Why I Went Wheat Free, and What That Means For Me

Recently, I went off wheat.

Many of you who follow my blog closely know that I suffered from some sort of dermatitis on my face that never seemed to go away permanently.  About a month ago, it got so bad that I had to schedule an emergency appointment with my dermatologist, and she was finally able to diagnose it as a moderate-severe case of eczema.  I was prescribed Protopic (a high level immunosuppressant) that literally cleared it up within two days.  However, this ointment is a pain to apply as it has the consistency of Vaseline (so it never absorbs completely) and looks incredibly greasy when on (so I only wear it at night).  I tried not using it for a day, and the eczema came back right away.

Now that I knew what this skin affliction was, I started doing some research to see what I could do to end it.  After a few weeks of reading through multiple articles that basically said that medication was my only hope, I stumbled upon one that listed wheat as a possible instigator of skin rashes.  Armed with my new search-word, I was flooded with articles and research about wheat allergies (different from coeliac, which is a gluten allergy, wheat allergies are often an adverse reaction to the a certain protein found only in wheat products).  And, surprisingly, many of them listed eczema as a possible symptom of mild wheat intolerance.

Seeing no downside to testing this theory, I went off wheat for a week.  Now, for me, that was no big deal.  I don’t eat pasta or bread, and looking over my normal diet, the only things I’d need to cut out would be granola bars and baked goods (I love baking).

To properly test this possibility, I would also have to forego using the Protopic for a few days after purging wheat from my system.  So, after a week of denying myself all manner of confectionaries, I went for three days without using the ointment.  And nothing happened.  My skin stayed clear.  No dry, red, inflamed skin.  Nothing.

Since then, there have been a couple of occasions where I’ve ingested wheat.  The first was a total surprise.  First off, let me say that Trader Joe’s makes some bangin’ pre-cooked foods that are great for when you’re in a hurry.  One of these are their falafels.  I was running to my graduation rehearsal and hadn’t eaten yet, so I popped a few of these in the microwave and gobbled ‘em down on the way.  And the next day, I noticed that the eczema had reappeared on my eyebrows and ears.  Two days of Protopic, and it was completely gone again.

The few other times have been on purpose.  If I go out for a special meal, I’m not going to deny myself something I really want just because it has wheat in it.  I just make sure to apply the medication the minute I get home, and I’m usually all set.

But now I know I have to be really careful when eating food that I didn’t prepare myself (I don’t eat out or eat pre-made meals much, so it’s often not an issue).  But take the case of the falafels.  They’re chickpea cakes.  I never assumed that they would have wheat flour in them.  But after reviewing my diet from the day before and seeing nothing else that could have had wheat in them, I checked the ingredients label of these delicious Egyptian treats, and sure enough, close to the bottom, was “wheat flour”.

It’s surprising how many foods contain hidden wheat ingredients.  Soups and puddings often contain a bit of wheat as thickeners, oatmeal often contain some ground wheat as a filler and thickener, and even some ice creams have a very small amount of wheat for who know’s what reason.

For me, going off wheat isn’t a huge deal.  Most of the foods I normally eat come raw and unprocessed (fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, etc.) or are definitely safe (greek yoghurt, protein bars {while some contain wheat, the better ones often contain better, higher quality carbohydrates, such as soy}, etc.).  When I do purchase new, cooked, etc. foods, I just have to scan over the ingredients label to make sure there’s no hidden wheat in there.  Since the coeliac boom, companies have emerged that offer only gluten free products (which are also safe for people not eating wheat), so I’ve been sampling some of those as well.  My allergy isn’t nearly bad enough for any wheat at all trigger to my eczema, so I’m still able to eat products labeled as being handled or made in a facility that contains wheat products.  It’s also an ingestion allergy, not a contact one, so I can certainly touch and handle wheat products with no fear.

But the biggest hit for me was baking.  I bake a lot.  And I love it.  But nearly every baked good contains wheat of some sort.  Since going off wheat, I’ve found a great number of other types of flour that can be substituted for wheat.  Brown rice flour, which gives a great texture to breads and cookies.  Almond meal, which can be substituted for about half of the required flour to keep breads and cakes moist and give them an ambiguously nutty flavor.  Coconut flour, which lends a sweet flavor to cakes while keeping them extremely moist.

And since going off wheat… I feel so much better.  My skin has obviously improved, but beyond just the eczema.  My acne has completely subsided (which I also credit to my medication for that and a new skincare regiment), and it’s not longer red all the time.  I’m not nearly as tired as I always used to be, and I just feel healthier.  I have no idea if these are effects of going off wheat, but I started noticing them only a week after changing my diet.  It’s definitely a change I recommend to everyone.  Even just cutting back on the wheat can help you look and feel your best, as well as shaving off extra carbs from your diet.

So. That’s my diet change story.  Every recipe I post on here from now on will be wheat-free, and honestly, most of them are better than their wheat-filled originals (by my account and those of friends and family).  My question to you is, would you ever consider cutting back on wheat products or eliminating them altogether to benefit your skin and body?  Or is your pasta and bread just too dear to you?

