The effects of gluten can have a big impact on daily life, just ask Gold’s Gym member and Brand Ambassador CJ Finley. When he was 5 years old, doctors told his mom that his chronic stomach problems were caused by anxiety. As he grew up, he thought it was more likely due to a bad diet and used sleep and exercise to help manage the pain.
Fast-forward to adulthood, when CJ entered the corporate workforce. Some days, he couldn’t leave the house without first visiting the bathroom multiple times. Other days, he would be on the road to the office and have to turn around to rush back home.
He couldn’t tell anyone why he was late.
“I didn’t want them thinking I was sick, because I thought they’d think I couldn’t handle the job,” CJ says.
When he moved in with his now-wife, Erin, she told him to see a doctor. Blood work led to a new diagnosis: celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body can’t process gluten.
The effects of gluten
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Celiac disease is a genetic disorder in which consumption of gluten causes the body to attack its own cells, damaging the intestines and leading to nutrient deficiencies and other health problems, says Kritikaa Agnani, a Gold’s Gym nutrition expert.
“If a person has been diagnosed with celiac disease, they would need to eliminate gluten entirely from their diet to prevent health complications,” she says.
Gluten sensitivity is a different issue. Although the effects of gluten such as bloating, diarrhea and foggy brain are similar to celiac disease, no damage is done to the intestines since gluten sensitivity isn’t an autoimmune disorder.
“People often self-diagnose this when they shouldn’t,” Agnani says. “If someone thinks they have gluten sensitivity, they need to go to a doctor. An elimination diet to test the effects of gluten can be done under the supervision of a health professional.”
Nutrients in gluten
A person who does not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity has no reason to eliminate gluten from his or her diet. If you go without it, you risk depriving your body of these nutrients, vitamins and minerals found in foods that contain gluten:
- Vitamin D
- B vitamins such as folate, niacin, riboflavin and B12
These things help your body in everything from balancing cholesterol and preventing anemia, to keeping bones strong and maintaining metabolism.
On the other hand, if you have received either diagnosis, you must be sure to carefully read product labels.
“Wheat is one of the seven common allergens that are listed on a food label,” Agnani says. “On the back, under the ingredients label, it will say, ‘Contains: Wheat.’
“But those with celiac disease will also have to figure out if the product contains barley, rye or triticale, which is a hybrid of wheat and rye,” she says.
A gluten-free lifestyle
Your doctor will give you information on the gluten-free food and supplements that will provide you with the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need to stay healthy and avoid the effects of gluten. Items including green leafy veggies, lean meats, nuts and beans and legumes in their juice are a few examples, Agnani says.
CJ fills his plates with gluten-free nutrient-dense foods like sweet potatoes and lentils and keeps to a well-rounded fitness regimen that includes calisthenics, strength training and spin classes at Gold’s Gym near his home in Austin, Texas.
“People need to be more careful with ingredients overall,” he says. “Ask yourself: ‘Am I living healthier, or am I just eating crap and blaming it on gluten?’ For me, food plays a huge part, but working out keeps me sane.”
The most important change, though, is that he’s open about his disease. These days, when he’s late to a meeting, he explains why. This transparency has helped others better understand his struggles. It also keeps his stress levels low and allows him to pursue projects he enjoys — including his personal brand, ThriveOnLife, where he uses his skills and fitness knowledge to help others succeed.
Check out more nutrition posts and CJ and Erin’s couples workout: