Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Dairy-Free, Who Me?

My journey with what foods help me feel my best continues to evolve. Can you relate?

I notice a difference in the way I feel when I eat whole, plant-based foods.

Many of my young cells were built from fast food and processed foods. For years, I ate my fill of things that came in wrappers and packages, partly out of convenience from my family’s busy schedule and partly because I thought those were my only options. I didn’t yet know about farmers’ markets, community gardens and organic produce. I didn’t yet know about "gluten-free," "soy-free" and "dairy-free."

In high school, I’d often start my day with a sugary drink and two or three giant sprinkle cookies—and that was my second breakfast after I had already had a donut or cereal.

I played basketball and softball, so I was active year-round, but much of what I was eating was not the optimal fuel my body needed. By the time I started college, I became consumed with what I consumed, eating more raw fruits and vegetables but also no-fat and low-fat packaged foods. Eating this way combined with excessive exercise to help me cope with anxiety and stress led me down the path to an undiagnosed eating disorder.

I intuitively knew that eating and exercising to this extreme was not “healthy.” I devoured books, articles and research about nutrition and read my way to a healthier mind-set about food. At one point, I was so interested in nutrition, I was preparing to apply to programs to become a registered dietitian. Instead of scrutinizing every calorie, I slowly stopped measuring every morsel and began eating healthier fats, such as avocados, almonds and olive oil, more mindfully.

By the time I had graduated college and began my first job after graduation, I had recovered from my eating disorder, just in time for me to learn that I had hypothyroidism—an underactive thyroid that can cause several symptoms when not treated, such as slow metabolism, extreme fatigue, low mood and more.

Again, I went back to reading and learning about the impact of how, in some cases, an accumulation of what you eat and drink can trigger hypothyroidism. At that time, I didn’t yet know about the link between gluten and dairy and hypothyroidism.

I was motivated to optimize my nutrition in preparation for pregnancy and breastfeeding, so I focused on veggies, fruits, organic lean protein and healthy fats. And yes, I did eat some packaged foods while pregnant and breastfeeding. Because. Cravings.

After my first child was born, I was no longer able to tolerate many of the foods I could eat previously, including foods that contained corn, gluten, soy and dairy. I realized I had a sensitivity to them—a sensitivity that may have been developing all along. My digestive system had hit its threshold, and it was talking to me. Literally. My food sensitives were showing up as fatigue (beyond the normal amount of new mama exhaustion), significant bloating and nausea. During my pregnancy with my second child, I became even more sensitive to these foods.

Again, I went to a deeper layer of looking at what I was eating and making the connection to how I was feeling. Although I have now removed gluten, dairy and soy, and I emphasize whole, plant-based foods, this is still a process. I continue to refine how I fuel.


Over the last year, I have had significant amounts of organic bone broth to help provide me with deep nourishment, and I eat organic berries every day (usually blueberries) and healthy fats daily (which means there’s room for organic dark chocolate—always). Just because these discoveries have worked for me doesn’t mean they’re optimal for you. So listen to your body. Notice how you feel when digesting a meal and after it has been digested.


Practice It: Track What You Eat and How You Feel

If you have been experiencing digestive distress, such as bloating, gas and constipation, keep a daily food journal to track if you could be sensitive to dairy, gluten or soy. Label the top of the page “This is what I ate today” on one column and “This is how I felt” in the other column. Before making any significant changes to what you eat, consult with your doctor or a dietitian.

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© 2020 by Julie M. Gentile. All Rights Reserved.