Gluten-free, intermittent fasting, meatless

Gluten-free

I refrain from writing about my personal practice of gluten-free, intermittent fasting and meatless eating firstly because I’m not religious about it, i.e. I don’t practice it strictly (especially when I visit family and friends in Singapore and Malaysia - I love our wide variety of Chinese, Malay and Indian dishes that are primarily centered around wheat products) so I can’t make a full advocacy for it, and secondly and more importantly, I recognize that a gluten-free and meatless diet it is not for everyone; in fact, no one diet or method of eating should be recommended for everyone.

In reading this article or any other articles by anyone concerning their meal or diet preferences, take what that person has to say either at face value or with a pinch of salt. Don’t listen, follow or adopt blindly. Figure out what works for you and what don’t. Even if an idea is the best in the world, but if it’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg to do it, turn your world upside down, break your bank or cause riffs between your family, spouse, loved ones or friends and you, is it worth it? Perhaps not. So you be the best judge for how you live and run your world. Alright, now that we’ve gotten this disclaimer out of the way, let’s begin.

In order to understand what gluten-free is, first, let’s define what gluten is.

Gluten is found in wheat products. Gluten is a form of protein which acts as a binding agent that creates a soft, chewy texture in food. Common wheat products include bread, pastries, cakes, noodles, condiments. When someone says they’re gluten-free, it means they don’t consume products that contain gluten or more broadly classified as wheat products, which very commonly means they don’t consume bread, pastries, noodles and the likes thereof. There are strict gluten-free observers and not-so-strict gluten-free observers. The strict ones are those who get seriously ill when they consume gluten. The not-so-strict ones are those who prefer to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diet for health reasons. I fall within the second camp.

I first heard of the adverse effect of gluten on an athlete’s recovery in 2011 when I moved to California (you know how health conscious Californians are). For a number of years after, I’d try every single day and month to be gluten-free. It was extremely difficult and frustrating. I love the smell of fresh, warm bread, the bite into its crispy outer crust which quickly gives way to a soft, white interior, and the way they roll onto your tongue and down your esophagus.. Ooh, heavenly.  And oh, not forgetting the allure of those beautiful, colorful, glistening pastries behind glass counters in coffee shops. They each look like they could have a life and character of their own, instead of being mere creation from dough, butter, eggs and milk.

First I’d promise myself, no bread and pastries at all. I’d promptly proceed to have bread for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pizza for dinner. That’s 3 gluten-loaded meals in a day.

Next day comes around and I’d say, alright, 3 times a day is too much, how about limiting it to once a day? I wouldn’t set a limit on which meal I’d permit myself gluten, but if I have one item of gluten say in the morning, I’d not allow myself any gluten for the rest of the day. This worked only for a day, before I reverted back to having gluten 2-3 times a day. It’s too hard in California, I lamented to myself. Bread is such a staple in the American diet!

After many failed attempts to resist those delightful bread and pastries, I convinced myself I can never be gluten-free.

Yet the stubborn me refused to concede defeat. I want to be gluten-free, because I’ve read so much about the benefits of eliminating wheat from our diet (promotes gut health, reduces brain fog, joint pain, skin inflammation) from wellness advocate Dave Asprey (who invented the Bulletproof Diet) and also from the book Wheat Belly by Dr William Davis. I remember a line from the book which highly motivated me, and I’d be gluten-free for perhaps 7 straight days, before relapsing back to having a little gluten in my diet. That line goes something like this: “Wheat tastes good, no doubt, but if you understand how giving into a temporal delight would result in a lifetime of disaster, you’d be willing to give those yummy tasting bread a miss.”

I thought wow, finally, here is a guy who says the truth as it is. I liked his truth, because it leaves no room for excuses - if you mean business, you’d find a way to make it happen.

His words hung at the back of my mind, and for about six years, I’d gradually reduce my intake of wheat products, primarily bread, pastries, and noodles (think wheat noodles, egg noodles, ramen noodles).

What I’ve found effective in modifying one’s eating habits is the practice of alternatives. What do I mean by this? Simple. If you can’t or don’t want to eat this, eat the alternative (or substitute).

We live in a generation with an overabundance of food choices. Can’t eat wheat? There’s rice, potato, corn. Can’t eat meat? There’s soy, tofu, beans, legumes, tubers. Can’t eat carbs? There’s fats and proteins. Can’t eat fats? There’s carbs.

So when I decided to refrain from wheat-based food, I opted for non-wheat-based food.

Here’s how:

Wheat - refrain:

Bread and pastries

Noodles including yellow noodles, egg noodles, ramen noodles

Non-wheat - substitute:

Gluten-free bread and pastries, usually made from rice, potato, corn flour instead of wheat flour

Rice noodles including vermicelli or thick rice noodles (Singaporeans and Malaysians know it as hor fun)

Alright, now that I’ve gone rather in depth into wheat or gluten replacement/substitutes, here’s the primary reason why I’m doing this.

Imagine you took a fall, you scratch your knee, there’s an open wound, inflammation happens, and then your skin heals and recovers. The same thing with our muscles. When we workout, run, cycle, lift weights, etc, our muscles tear. When they tear, inflammation happens. So far so good. The problem starts when gluten comes into the picture. Gluten, as mentioned earlier, is a sticky-like protein found in wheat products. Gluten literally latches onto the inflammation in our muscles and blocks or slows down the healing and recovery process when our cells are trying to repair from the tear during the workout. You can understand now how much quicker our cells could repair and recover in the absence of gluten.

