I recently started a gluten-free diet to see if it would help improve my anxiety and depression. I knew I would miss eating some of my favorite things like whole-wheat pasta and donuts and would probably have cravings for a while. It would be a little sad, but it would be okay, because I would feel so much better.
What I didn’t expect, however, were the major withdrawal symptoms.
During that first gluten-free week, I felt worse than I had in a long, long time. My digestion went haywire. I was achy and had headaches, and I never get headaches. I was exhausted.
I was also very confused -- why wasn’t this working? Why was the cure seemingly worse than the original problem? I knew people who had given up gluten, and I had never heard them complain about any side effects. Maybe this was a huge mistake. Maybe, as Anna said, this meant that I really did need gluten in my life.
To my relief, I discovered that withdrawal symptoms after giving up gluten aren’t uncommon, because gluten can basically act like a drug! In fact, it made me feel like I was on the right track -- clearly, my body has an unhealthy relationship with gluten. Fortunately, a few weeks in, I’m doing much better now, and I’m starting to see the benefits on the other side of the transition.
This process reminded me of two things: 1) Sometimes things that make us feel good and comfortable (or at least functional) are actually really bad for us, and 2) Giving up them up, even though it’s so much better for us, can feel absolutely terrible at first.
I can think of so many ultimately positive changes in my life that were often very painful at first: Starting counseling. Setting boundaries. Taking a new medication.. Quitting and starting new jobs. Moving. All of them gave me “comfort” withdrawal, but on the other side, I felt (and was) so much better. The pain involved at first made it tempting to think that these changes were a bad idea, but the exact opposite was true. I’m glad I hung in there.
I realize that this all a long way of saying “No pain, no gain.” Super original, Mary. But there’s a reason why cliches exist, and I understand this one now more than ever before.