When the “Voice” speaks to you + going gluten-free

Self-portrait with Jessica Swift + Vivienne McMaster

About a year and a half ago, during an exceptionally stressful time involving a sick parent, I noticed I had a bald spot on the side of my head. It was underneath a lot of hair (phew!) but was nonetheless impressive. Egg-sized + bald to the skin people! I was shocked when I saw it and started googling like crazy. (Always a bad idea) Soon after, I developed a secondary symptom of mottled skin on my face.

At the doctor, they diagnosed me with Alopecia Areata and suggested some injectable steroids, which didn’t feel right to me. So I went home and hoped it would correct itself eventually… It didn’t.

Months later I opened the fridge and a voice, THE Voice, the one with the capital V spoke to me: “Just quit sugar.”

And just like that, I did.

It was rough for the first few days. I was exhausted. Then I was ravenous! Without all the sugar, I didn’t know what to eat and I was hungry all the time. What was great is that I was reoriented to a whole new range of foods- much healthier, much more protein.

Within 2 weeks, my hair started to grow back. I don’t have any grey hair but the first hair to grow in this place was bone white. It was as if I was struck by lightning! My body also shifted around and went back to it’s pre-baby configuration. A bonus! ;) I have continued the (mostly) no sugar ever since and have felt great.

And then….

This weekend the voice returned. This time it said that I need to experiment with going gluten-free. So here we go! I asked this question on Facebook as well, but I’d love to hear if you have taken the plunge as well? How has it helped you/changed you?



  1. Posted February 19, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    This is an amazing story. We are being forced to become more conscious about our food choices in the strangest of ways.

    I quite sugar 4 months ago and replaced it with protein and lots of dark dark chocolate. I feel great and more self-assured but must say I gained some weight (from all the nuts I guess).

    I have been MOSTLY gluten-free since 2-3 years and my energy level is better, my digestion is so much better also. I am loving the wide range of options that has opened to me and enjoy baking with many different kind of flours.

    I would say if you can go sugar-free, going gluten-free will be easy for you as there are so many more options and I find gluten isn’t *hidden everywhere* as sugar tends to be. But that’s if you don’t want to be obsessive about it…

    Wishing you a lovely gluten-free journey…


  2. Posted February 19, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been gluten free for close to 3 years now (wow — that time went by quickly!). I found out I needed to be from a doctor who was running a hormone test on me and also happened to check for gluten sensitivity. I was surprised because I didn’t think I had a problem with it, but I was willing to give it a try. And I’m glad I did; I pretty quickly saw a reduction in my migraines, which was amazing.

    Before I went gluten free, I didn’t think I had much of a problem with fatigue or immunity. I got colds fairly often during the winter, but I thought it was just par for the course. Lo and behold, once I went off gluten, I had more energy & less colds.

    When I have gluten now, my face feels puffy, my tongue gets itchy, my nose becomes stuffy, and I generally feel like I’m getting the flu. In other words, I’m motivated to stay off it b/c I don’t like feeling that way. :)

  3. Posted February 19, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    I went further and just eliminated grains. Best decision ever. My skin is wonderful and no more weird intestinal goings-on after meals. It also helped me explore new vegetables (love love love baked cauliflower).

  4. Posted February 19, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been sugar-free (including honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.) for about a year and gluten-free and mostly flour-free for several years (eating primarily grains in their whole form).

    I have lots more energy but more importantly – I experience better emotional regulation. Fewer mood swings, periods of depression and meltdowns. More access to inner peace, patience, laughter and curiosity. Clearer skin. Better hormonal regulation and digestion. I’m also better able to maintain a healthy weight and I want to get out an exercise.

    Also, I’m an intuitive and my readings and hands on healing work with people are more powerful since the diet changes. It’s like my entire system has more clarity so I can think, create, channel energy, and read with more clarity.

    Personally, I think it’s the diet of the future. The more “awake” or conscious we become, the more live, whole (unprocessed) foods our bodies need.

    Enjoy the transition! I suspect if you’ve already eliminated sugar, gluten will be a piece of cake;-)

  5. Posted February 20, 2013 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    Wow, that’s pretty amazing that the sugar made such a drastic difference for you! I’ve been weaning myself off it over the last year or so, as I’ve discovered some major hormonal issues (at only 32!) on top of severe fatigue, IBS, chronic pain/fibromyalgia, laryngeal reflux, food allergies… My body is clearly not happy, so I’ve been experimenting with more dietary changes to decrease inflammation. I’ve found it a big struggle cutting sugar out though!

    But gluten I went off of about 8 years ago now. I mainly just had IBS back then, and couldn’t convince any doctors to test me for celiac, so I just went off it myself. I actually don’t find it too difficult unless I’m eating out, and even then it’s usually ok. Things like airports can be a big challenge, but otherwise I cook at home a lot so it’s not a huge adjustment. Or at least not now, I’m so used to it and there are SO MANY gf products available now!

