There comes a time in every person’s life that s/he must look change square in the eye and say to it, “Come on in, friend. I’ve been waiting for you.” A time, when we have to do the things that scare us, that challenge us, and that ultimately help us grow. These are the things that make us stronger, that bring us closer to ourselves in ways we never thought possible.
Going gluten-, dairy- and fried-food-free for a week was not one of those things.
I know a handful of people who have given up any or all of these things and live full (pun intended) lives, so I know it’s possible. I figured trying it for a week couldn’t be that hard. I mean, there’s an aisle at the grocery store dedicated to gluten-free foods, and dairy substitutes abound. Oh, and I shouldn’t be eating fried food all that often to begin with, so a week is what, maybe equivalent to one meal? Piece of (gluten-free) cake.
Turns out, I was right. Going gluten-, dairy- and fried-food-free was exactly like a piece of gluten-free cake. That is to say, it was weird, hard and undeniably missing something. Each of the seven days that passed was harder and more—special—than the last, and I don’t know how to accurately put into words what it was like. So I won’t put it into words. I’ll put it into foods. More specifically, into the foods I couldn’t eat, ranked from hardest to give up (CHOCOLATE) to easiest (cottage cheese).
I should preface this by clarifying one thing: I didn’t start this cleanse entirely by choice. I’m not going to get into details, but suffice it to say conditions were just so that trying it out (while also ditching alcohol, caffeine and even running) made sense. Getting to count it as one of my “30 Before 30” things was just a little bonus.
The first day of the diet started with a lot of promise. I was almost excited to see what all the fuss was about. But as I high-tailed it to my usual grocery store with visions of the Yellow Brick Aisle of Gluten-Free Food dancing in my mind, it became clear: This was going to suck.
When I turned the corner to lane 6, any hope of finding diet-friendly chips that were indiscernible from CheezIts were dashed. The aisle that, in my mind, had been as stocky as the Lollipop Guild is stout turned out to be a couple shelves no wider than an endcap. The cookies, pastries and muffins-worthy-of-a-dunk-in-tomorrow’s-latte were nowhere to be found. Instead, I saw a couple of unexciting options: One kind of tortilla. One brand of chips. One package of sandwich bread. To make matters worse, each item cost nearly double what its wheat-based counterpart did, just a couple hundred feet away.
But I didn’t let myself despair—yet. I’d pick up a couple options—the tortillas, the bread and a bag of “Nacho Nacho Man” chips—and give them a chance. Maybe they tasted better than they looked?
Score: 7/10 (Toast). While completely unexciting on its own, a simple piece of bread has the potential to become something really great when knowingly prepared. It’s easy to make (bonus points) and I’ve been known to gnaw on a plain slice of Dave’s before a run, so it’s not the easiest thing to give up.
Tuesday was a bad day all around. Me and my diet were doomed to hit a stress-induced wall, and like a crash test dummy in a self-driving car, we did. At the end of a stressful day at work, I took two pieces of the tiny, dense sandwich bread and made two open-faced “sandwiches”: One turkey, mayo and tomato, the other BBQ pork. The first went down pretty easily when I ignored the gummy texture of the bread, but the latter was a fight. Something about the spongy texture of the slice and the mushy consistency of the pork made my stomach turn, and I had to quit midway through.
With the moratorium extended to running, wine and chocolate, I had no vices left to wash away the taste of this meal, or this day. So I did the next best thing: Plastered myself on the couch and watched reruns of Gilmore Girls ’til night fell.
Score: 10/10 (Chocolate). Seeing as I had to flat-out give up chocolate, Tuesday was as hard as, well, giving up chocolate. Only two days in, and I was already realizing how much of my life’s happiness hinged on the things I could eat and drink. There was nowhere to go but up from here, I supposed.
The fact I survived Wednesday is 1,000 percent the doing of the brown-eyed babe I’m lucky enough to call my husband. By 8 a.m., he had already pledged to suffer—I mean fast—with me and suggested we order pizza that night. When I reminded him our dish of choice was 2/3 foods I couldn’t eat, he proudly informed me our favorite spot offers gluten-free crust, and we could go cheese-less to boot.
