Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Weight Loss Story

I've lost sixty-five pounds in fifteen months.  Seriously.  I can't believe it really happened.
Halloween, 2010.  We had moved to a new town, lost an unborn son, had the worst season in our marriage yet, and I was 180 pounds.

I did it without an exercise plan, without starvation, and without spending thousands of dollars on surgery, supplements, or gym memberships.

March 28th, 2013. I'm now 133 pounds.
I did it by eliminating two huge categories from my diet: gluten and cow's milk products.
I feel like I don't deserve this.  I feel like a factory worker who played the lottery once on a dare, hit the jackpot, and gets to move into the most expensive house in town.  "Do I fit in here?  How do I act in this neighborhood?  Where do I park my 79 Bronco? What do I do now?"

I'm embarrassed when I go into a clothing store and "don't really know" my size.  I keep walking into the plus-sized stores in malls.  I can't believe that the enormous, worn-out bras I'm throwing out no longer fit me.

Lily and Eva's birthday party, in September of 2009.  That skirt is a size 16.

However, the truth registers in the surprised eyes of every person that sees me: "Wow, you've lost weight! How did you do that?!?!"

When I tell them it's because I went GF/DF, very few people believe me.

 They think I'm embracing a gluten-free diet trend, that I must be missing something (like cancer!) going on in my body, or that I'm going to start selling them quack supplements any minute.  Even worse, a couple of people assumed I'd developed an eating disorder.  No one understands that I didn't plan for this, I didn't invite it in, and I certainly didn't expect it to be this dramatic. 

This is why I'm accumulating all the photographic evidence I can, and why I'm telling my story here.   I truly hope it helps you in your own journey.

Justin's graduation. :) I learned to always pose with my chin up, and never show the lower half of my body.

I don't have posed "before" pictures like some people do.  I didn't set out to lose weight.  When I was a *tight* size 16, I avoided the camera as much as I could.  I'll give you what I have, and hope that it lights up your eyes with hope.

I've been pregnant six times.  With seven children.  (My first miscarriage was with twins.)  I was 155 pounds when I got married in 2004, a year out of college.

When I was pregnant with Lily, my oldest, my heaviest weight was 185 pounds.  I threw up for 20 weeks, and lost 15 pounds in the first trimester.

  I'd done Body for Life, I'd done Slim-Fast, I'd done starvation diets, I'd cut out fat in every conceivable way, and I'd worked out for hours at the gym.  I've never been so discouraged as when I'd worked out for an hour, six days a week, paying for both the gym and the child care, and three weeks later lost a *pound*.  It was impossible for me to maintain any motivation.


And I was always HUNGRY!  I couldn't understand how any female could maintain life support on what I'd seen them eat!  "A shake for breakfast, another for lunch, and then a sensible dinner?" Bullcrap.  Or even worse, I'd heard people at restaurants say, "Take back what's on that plate, and bring me a quarter of it!  Box up the rest!" I never could see how.  I could eat as much as any football player for breakfast, and still be hungry at lunch time.

When I did Slim-Fast in college, I just concluded that skinny people must be hungry people.  For a while, I was actually content to live that way.  I wanted so much to change the image of myself as a lazy, uncontrolled slob that I was willing to starve
myself to do it.  I did lose some weight that way, and got a ton of compliments, especially from family members.  But I knew in my heart that it was a lie, and that if I continued on this path, I would end up with an eating disorder. 

I finally said, "Forget it.  I have to stop caring what people think.  This is not worth my time.  It's producing no results.  If anyone loves me, he has to love me the way I am."

After having two living children and losing four, I was 180 pounds, and refused to weigh myself any more.
Bend over, and don't show your tummy in pictures...
Then, in 2010, after marriage, babies, and lots of life changes, I read a magazine article about adults developing food allergies.  Apparently, adults over 30 could still develop food allergies,  but they were being consistently misdiagnosed, since allergies were thought of as children's problems. "Dang," I thought, "That must be hard!" and I put the information out of my mind.

In January 2011, the need for that information came roaring back.

I was going about my day, cleaning my house, taking care of my two-year-old, when I suddenly doubled over in stomach pain.  It was intense, it was sharp, and it wasn't localized in one area of my body, like appendicitis or cysts or an ectopic pregnancy.  I thought, "It must be gas, or something embarrassing," and laid down, thinking it would go away soon.