    My only advice is to just do it 100% if you want to see whether it helps. Some people are so sensitive that even a tiny bit will negate all the effort, so at least initially be hardcore about it. ;)

    Good luck! xo

  6. Posted February 20, 2013 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Yes!! I have been experimenting with a gluten and dairy free diet and it is a life changer. I slip up every now and again and definitely feel it. I also read that HSP people (you and me both) are more prone to food sensitivities. Interesting, huh? Also found out that eating dairy is like “rubbing a crayon on a window” in terms of clairvoyant abilities. It clouds us up!

  7. Tracy
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    Oh I love listening to the voice…. Scarry-challenging- hard, turns into rewarding-good ju ju, in a hurry! Kudos for following that wise inner directive xo

    I have been gluten free for three years, virtually sugar free ( I now eat coconut sugar if any at all, rarely) for nine months. The good news is I have less inflammation than ever before, more energy, fewer headaches and a lessening in hormonal shifts. And that is good news!! The other side of this is I am more sensitive (food, people, environments) than ever before. My body is so pure, compared to what it once was, it has become intolerant to slips. Which is essentially a good thing… But on the occasional wish for an ignorance is bliss day, I don’t get a lot of slack from my body, and so things have become pretty tight. In other words, I am moving deeper every day into conscious eating, based on my body whispers. What the voice whispers, I have little chance of ignoring or I feel cruddy and fast.
    I am lucky to hear the voice… And feel so much better for listening. Much luck to you as you embrace a gluten free lifestyle. If you are inclined to cook and enjoy it, it will serve you well. There are many gf products, but I have found cooking most of your old fav’s using alternate flours taste pretty good and connects you more to the process as you shift your diet. One last great thing… While my son doesn’t have a wheat Intolerance, his body has loved the changes I made in our family diet … His moods and energy totally shifted into goodness with less gluten! Read less drama! His skin is beautiful and he kinda glows. Miraculous side effect of my shift!!! Xo

  8. Posted February 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    That’s so weird you mentioned “THE VOICE” duh-duh-duuuhhhh.. I hate to admit this…but here goes……I’m Teresa and I’m a diet coke-aholic. About 2 weeks ago “the voice” told me to stop drinking DC and I have. Done. All the times before I would try…and then think…oh I can have a little..and actually really crave it….then next thing I know I’d be drinking some every day. But since that day… that’s been it. I have this feeling if I didn’t stop, something in my body was going to break. So good for you on listening. I’ve always had to really monitor my sugar as I suffer from hypoglycemia if I eat too much…and really don’t over-do in the gluten dept. As always, tx for sharing and best of luck on walking the gluten free path. I’ve heard this has helped so many people!

  9. Sian
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I just recently went gluten-free at the end of 2012. I was severely inflamed & in pain when I told a colleague at work what my body was going through. Her Dad is a doctor & a food allergy expert; she’s a food activist & she gently told me that I might be gluten sensitive & to cut out gluten for a month & see what happens. I did & the inflammation & pain went away.

    Of course, as another poster noted, my body is intolerant of slip ups as well now. I can’t have any wheat or wheat products; not even a trace. Or the symptoms return immediately.

    As to sugar and dairy, my body doesn’t do well on either. Ditto for meat. So whether I want to or not, my body has decided for me that I am a gluten free vegetarian.

    I tend to see this as more of an adventure than something that I should be upset about. I’ve never experienced being gluten-free, white sugar-free or dairy-free before. Now is the time to have that adventure.

    Good on you for making the change!!! Welcome to the gluten free family!!!

  10. Nina
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    I gave up gluten close to a decade ago. My ND acupuncturist recommended it. Within 2 weeks, all of my arthritis symptoms were gone. And it was severe — if I sat for too long I would need help getting up because of the major hip pain. Walking up and down stairs was scary. But all resolved with giving up gluten. Skin problems resolved also. I had my son tested when he was 6 and we eliminated casein and gluten for him. He has an autism diagnosis and now, at 14, his autism symptoms have mostly disappeared, even with reintroducing cheese and yogurt a couple of years ago. My daughter is sensitive to gluten also. So if you test positive, Ben and Nico may also have a gluten sensitivity. If any of us have an accidental exposure, the reactions vary, but the most consistent is the flu-like aches. For me, my shoulders and knees begin to ache right away. Now my body is suggesting no sugar or grains, and I’m starting to pay attention. Love and welcome to you on this adventure.

