to work.
Wheat, thanks to those morphine-like chemicals it produces, makes us go crazy with withdrawal and cravings once the bread, pasta, etc. gets taken away. Uncontrolled cravings can lead to binge eating, weight gain, headaches, insomnia, mental fogginess, and irritability. They can increase stress, anxiety, and depression. None of this fun, especially because we usually beat ourselves up over our failures and wonder what the heck is wrong with ourselves. But again, see above regarding MORPHINE-like chemicals in gluten binding to our brain’s OPIATE receptors. Throw in the blood sugar spikes from the carbs in gluten-containing foods like wheat that usually hit our blood like sugar and we go on the high blood sugar to low blood sugar roller coaster that makes us crave another hit before a few hours have even passed.
But these cravings are beatable.
I’ve been on and off the wheat wagon a number of times but have finally reached the point where when I think of pizza, I feel… nothing. No craving. In fact, it doesn’t seem overly appealing anymore. And I used to LOVE pizza. It would always make me break my gluten-free streak. Now I don’t crave bread or pasta and haven’t for even longer. Same for crackers and most wheat snacks or baked goods. How did that happen? Answer, I used a number of methods to soothe, curb, disrupt and replace my wheat cravings both mentally and physically.
Here are the 10 methods you too can use starting today to boot those gluten cravings once and for all without sacrificing taste or satisfaction when it come to food.
#1 – Prep Mentally
Whenever we try something new or try to change habits, we should prepare ourselves mentally for the transition and for the challenges we might face so that we’re not blindsided by them and quit. Instead we can problem solve any issues and move forward. Keep in mind:
Firstly, we’ve been doing things a certain way for a while. When it comes to food, we’ve trained our bodies and minds to like what we’re already doing. When we try new foods, we may go into withdrawal from the removal of our usual foods. That and our gut biomes have adapted to our old eating habits and will undergo a shift when our foods change. Most people don’t realize this and think their body is reacting negatively to the new foods when really, it’s mostly withdrawal symptoms. If you’ve ever tried to give up coffee or colas for a week, you know what I’m taking about! The same is true for sugar, flour, meat, etc. It’s especially true of gluten-containing foods because of the morphine-like chemical byproduct of gluten.
Our digestive systems might also shift during the transition. Rather than thinking your body is telling you that you need the wheat, understand that instead your gut biome and digestive system, nervous system and other levers of your metabolism are undergoing a needed change and are actually improving their functions and abilities. You’ll probably find your digestive issues clearing up at an astounding pace!
Secondly, we are creatures of habit. Don’t expect to like or love all the new gluten-free dishes you might taste. If you’ve never tried something before, try it with an open mind. Think of it as a way to experience new foods or find new recipes to incorporate into your meal rotation. See it as a fun exercise, not a drag, and you’ll have better results.
Thirdly, when we change our diet, the experience is usually new. The recipes will take longer to organize and prep simply because you haven’t spent years making them or buying them. In time the foods, ingredients and recipes become second nature and you can modify them as easily as your current meal rotations. Expect the learning curve rather than be upset by it.
Part of the success of changing our diet is having the right mental framework. From there we can start making the necessary changes in the foods we eat but also stick with them far easier.
#2 – Eat More Protein and Don’t Worry About Fat
Research shows that eating protein makes us feel fuller than when we eat carbs and helps with satiety. Protein, especially healthy ones like those found in beans will provide a fuller sensation than other foods while also giving your body the fiber it needs and which our Western diet of processed foods neglects in favor of insulin-spiking foods that leave us hungry or craving more within two hours of eating them. Even eating meat-derived proteins will leave you feeling fuller.
On the plus side, eating protein can actually help in weight loss as calorie for calorie compared to carbs, more will get burned off as heat rather than absorbed and stored as fat. Eating 1000 calories of protein is actually like eating only 750 to 800 calories. That’s a nice perk.
As for fat, don’t worry about it. Research shows that it’s mostly the sugar and blood-sugar spiking foods we eat that actually lead to heart disease, let alone diabetes and other diseases like most cancer, chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure and most other modern problems (definitely read Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers by neurologist David Perlmutter for the ills associated with gluten and high blood sugar). Fat and protein don’t really seem to lead to any of these unless we’re talking unhealthy fats like those found in modern processed oils, fast foods and our processed foods. Stay away from those but really, you can eat meats, cheese, dairy, etc. These will keep you full, and your body and brain actually need fat to work optimally.
When you eat more filling foods that don’t lead to withdrawal symptoms, that’s half the battle right there. You’ll cut out more and more snack cravings or the automatic impulse to reach for more carbs in a couple of hours.
#3 – Eat a Healthy Breakfast
Along the same lines as eating more protein, eat a good breakfast to keep your body feeling full. Skip the donuts and pastries and go with eggs or yogurt with fruit and nuts. This will actually keep you going longer, minimize the urge for a mid-morning snack and generally see you through to lunch without the head fog and tiredness that accompanies the typical wheat breakfast of cereal, pastries, bagels, English muffins, etc. and the mid-morning crash that follows about two hours after eating them.