And this is the primary reason why I practice gluten-free eating. Not because I’m bought into a health fad as Californians are prone to, or because I’m trying to lose weight, though the natural by-product of cutting back on wheat/gluten products is that you do consume less of them, even if you choose gluten-free substitutes. It’s just human nature, when we substitute something, we reduce the amount of.

This is a typical and oh so delightful meal in Singapore and Malaysia. Left: Nasi lemak (coconut rice with chicken or fish, egg, peanuts, anchovies and spicy sambal chilli). Right: Roti prata (flattened and crispy bread). Top: Milk teas. From this picture, can you guess what I eat and what I don’t eat?

This is a typical and oh so delightful meal in Singapore and Malaysia. Left: Nasi lemak (coconut rice with chicken or fish, egg, peanuts, anchovies and spicy sambal chilli). Right: Roti prata (flattened and crispy bread). Top: Milk teas. From this picture, can you guess what I eat and what I don’t eat?


Intermittent fasting

December 2016 saw my first foray into intermittent fasting. I wrote a short and easy-to-read article about my past tried and failed diets and how Intermittent fasting worked. You can read about it here. In fact, at the time of this writing, I have been practicing intermittent fasting for two years now.

Without rehashing the details I’ve talked about in my previous article on the topic of intermittent fasting, here are some quick facts to get you up-to-date with what intermittent fasting is all about:

Fasting is not a new concept. Fasting has been practiced throughout human evolution, from ancient hunter-gatherer days absent of predictable and storable food supplies all year-round. Sometimes they couldn’t find animals or anything to eat for days and weeks on end. As a result,  this forces the human body to evolve and function without food for extended periods of time.

In fact, fasting from time to time is more natural than three or more meals per day.

Common intermittent fasting methods include:

1) The 16/8 method: daily 16-hour fast (eating only within an 8-hour period in a 24-hour day),

2) The 24-hour fast: fasting for 24 hours, twice per week,

3) The 5:2 method: eating between 500 and 600 calories twice a week, and eating normally for the rest of the week.

Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable and easiest to stick to. For these reasons, it’s also the most popular form of intermittent fasting.

How does my intermittent fasting look like? It’s an adaptation of the 16/8 method. Instead of strictly fasting for 16 hours, I’d fast between 12 and 16 hours on a daily basis.

Say I completed dinner at 8pm last night. If I ate my first meal at 8am today, I would have fasted 12 hours (8pm last night till 8am today). If I ate my first meal at 10am, I would have fasted 14 hours (8pm last night till 10am today). And if I ate my first meal at 12pm, I would have fasted 16 hours (8pm last night till 12pm today).

It’s relatively easy for me to adopt this eating/fasting method because I’m a creature of habit and I’ve a pretty consistent routine. This is how my usual day goes:

I go to bed by 10pm, wake at 5am, workout at 6am, write and work from 9am till 3pm, dinner at 7pm.

Why do I practice intermittent fasting? It’s been a game changer because I used be a slave to my food, giving in to hunger pangs and food cravings. I’d have little control over what I ate; my food consumption was dictated by my cravings. With intermittent fasting comes a certain level of food control and discipline which translates to stable blood sugar, lesser cravings and a desire to eat selectively and healthily.




One of the simplest and quickest meals I whipped up for my husband and I at home is salmon teriyaki and stir fried broccoli over rice

One of the simplest and quickest meals I whipped up for my husband and I at home is salmon teriyaki and stir fried broccoli over rice

Meatless

On top of gluten-free eating, I’ve also refrained from eating meat, except for seafood, for the past year and a half.

Why do I stop eating meat? Since I was a child, I’ve always gravitated towards vegetables and consumed little meat, particularly because my dad couldn’t digest meat very well (he gets ulcers in his mouth if he consumed more than two spoonfuls of meat), and his influence in my life directly resulted in my preference for vegetables and fruits over meat.

Through the years I’ve developed a decreased liking for the taste of meat, and over time, I realized I didn’t need, crave for or desired meat in my meals. That being the case, I stopped consuming meat altogether.

I do however, eat seafood, and some have classified seafood as meat, which I’d like to counter argue as being in a separate category altogether. I retain seafood in my meals because: 1) I enjoy fish of any kind and shrimp, and 2) I find it difficult to up my protein intake in the absence of meat, surviving on just tofu, beans and legumes.  


Has my diet pose any problem in terms of social interaction with the people around me? Well, thankfully I live in California which is well known for its clean and healthy eating and a host of dietary preferences (or restrictions, however you look at it). There are all kinds of eating lifestyles, including paleo (mostly protein and fat and no grains or tubers including sweet potatoes, yams and potatoes), keto (high fat, low carb), super carb (high carb, low fat). When I tell someone I’m gluten-free and I don’t eat meat, no one bats an eyelid. When I say I mostly eat two meals a day, no one bats an eyelid. Also, my husband is supportive of my dietary preferences as long as they are beneficial to my health; my friends and family too, trusting that I know what I’m doing. That said, I do believe that as humans we go through seasons in our lives, so while I’m in a season of gluten-free, intermittent fasting and meatless dietary lifestyle, this might not go on forever.

Now, what and how do you eat?