  11. Lisa
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    Here: gluten-free for 6 years now, due to auto-immune thyroid disease. Some things noticeably improved right away…joint pain disappeared, skin clearer, fatigue improved. Other improvements have been more subtle over time. I can still eat it, but notice ill feelings right away….sinus congestion, GI woes, systemic inflammation, joint pain. It remains a challenge to live this way, but it is indeed worth it! Best of luck for your journey! :)

  12. Posted February 21, 2013 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    I’ve gone gluten- and dairy-free for some time now and feel immensely better. That brain fog is gone, along with the loud, blech-y intestines (which of course, happened at the worst times possible). I’ve fallen ‘off the wagon’ and notice the difference. I’m back to it and am hoping it’ll help with my endometrosis and infertility. I add sugar to the black list too. Anyway, good luck with the experiment – you can’t go wrong w/ doing it.

  13. Rose
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I’ve been sugar-free for 2 months now, after I felt uneasy about my diet in general and totalled up my diet and how much of my daily calorie intake came from sugar. It turned out to be close to a third- arghh!
    So right there and then, I stopped. It’s been great, actually. I’ve replaced my diet with more veggies and protein, like you, and feel much more energetic and focused. Also, as a side benefit, I’ve been steadily losing about a 1lb a week!!

  14. Posted February 21, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    i don’t know if this is the right place to ask but i’ve been hearing those voices about going sugar-free too and sort of avoiding them mostly cause I don’t know what it really means. Does it mean avoiding candy/sweets and things with obvious sugar. or is there also hidden sugar i need to be aware of. Like could i still eat oatmeal? I know this might seem stupid to ask but for some reason i keep getting stuck in this place and I hoped since you did it, maybe you can help share what you actually did. as in what you ate and what you avoided eating. ty :)

  15. gisele
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been completely gluten free for 5 years now. I started slowly, eliminating the big doses of gluten, then not having those little treats – birthday cake, the occasional slice of pizza, as I got more and more sensitive, to now where I worry about the crumbs from my kids’ sandwiches on the cutting board. The biggest change for me has been not eating processed foods or baked goods or desserts at restaurants. It has forced me (willingly) into a whole foods diet which I am sure is far more healthy than even my healthy diet before. When you know the consequences you don’t cheat. You don’t even want to cheat.

  16. Rose
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Karen – I’m by no means an expert so can’t offer formal advice for others but this has been my personal experience to now:

    1) I’ve cut out all obvious sources of sugar such as cakes, cookies, candy. Cookies were a particular weakness of mine and I thought I would struggle, but surprisingly, I haven’t missed anything at all.

    2) Cutting out sugar also means cutting out pretty much all processed foods too. It’s an interesting exercise to find out how much sugar is in every type of food, even those promoted as “wholefoods” and “healthy” ones. I’m particularly careful to look out for low-fat foods, as these tend to replace the obvious fat with…more sugar (or, worse, artificial sweeteners). In practice, this means that I’m reading the ingredients of everything I pick up in the supermarket and then failing to buy it once I see mention of ‘sugars’, ‘glucose syrup’ and any derivative.

    3) The above has meant that my diet has shifted towards a majority of fruits and vegetables, proteins and things like oats.

    Some habits remain: I’ve always made my own bread (usually a big hidden source of salt and sugars) so I’m able to control the content of this – because Yeast needs sugar to become active, I use a touch of honey or maple syrup, for example, so there are some minor concessions.

    I don’t include natural sugars found in fruits as something to avoid, as fruits have so much inherent goodness and the body does need some level of sugar to function. My aim wasn’t so much to eliminate sugar entirely but to reduce my intake to the point where it was not harmful to my long-term health.

    That said, I’m a starter to the whole no-sugar world and suspect that everyone has a different interpretation of being sugar-free. I’m sure many others are being far smarter about their diets compared to me, and have far more knowledge about the whole thing!

  17. Sue
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    For me, wheat(and mostly gluten)free = no fuzzy brain, no intense cravings for carbs/sweets, weight loss, no sudden anxiety, clear skin, shiny healthy hair, less insomnia, reduced pms irritability, more energy.

    I do occasionally have something with milk, gluten or sugar added, maybe once every week or two. As a rule, wheat is out.

    It’s made a tremendous difference for me. I can’t wait to see what you discover!

  18. Daphne
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Just another perspective… I have gone gluten free many times, the most recent time was whole-hog for about a year (cleared out the kitchen cupboards, learned how to bake GF, etc.). I have to say… I didn’t notice any difference at all. The last time, I was doing it because my partner needed it, and I went along too, but seriously I didn’t notice anything different. I think that’s probably because I don’t actually have a problem with gluten. What I DO have a problem with is too much sugar — when I have too much sugar, my stomach is SO UPSET and I feel terrible. So I try not to have very much — just moderate amounts (a dessert here and there, some chocolate during PMS, etc.) That seems fine. The diet that has felt best to me was The Zone, which I did when I was training for a marathon. I felt GREAT doing that — very clear-headed and energetic. I have been mostly-vegetarian for many years so it’s hard to think about going back to eating meat on a regular basis, but I have to say, I felt terrific when I pretty much just ate lots of lean meat and tons of fresh veggies, with a little starch and a little fat thrown in to balance things. Every body is different… just try what works for YOU.

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