Need ideas for filling, delicious breakfasts? Check out my article This Isn’t Food: 7 Common Breakfast “Foods” You’re Probably Eating and Their Better Whole Food Replacements.
#4 – Find Tasty Carb Replacements for Your Meals
Quitting wheat and gluten usually means intense cravings and withdrawal. One of the my best tricks was finding other carbolicious foods to replace things like the pizza, pasta and bread we eat so chronically. Other cultures aren’t so addicted to these three foods. In Asia, rice is their go to carb and they eat it at almost every meal as a side, usually only half a cup to a cup.
I’ve found that rice is a versatile dish and has really helped so much to cut cravings or sooth them when they hit, especially when it came to replacing my pasta and pizza meals. With rice, the possibilities are endless and delicious, from stir-fries to curries to Mexican rice bowls or Hawaiian style poke bowls. Even Forbidden rice with mushrooms, sesame seeds, a drizzle of sesame oil and a crack of black pepper makes a fantastic side. Rice also makes a good replacement in soups that might otherwise call for pasta. You’re not just stuck with white rice either. There’s wild rice, pink rice, black rice aka Forbidden rice, and other mixes.
But there’s not just rice to work with. Other grains that are gluten-free are fantastic for cooking carb-soothing dishes. Quinoa, buckwheat (not actually a wheat), farrow and others can make tasty additions to cold salads or as the base for your main dishes. Another easy and quick replacement are corn tacos. You can load these with any meat or vegetarian option or make enchiladas or quesadillas, etc.
#5 – Play With Other Flours
When we think of a life without wheat, we automatically think we’ll never have cake, cookies, pizza, pastries or delicious foods again and will be stuck eating bland concoctions in the gluten-free aisle of our grocery store. This is terribly limited thinking. I bake cookies, muffins and other goodies when the carb or sugar craving really hits. But I don’t bake with wheat flour. Instead, I play with rice flour, which is pretty darn close to white flour in taste and product, as well as buckwheat flour which is close to whole wheat in texture and taste.
Then there is corn flour, almond flour, coconut flour and so much more. My baking has reached a new level just by experimenting with these in recipes that call for wheat. The results are pretty fantastic and take the edge off. Cooking with these will help soothe and calm wheat cravings while still allowing us to eat our beloved desserts and snacks.
Many gluten-free flours are still as carb-packed as wheat flour so you’ll still spike your blood sugar levels and go on the carb roller coaster to some extent, but you’ll find the opiate-like addiction easing since you won’t be consuming foods that break down into those morphine-like chemicals. To help with blood sugar regulation, it’s good to eventually step down to flours made from nuts like almond or coconut but that’s another battle and sometimes the best war to win is simply switching off wheat first.
#6 – Peer Pressure Responses
One of the biggest hurdles to quitting wheat is its prevalence in our society. People bring donuts and bagels to the office to share in the morning. Offices love pizza parties. We celebrate birthdays with cake and other wheat-based desserts. And then there is your family’s favorite foods. Just because you’re trying to quit wheat doesn’t mean everyone around you will. In fact, they’ll probably roll their eyes at your attempts and try to induce you to fall off the wagon, even if they’re just meaning well by saying things like “just once won’t hurt” or “can’t you just treat yourself?” and things like that.
Food is culture. If your family and friends are wheat lovers who have never seen a pasta or bread they didn’t love, you may feel peer pressure over your new food selections or feel tempted to cheat and eat like normal. Having prepared defenses can really help. If others tell you to cheat or give you grief, you can point out gently:
- Your health issues if you have any
- Any health issues in your family
- That you are trying to alleviate or prevent any health issues
- And that you could really use support since this isn’t easy
Many people if approached this way will be more considerate and helpful, especially if you tell them you don’t expect them to eat like you (some immediate family members will fear any food changes). Accept this and remember that you are the only person who can truly make the changes you want. Respect and love yourself enough to try what you’re wanting to do, no matter what others think.
#7 – Keep Gluten-Free Food On Hand for Emergencies
Whenever I didn’t have snacks or easy to prepare gluten-free foods on hand, that’s when I most cheated. Usually for dinners I’d look in my mostly bare cabinets and call Dominos because I just didn’t want to cook. Even if the foods aren’t necessarily all that healthy, it’s important to keep something easy to make always in your fridge or on your shelf, as well as stored at work or in your bag.
For instance, maybe have microwavable rice dishes in the fridge or heat and serve enchiladas, canned soups, etc in your pantry. I found that so long as I had canned beans and diced tomatoes I would make a bean salad in 5 minutes and skip that Dominos call. It all depends on your weak points and engineering your environment to plan for them. Another example is keeping your replacement snacks and desserts handy too. Instead of again calling Dominos for their cookies, brownies or cinnamon sticks, I now keep frozen fruit for quick homemade sherbet and gluten-free flours on my shelf for sudden cookie cravings. Even ramen made only with rice flour is my go-to for quick meals when I just don’t feel like cooking.