 It didn't. A few hours later, I called my husband, telling him that I might need him to come home from work and take me to the hospital.  I prayed, "Please, please God, don't let me get sick right now.  What's going on?  What do I need to do?  Please, please God, tell me what I need to do."

I felt very clearly like God said, "Stop eating gluten."


That couldn't be God.  That sounds ridiculous.  Stop eating gluten?  For real? Why would God say that?

I heard it again, deep in my heart, "Stop eating gluten."

I'd been walking with God for sixteen years at that point, but I still was always concerned that I wasn't hearing God's voice correctly, that I was putting my own ideas in there, that maybe I was influenced by a magazine article I'd read a while  back....was this really God? 

In John 10:27, Christ says: "27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."  I prayed that I would accurately follow His voice, and not just my own silly ideas.

Then I remembered a friend from an old church who had Celiac disease.  He used to vividly describe his symptoms at Bible study, till I could almost smell the results. (He dubbed himself, "The King of Inappropriate Comments.")   His wife is a trusted friend, so I wrote to her and asked her about what I was experiencing.  "Oh yeah," she said casually, "Almost everyone I know who has it had the symptoms descend on them suddenly.  Here, have some recipes to go on."

I read that I shouldn't stop eating gluten before a Celiac test, so I called my doctor, scheduled an appointment for a blood draw the next day, and laid on the couch and suffered.  As soon as they drew my blood, I came home, cooked myself some rice, and basically ate nothing but rice, fruit, and soft chicken for the next three or four days.

My stomach got better, and I wondered if I'd made the whole "God said stop eating gluten" thing up.  Maybe It was a virus.  Maybe it was food poisoning.  I decided to go ahead with the elimination diet for a full six weeks, just to see what would happen.

Then, five days after the gluten went away, the craziest thing happened: MY ECZEMA DISAPPEARED!

Completely.  It was gone.


 For the past two years, I'd suffered through a skin disorder that seemed entirely localized on my hands.  From the base of my thumbs to the tips of my fingers, my hands became white, dry, cracked, and they finally bled.  It hurt to touch anything.  Holding my daughter's hand, writing a letter, and especially playing the guitar, all were actions that made needle-stabbing pain shoot through my fingertips. 

Suddenly, less than a week after giving up gluten, my hands were as smooth as a baby's.  I couldn't understand it.  I couldn't prove it.

January 12th, 2011

I started taking pictures of my hands, until I realized it wouldn't prove a darn thing---I had no "before" pictures!  I hadn't expected to need any!

Then a letter came in the mail with the Celiac test results: negative.

I ate a whole wheat sandwich just to be sure that I wasn't truly out of my mind.  I spent the entire next day in the bathroom---> and you just don't want to know more than that.

I decided then, with or without a Celiac diagnosis, wheat was harming my body, and I was staying away from it.

I happily said, "Bye Bye" to blueberry muffins, yeast rolls, regular spaghetti, and the staple food of my existence, Frosted Mini Wheats.  I felt like a cloud was lifting from my brain--life felt like it was in sharper focus.  I could touch a fabric, a book cover, the neck of my guitar, without leaving little blood smudges behind from my fingertips.  I felt *excited*--the pain was gone!

My husband thought I'd lost my mind.

"You can't eat cookies.  You can't eat your daughter's birthday cake.  And you're happy about this?  Where's the mourning and the grief over this enormous life change?"

I couldn't grieve: I had my hands back. 

After a couple of months, however, I realized that if I even touched wheat, or if flour got into the air, my skin would react again, in just a day or two.  I started wearing latex-free gloves when I made my kids' sandwiches.  I removed all flour from my house, and the gluten-consuming family had to settle for frozen biscuits.

All this time, a strange thing was happening: for the first time in my life, I was leaving food on my plate.

I was giving food to my husband to "dispose of" after dinner.  I was able to stretch the meals I cooked into a couple of planned leftover GF lunches for me.

By April of that year, I'd lost 10 pounds.  I'd done *nothing* but eliminate gluten from my diet.