His plan worked. I had something to look forward to and the rest of the day was, OK. But when what should have been glorious Italian goodness showed up at our door as a tiny, flat disc of cardboard, I gave up. Not even the salty taste of my own tears could make this better.
Score: 9/10 (Coffee). Second only to chocolate (and maybe wine) is the other legal drug, caffeine. My vessel of choice, with lots and lots of cream and sugar, of course, is coffee. Rare is the day that isn’t made better by a mocha. Trying to imitate a beloved food like pizza while leaving off its main ingredients is like trying to get through a day at the office without a steady caffeine buzz: Unimaginable.
Obviously, eating just wasn’t going to be fun anymore. Maybe in more capable hands, a restricted diet could be creative and delicious, but for someone whose favorite recipe is a take-out number, experimenting just wasn’t going to happen. I finally gave up and resigned myself to a week of pocket-sized sandwiches and funky chips.
Score: 8/10 (Pop-Tarts). In our house, nothing says fall quite like the aroma of a toasty S’mores Pop-Tart on a chilly Saturday morning. Our first autumn was spent sharing packet after packet of the sugary treats any time, day or night, always with the curtains drawn and covers pulled tight. But like all good things, eventually this ritual had to end (mostly because our appetites—and waistlines—were no longer suppressed by the new-relationship need to impress each other…). But every time I walk by the Pop-Tarts aisle on the way to self-checkout, I have to resist the urge to grab a box, for old time’s sake. Thursday was like that: Hard, but not impossible.
Basically, the whole day was just more sandwiches, and also sleeping most of the time so as to avoid eating.
Score: 6/10 (Potato chips). This one depends on the flavor. Offer me a handful of regular Lay’s and I’ll easily put up my hand in a polite, “No, thank you.” But shake a fresh bag of Harvest Cheddar SunChips at me, and I’ll be eating out of your palm like a baby bird in seconds flat. Friday was only hard if I wasn’t napping, which thanks to half-day Fridays and an excruciating workweek, wasn’t much after 12 p.m.
Turns out, doing a cleanse over the weekend when you can hole up in your apartment with Netflix, video games and a cute boy is not actually half bad. Especially when said cute boy suggests you drown the week’s sorrows in Chinese food delivery and your movie pick. A good night’s sleep (the week’s first!) softened the pang of jealousy as I watched Fredo sip on his Ethiopian Roast, and the day passed like a dream. Things were definitely looking up. That night, I happily indulged in seconds of ginger chicken with white rice and smiled at life.
Score: 4/10 (Bagels). Don’t get me wrong—I love bagels. Especially when they’re buried under a mound of cream cheese the size of a small ant hill. But what I don’t love is the guilt and debilitating sugar crash that accompanies them. Unless it’s special circumstances (we just got done with a long, sweaty hike and happen upon a resurrected Kettleman’s Bagels and there’s no line and we have the exact change for two plus schmear clanging around in our pockets), I can usually say “pass.” Sure, maybe I would’ve liked to have eaten some of the fortune cookies that came with our order, but I could wait until next time.
Now that I knew Chinese food was an option, I was good to go. Who needed gluten or dairy when you could have these delicious leftovers? Let’s not focus on the fact that the ginger chicken was more than likely stir-fried, mostly because that doesn’t count. Right?
Score: 5/10 (Pasta). Pasta, when done right, is fantastic, but have it one too many times as a kid and it loses its appeal. Sunday was kinda like that. Good, but not as easy as the first time around.
Hallelujah it was over! It’s ooooover! Technically, it wasn’t really over until that night, but I was too close to care. I said it’s over, so it’s OVER!
Score: 1/10 (Cottage cheese). Who actually likes that stuff, anyway?
The timing of my gluten-, dairy- and fried-food-free experiment (and the reason for it in the first place) wasn’t ideal, and I’m sure that was a huge factor in how hard it was. Maybe if I’d had a better week, or hadn’t have to give up so many of my other favorite things, too (ahem, alcohol, caffeine AND running), I would’ve had more energy and desire to try recipes and really embrace the week. As it was, though, it was super hard, and is something I’m grateful I don’t have to do for real. I have a whole new respect for all my vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free friends. You guys are some tough chicks (and dudes…I think there’s one of you?)!