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  1. #1 by Mo on June 30, 2011 - 20:31

    huh, good for thought. :o) I have eczema and I have had to go to the dermatologist to get cortisone shots for it. I will have to try taking out the wheat. I have been cleared up with the shots and cream but I will have to try it. I just worry how it looks when I am not using the creams (yeah very greasy). hmmm. I will have to check up on this. Thank you! :o)

  2. #2 by Helena on July 2, 2011 - 06:11

    I have a friend who’s gluten-intolerant (his mother has celiac) and another friend who has convinced herself that wheat and/or gluten is bad for her since meeting the former friend. Neither of them could convince me to give up my delicious baked goods. D:

    • #3 by finallyindigo on July 2, 2011 - 12:53

      Hmmm… Well, I’m posting a recipe that I came up with tomorrow that may just change your mind on wheat-free baking. It certainly did for me!

  3. #4 by Emily on July 4, 2011 - 13:26

    Glad you found something to help your eczema. A little boy I babysat has it on his legs, and it looked pretty awful I actually thought he’d had a nasty run in with some bugs (mosquitoes, wasps) unti lhe told me what it was.

    I went gluten and wheat free about four years ago and have felt so much better ever since! (No more constant stomach pains, yay!)Last year during a band trip I ended up eating a fair amount of wheat because it was so annoying to find “safe” foods without taking forever. I didn’t notice until after I got back home and stopped eating wheat once more, how much it affected me! During the trip I chalked my tiredness and crankiness up to lack of sleep, but I think the wheat (and any other gluten ingestion) certainly agitated it.

  4. #5 by Zaa.miss.bowtie on July 7, 2011 - 08:11

    I thought that red pigment and make-up was causing my eczema ( I think it was my mum trying to get me to wear so much) then i realised that its actually very sour and acidic things that affect me. and also it’s a seasonal thing. i don’t use any cortizone because my skin is already so sensitive, but whenever i feel a flare-up i apply vicks vapo rub and it actually clears it overnight.

  5. #6 by sally@hotmale.com on July 10, 2011 - 17:27

    I think it’s great you were able to find the culprit with some experimentation. It’s definitely worth it to try to cut common allergens (wheat, soy, dairy) for a period of time to see if you have a sensitivity. However, I find the statement “Even just cutting back on the wheat can help you look and feel your best…” to be troublesome – there’s nothing inherently unhealthy about eating wheat (or carbs) in moderation, as long as you aren’t allergic/sensitive.

    • #7 by finallyindigo on July 10, 2011 - 17:40

      I don’t equate wheat inherently with carbs (although they are). By cutting back on wheat, you automatically shave some simple carbs out of your diet, and simple carbs are a common instigator in skin problems from acne to eczema to excessively dry skin and bodily issues such as lethargy and indigestion. There are just many things in wheat (gluten, certain proteins, etc.) that react negatively with many people’s systems, and cutting back on wheat products certainly cannot hurt.

  6. #8 by Emma on July 22, 2011 - 15:09

    I keep reading that the majority of people take in way too much processed wheat product because it’s hidden in almost everything. I was contemplating cutting back on wheat and becoming a vegetarian. I’m in the middle of doing research to create my best diet. But hearing how eliminating wheat from your diet made noticeable changes in your body makes me want to switch over to a more wheat-free diet right now. I don’t struggle with eczema or persistent breakouts, but when I get acne it’s pain-in-the-ass stubborn. I did a complete overhaul on my skincare routine, and while I’ve seen changes, I’m thinking that changing what I put into my body will make more permanent changes. Thanks for bringing this to my attention again and telling us your results. I think it’s great that you’re incorporating all facets of inner and outer beauty on your blog now.

  7. #9 by EMR on July 28, 2011 - 13:20

    I hate being the food police, but as a male you’re really not supposed to eat too much soy because it has a TON of naturally occurring estrogen in it. If you can switch to something else as a replacement then it is actually a lot healthier for you (ex. almond milk over soy milk)

    JUst my two cents!

  8. #10 by Janessa on October 3, 2011 - 01:21

    Well, I’m no expert but at Sprout’s (or whatever Whole-Foods-like store you have) when I bought rice bread for a friend whom could not eat wheat, the expiration date read two years into the future. Just thought that was rather interesting.

  9. #11 by Kb on December 17, 2012 - 04:57

    I have a similar issue and heard about a connection between dermatitis/eczema/psoriasis and leaky gut syndrome. One remedy called for slippery elm powder (I found mine in the bulk medicinal herb section of my local health food store), a pinch in all of your drinking water. I tried this and within a couple of days, all of my dermatitis scabs dried up and started to go away. Tea tree and lavender oil (Deser Essence brand) dabbed on twice a day helped to permanently make them go away. I’m exploring a no wheat and gluten free diet as well. Hope this helps you.

  1. The Best Banana Bread Has a Dirty Secret… « Finally Indigo

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