Now, that weight came back pretty quickly, thanks to the birds and the bees. :)  In May of 2011, I realized I was pregnant with my third daughter, Annabelle Joy.

Now, I have *horrible* pregnancies.

I spend hours....which stretch into days...which stretch into weeks....with dizzying, debilitating nausea.  I can't keep anything down.  Heck, I can't *move my head* without losing any nourishment that my babies need.  With all of my pregnancies, I've spent over 2 years of my life sick, throwing up, and confined to a couch.

(Of course, there are no pictures during this season!)

This last pregnancy was the worst, because it seemed like the sickness would never end. I missed my older children.  I hated that my husband was constantly having to act as a care-giver.   My home was filthy.  At 28 weeks, I begged for God to intervene again.  I felt "led" to do another elimination diet, this time with milk.

I stopped throwing up.

Within a day.

A *single* day.

I couldn't believe it.  I walked around the house in a bit of a daze, touching my curtains, my wooden dining table, my stainless steel sink, all without the nausea threatening to cut my legs out from under me.  I wrapped my hands around my growing belly, and felt happy to be pregnant for the first time in my life.

Unfortunately, giving up milk was hell.

I craved milk with the ferocity of a heroin junkie.  I thought about it all day long--imagining a tall, cold glass with little condensation droplets running down the side.  And an Oreo.  I ached for a bite of pizza with stretchy, warm, mozzarella cheese.  I snapped at my husband. I yelled at my kids.  I'd burst into tears and apologize, then wish I could eat an Oreo again.  I thought I would go crazy. Hershey's chocolate, M &M's, sour cream in my potatoes, Breyer's Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, heck, even hazelnut creamer in my coffee...all of that was gone. 

However, if I swiped one sliver of Parmesan...if I sneaked a sip of chocolate milk.... if I took one lick of Lily's yogurt spoon, the vomiting and the nausea came roaring back, and I would be confined to the couch again.

I named my couch, "The Pit of Despair."   

The cravings did go away, but it took six weeks.  I thank God that Enjoy Life Chocolate exists.  And Vegans.  I love a crunchy dead animal as much as the next Ex-Southern gal, but the very existence of Vegans allows me to have reasonable substitutes for ice cream, butter, and creamer in my coffee. 

My heaviest weight in my pregnancy was 198 pounds.   Annabelle was born on New Year's Eve, 2011.

New Year's Eve, 2011.  Annabelle Joy was born! The littlest love of our lives..

Thus began the next phase of my journey: Zombie-Land.

Having a baby is a long-term experiment in sleep-deprivation.  I had no desire to start losing baby weight until I slept through the night, and I had no idea when that would happen.  I nursed, I slept, I nursed again, I played, I cleaned, I nursed, I knew I was forgetting something....Oh! a SHOWER! Yeah, those are important...I nursed again...

When Annabelle was between four and six months old, my (beautiful, straightforward, and incredibly practical) friend Julie was walking behind me, and started laughing.  "Oh Dotty...! I think it's time to get some new jeans.  I think it's time to let those goooooo.  You need to go down to the next size." 

I hadn't even noticed that my size 16 pre-pregnancy jeans had worked their way off my butt as I was walking out of church.  I was showing off my taste in granny-panties.

My husband laughed and said, "Yeah, the boob-jiggle while you were singing was a bit distracting too."

If a giant earth-quake had swallowed me up right then and there, I would have probably been ok with it.

I had no idea that I'd lost over 40 pounds since I'd had Annabelle.  I weighed myself at one of Lily's doctor's appointments--155 pounds!  My wedding weight!  As soon as we got home, I put on my wedding dress and twirled around to show the girls what I looked like as a bride.

And it started falling off.

August 2012. I started to realize something was different!

I went to Plato's Closet, because I was absolutely certain this wouldn't last.  I was sure that as soon as I stopped nursing, the weight would pile back on, and I wasn't going to pay full price for temporary clothing.

I pulled on size 14 jeans, and they fell off.

I pulled on size 12 jeans, and they fell off.

I pulled on size 10 jeans, and they felt a little loose.

The size 8 jeans wouldn't *quite* button up--but they were close.  I bought the 10's.

I'd been walking around in clothing that was almost twice as large as I needed.

