Have you gone Gluten-free/Paleo and are frustrated that you still have pain?
In my integrative physical therapy and holistic health coaching practice I often get the clients who have failed other treatments to alleviate their painful symptoms. Yet, sometimes I also get those who have already gone “Gluten-free” and still have pain. Although, I will be the first to press the nutrition issue, it isn’t always the answer. Here are some common mistakes people make in going “Gluten-Free” which may be limiting your recovery of your painful condition.
It could be one of these or many of these occurring at the same time limiting recovery.
1. Gluten-free is not the same as paleo.
Yes, one of the hallmark points of paleo is avoiding inflammatory gluten grains, but really it is meaning to maximize nutrient rich foods. Often people mistake that for “gluten-free” products. A gluten-free pre packaged cookie or cracker is NOT nourishing despite it not having gluten in it. I would even go so far to say that it may be worse removing the gluten compared to leaving it in. Removing gluten usually adds more refining and processing as well as an increase in sugar. This renders the product nutrient depleting. If you have a painful condition, then you must remove nutrient depleting and inflammatory foods from your diet and increase nutrient rich foods. Whole, nutrient dense, naturally gluten-free foods as close to nature as possible are the best way to resolve a painful condition. That is paleo.
2. You have underlying digestive issues.
When going nutrient dense paleo/gluten-free doesn’t have an effect on a painful condition, I often see that what it does do is expose the underlying condition. Most often in my practice it exposes a digestive issue like leaky-gut, malabsorption, micro biome problems, poor digestion, food sensitivites or dysbiosis. Sometimes, eating a very strick paleo diet will resolve this, but often it requires specific eating strategies and/or supportive supplementation and/or food sensitivity testing.
3. Continued coffee consumption.
Yes, I know that coffee has anti-oxidants. Yes, I know there have been studies that support the caffeine for prevention of alzheimers disease. Yes, I know there is support in its use for ADHD. Yet, it still can affect your stress hormone cortisol, disrupt your sleep, and even irritate your gut. In the end, although black coffee is allowed for most of the “paleo” world and is gluten-free, if you are limited in your recovery, it’s time to check your relationship with coffee. Do a trial break or ease yourself off over time. For many, it is difficult to have coffee without sweetener or dairy, both of which can be inflammatory. This may not be forever, but you will never know if it is limiting your recovery until you remove it.
4. Continued alcohol consumption.
Yes, I know red wine has antioxidants. Yes, I know alcohol helps relax most people. Yes, I know you should be able to reward yourself after a long day of keeping your wits together for your kids. Yet, most wine has additives and preservatives that are potentially toxic to your body. Not to mention that if you are paleo, you know about blood sugar regulation. And alcohol is a simple sugar that spikes your blood glucose….rapidly. This is just another reason to take a break. Many people also find that sleep improves after stopping alcohol. Like #3, this may not be forever, but you will never know if it is limiting your recovery until you remove it.
5. You are not eating enough whole foods consistently.
When you are trying to restrict your intake of inflammatory foods like refined grains, refined sugars, dairy, legumes, trans fatty acids, and sometime other food sensitivities/allergies, people often forget to eat. Yes, it takes planning. Yes, at first it is frustrating when you look around and see nothing you can eat. So, you have to plan a little. But you must eat enough calories to run your physiological systems and even more to have enough nutrients and energy to repair your painful condition. The calorie amount will vary for each individual, but a focus on eating a minimum of 3 entire meals of healthy protein, fat, fruit and vegetables must become routine. Snacks become easier with nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables that don’t require any prep-work. A “paleo” or “gluten-free” bar or “protein” shake is only adequate when no real food is available like on a plane or in a car, not daily or even multiple times a day. This isn’t about perfection, but if your “occasional” gluten free cookie becomes every day, then we need to re-assess what “occasional” means.
6.You are not drinking enough water.
The first thing I suggest if you are giving up coffee and alcohol is to drink more water. Drinking first in the morning upon waking works with your natural detoxification. Drinking plenty of water between meals allows for normal digestion during mealtimes. But most important, drinking water keeps you well hydrated. On average, 50% of your body weight in ounces/ day is a goal for those with a normal body weight. But a better rule to follow is to drink water when you are thirsty. You may have to rediscover your own body signals, because hunger can often be a delayed thirst symptom.
7. You have not given yourself enough time eating paleo/gluten-free.
I shared a case study in my book, Soar Into Health about a woman in her mid 50s who was recovering from major illness and surgery. It took her 6+ mos eating paleo/gluten-free inspired before her vision restored. Deliciously Organic has written,
“Since your diet can’t kill you overnight, don’t expect it to heal you overnight.
Most people have a realistic goal, but an unrealistic timeline.”
If you have severe disease, it may take 6-9 mos or more to see dramatic improvements outwardly. Your body repairs the most vital things first…it’s so smart. The only problem is that your hip pain may not be a priority over your liver. That’s good. Stay the course, and keep going with whole foods paleo/gluten-free eating. Your body is doing exactly what it needs to do now that you are giving it nutrition to use and it will get to your hip pain soon.
8. You are not getting enough sleep.
Just because you are eating well and starting to feel better doesn’t mean you can skip sleep. Sleeping is critical for the repair process. It needs to be prioritized and worshipped even. Staying up late frequently depletes your resources and decreases your body being able to repair. If you have a painful condition that isn’t resolving with eating paleo, then get to bed. Make it habit. Give yourself rest for healing.
9. You are not moving enough or maybe even too much.
Many painful conditions require movement. But even a healthy body requires movement. Your pain doesn’t get better if you just lie around. You must get out in the sunshine and move. It doesn’t need to be anything crazy, but move your body multiple times a day exploring your joints full range of motion. If you have a painful condition like a fracture, then let that heal, but move the rest of your body within your limitation and do it hourly.
On the flip side, sometimes we don’t give our bodies enough rest. If you continue to workout moderately every day, and the knee is still bothering you, then maybe it’s time to change the activity and even take some time off. This brings me to number 10.
10. You actually have a mechanical problem causing your pain.
I have spoken about the two sides of the “inflammatory” coin with my colleague Grant Glass, PT. Where pain/inflammation is caused by mechanical or physiological inflammation. You can have both at the same time. They aren’t mutually exclusive. All these other steps will help to make finding the mechanical problem easier. Most times though, you need to see a movement specialist like a physical therapist to address your pain if the above doesn’t resolve your pain. I find in my practice that if someone comes to me and they have already been paleo/gluten-free for a while, it is easier to identify and treat their painful mechanical problem.
In the end, it’s always best to seek help when you get stuck. Living with pain is unnecessary, unless it is an irreversible change. I have yet to find someone who hasn’t improved their painful condition once they understand what is causing it either mechanically or nutritionally.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove refined sugar, refined grains (especially gluten), refined food products consistently for 60-90 days.
Replace with whole, nutrient rich, naturally gluten free foods. Seek help from a mechanical specialist if your pain remains even with your nutritional changes.
Restore normalized inflammatory response in order to understand your painful condition.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Soar On.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.