Maybe your weakness is crackers or cookies, pastries or bread. What are alternatives that you personally like and can easily keep on hand? Maybe you’ll switch from cookies to chips and salsa, hummus and veggie dippers, or fruits and nuts.
#8 – Stock Up on Your Favorite Foods
You probably already have tons of food you love that’s gluten-free. Meat, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds are all gluten-free. Focus less on what you can’t eat and more on what you love that’s already good for you. If you feel like your meals are limited by the shift, take your favorite ingredients and look up new recipes. The world is an amazingly diverse place and an infinity of recipes exist that are fantastic. Love tomatoes? Look up “tomato recipes” and you’ll find endless pages of dishes that feature them as an ingredient. You can do this with any ingredient and stay busy forever finding new and delicious dishes to make. Rather than your options being limited, you’ll actually find the door opening on an endless variety of new foods to try that you didn’t ever notice before.
#9 – Use a Mindfulness Trick
If you’ve ever done meditation or practiced mindfulness, I recommend using that training on your cravings. One of my go to tricks is to sit with a craving when it hits. Most times, we get a craving and just concentrate on how horribly hungry we are for the given food. It consumes our thoughts. This technique won’t work for everyone but if you’ve reached a point in meditation or mindfulness where you can step back from thoughts or emotions, this might work for you like it does me. What to do:
When the craving hits, step back from the thoughts that buzz around in your head and simply look at the sensation in your body. Focus on that like you would when you look out at a landscape or when studying something of interest. This is done without mental commentary, similar to when we see something for the first time and we’re just trying to take it in without labels. You’re simply feeling it with your awareness and accepting it.
When you do this with cravings, you’ll feel the physical sensations and energy associated with that craving. Usually this intense focus lessens the craving within a few minutes. It’s not necessarily easy and the mind generally tries to wander off into thought about the food we’re craving rather than stick with this unpleasant sensation in the body. I just bring my focus back and reflect on how interesting the intensity is or how strange that it’s in my chest or stomach or gut. The physical sensation is really curious and I like to probe it with my awareness to take in every aspect of the feeling.
Typically all our sensations, thoughts and emotions are pretty transitory. By focusing on the cravings, the mind usually gets tired before long and turns to something different. Having the flashlight of mindfulness on a craving often limits its impact but not always. Personally, I find it works best for when I’m bored in the evening and my food cravings arise from lack of anything else to do.
#10 – Don’t Beat Yourself Up
When trying to quit anything, we go through stages. We’re only human. It’s not like we can just reprogram ourselves once and voila, habit changed. Often we want to blame ourselves for our failures and tell ourselves we can’t do it but actually, will power and mental resolve are small pieces of the puzzle. After all, our cravings are mostly based on chemistry and with its morphine-like chemical byproducts, beating gluten meants beating an addiction using various tricks for the mind but also the body like those mentioned so far.
So don’t beat yourself up if you lapse, just continue on with the next meal and be proud for what you do follow. Get back into the routine. See what’s worked and what hasn’t and step by step, start finding more and more methods that make the process acheivable for you. Over time, your body and its cravings, both physical and mental, do shift. Your taste buds also undergo a change but it’s not immediate. See the small and large changes as they occur. Celebrate those. In this way we grow and change, strengthening ourselves in the process until our new habits are second nature and our taste preferences – and meals – have shifted along with us.
Food as Adventure
If we only focus on what we’re giving up, we’ll always be caught in the past and resent our present as limiting and difficult. By seeing a change to a gluten-free life as a culinary adventure and a passport to great health, we’ll stay more motivated and face forward to a better future while enjoying the present. Succeed with the change can really hinge on which perspective you take, especially when it comes to staying motivated. Look forward at everything you’ll gain.
For me, quitting wheat literally changed my life. I went from chronic pain and a deteriorating body and mental state to phenomenal health and vitality. Sure, the first tries failed but I always tried and tried again because I loved how I felt with good health and high energy and I hated the pain and fatigue that came with relapse, let alone the fear of what gluten was doing to me that I didn’t feel and what that meant for my future health. Check out my articles What Happened When I Gave Up Bread and How I Went from the Standard American Diet to a Whole Foods Diet in a Year and Reclaimed My Health. If you give up gluten, I guarantee you’ll see changes in your own health and vitality pretty quickly, possibly overnight but definitely within a week or month.
If you’re looking for motivation, why not take up The 7 Day Gluten-Free Challenge? You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain health wise. Worried about what to eat and afraid you’ll be giving up tasty food forever? Have no fear about that! Check out these 100+ Gluten-Free Recipes for Every Meal, Snack or Dessert Craving.
When you go gluten-free, the shift will include cravings and withdrawal. Use these 10 methods to curb those cravings starting today. You won’t regret the change.
Like this article? Share it so that others learn these health secrets and start living their best life now.