That was last April.  Between April and September, I went from 155 to 138.  I gained two pounds over Christmas, and then lost them again with no effort.  By March 27th, I was shocked to see the scale at 133.2!!!

Now, the size 8's are falling off. I need to buy some new clothes, and I'm scared to see what size I am now.


I didn't plan this.  


I didn't spend hours doing Turbo Jam or lifting weights at the gym or doing Zumba or Jillian Michaels DVD's. 

All I did--literally, the only thing I did--was eliminate gluten and cow's milk.  I didn't change my activity level at all.  I didn't eliminate sugar, fat, other carbs, "refined foods", or any "toxins."

However, I'm not trying to tell everyone, "You just need to go gluten-free to lose weight!"  I don't believe that's true.  I believe *I* was gluten and dairy intolerant, and that's what was going on with *my* body. 

 More than anything, I want my story to help dissolve some of the lies that surround overweight women in our culture: "You must have no self-control.  You must truly not care about your body, or about the people who love you.  If you'd just
put in 30 minutes a day at the gym, you'd see the fat melt off you like a snowman under a hairdryer.  What is wrong with you?" 

It's not true.  If you can't lose weight, it may not be your fault at all.  It may have nothing to do with your self-control, your will power, your strength, your character, or your heart.

Keep searching, because the answer is out there.


God really does answer.

Thank you for reading my story--please let me know in the comments what you think, and if you have any questions.  I'll be posting some recipes and some "Frequently Asked Questions" in the next few days.  


  1. awesome story dotty! what were some ofbyhe resources you used to substitute for gluten and dairy?

    you listen to God - that was the help you needed!

  2. Great story and great telling of it! Well done, Dotty. :-)

  3. Dotty, I love that you shared this and you know what? You don't need any other explanations or proof. This is totally your story and it's amazing!

  4. Love it. And you are still such a talented writer.

  5. Thank you all so much! Patricia, I'll be posting some GF/DF substitutes and recipes soon. :) Also, I've gotten a couple of questions about keeping grocery costs down on this diet, and I hope to answer those as well. <3

  6. Glad that God "spoke" to you. I had a similar, atheistic experience. Results all the same, though.

  7. Amazing!! Thank you for sharing your story! My daughter & I are just in the beginnings of our similar story :) It was such an encouragement to read yours!

    1. Chengang6, how has it been for you? <3

  8. Dotty,
    It was really nice meeting you at the park last week. I have stories to share about our own gluten-free adventures.

    I have a 3 year old daughter who had quite the journey to finding this gluten allergy which led to my 9 year old son going gluten free a couple of weeks later. They were total opposites in how they ate (and what it produced on the "other" end). Just goes to show how LITTLE is really known about celiac & gluten allergies in general.

    After your story about your hands it made me approach my husband with a challenge. He's suffered from eczema his entire life. As a child he had it so bad on his hands they acutally discussed amputating his fingers! Anyway - he is going gluten free for 3 months was the challenge to see what happens. Already I can see a difference in his hands in just 10 days!

    Oh and one last thought - not everyone on a gluten free diet will loose weight. My son has GAINED 10 pounds since starting the diet 8 months ago. We're thrilled though because this kid has been a child who refused to eat ANYTHING for years. We've coached him through his meals begging him to eat. Teachers would sit with hin at school and encourage him through his meal. Doc said he was so conditioned to feel pain from food that it made food the enemy to him. When we started Doc warned it may be a year until the mental response to food would lift & we'd see him really increase his appetite. Well it didn't take long at all. Now he finishes his meals and seems to be always begging for more food! What a change!

  9. My sister sent me this post because of an issue going on with my lips, they swell, they turn red, they burn, it's gross. It's been going on for six months and no doctor has come up with anything, I've had every test imaginable and even let then cut out a piece to biopsy. I've been thinking about experimenting with a gluten and dairy free diet for a while but it was hard so I never followed through. Not to mention all my doctors said that probably isn't a cause. They just give me drugs. You convinced me to really give it a go. I'm amazed at what happened to you. Even if that's not the cause of my issue (which I documented in my blog if you care to see some gross pictures) at least I'll know for sure!

  10. Thanks for posting this. I am sharing it with my friends. I have had some weird non-GI symptoms for the past seven years, and some of the mildly my whole life. I have been toying with GF the last two weeks and I can see some positive effects already. I hope to be fully GF in the near future. Congrats to you!!

  11. Oh Andrea, I'm so sorry you're going through all this! YES, try an elimination diet. Heck, even if it isn't gluten or dairy, it could be *something*n in your diet.

    PML, thanks for stopping by--let me know if you need any help.

    Patricia, it was nice to meet you too! :) Yes, I'd heard that the average Celiac gains about 10 pounds after starting the gluten-free diet, so I honestly wasn't sure if it was the wheat changing my appetite. I was also taking ADHD medication (27mg of Concerta) during that time, so I thought, "Surely not. Seriously, it must be the ADHD meds." However, while I was exclusively breastfeeding a newborn, I obviously wasn't taking Concerta. THAT'S when the real change became apparent. Even with the extra demands on my body from breastfeeding, I was nowhere near as hungry as I was *before* breastfeeding. I couldn't believe it. So, the truth is, I don't know why this works, but it did. <3 I'm so glad all of you are still stopping by, and that my story has been helpful. <3

  12. Thanks for the info/advice! I'm starting to believe no doctors really know anything.... ;)

  13. I've just gone gluten and dairy free, I was having terrible stomach cramps and felt sluggish and down all the time. 10 days on, I feel wonderful, I have six stone to lose but actually don't care if I do. I have energy for the first time in years. Your story is wonderful and tells me exactly what I need to know, gluten can be a poison. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  15. I love that you did this! I'm going through the same transition myself and every time I slip up with gluten and dairy I wake up looking as if I'm pregnant again and my eyes are so puffy I can hardly open them. I'm down 12 pounds so far and love that I'm starting to feel like myself again. I would greatly appreciate any recipes you can share

  16. After reading your blog, I know I can do it as well. I have just gotten a blood test done, but to be honest, I know gluten and dairy have always been the culprit.

    Thank you for the inspiration.

  17. Friends, I'm sorry this took so long, but I just finished writing a GF/DF baking class for our local library system, so I've written up about 20 recipes to share with you all. Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by, for sharing my story, and for your encouragement. I've been working a ton of hours this summer, so we haven't been eating very well. (lots of bacon & eggs, beans and rice, and take out! yuck!) I can't wait to start cooking good food again, and taking lots of pictures of it so I can share it with you! My family is going to be moving in the next couple of weeks, so I'll try and get some recipes posted as soon as we're in. :)

  18. Hi Dotty: I can relate to your story. For years I have tried every diet out there to lose weight and they failed. It didn't matter what I ate I could not lose.

    I went to a Naturopath about 2 months ago because I could not feel well. I had on going bladder/kidney infections. I just wanted to be well. I had the food sensitivity testing done, that revealed to start eating, gluten, dairy, egg, wheat free. I have been eating in that manner for just over a month. I started feeling freer in the mind, lighter, more energy and the bonus was the weight is just dropping off. When I went to the Naturopath the weight was the last of four concerns that I listed to have a addressed. My sinuses were something that plagued me since the age of 21 ( now 64)
    I really do not mind eating gluten, dairy, egg, wheat free. I have found lots of trade offs that I do not miss the old way of eating. I do not call this dieting, I call it a new way of eating and living.
    I really do not understand how this change in eating makes so much of a difference but I LOVE IT!

  19. Hi Dotty. Reading your blog has been so wonderful for me. I was diagnosed with celiac at age 32, two years ago. At that time I was told by my gastroenterologist to stop eating dairy as well (I've always been intolerant of full fat cheeses and milks, but have eaten them anyway). I didn't listen to him. I went completely gluten free immediately, but haven't really lost any significant weight. Two weeks ago I quit dairy as well. In those two weeks, I've lost 8 lbs. I hope it continues for me as it has for you. Thanks for sharing!

  20. I just recently started GF/LF diet due to having constant tummy GI doctor told me to follow a low fodmap diet which is supposed to help people that have IBS but I didn't noitice I decided to go full force gf and lactose free and I do feel better...since he told me to start introducing the gluten back in and not do gf unless my symptoms persisted...I have been dr wanted me to follow the low fodmap diet and not do the gf one...well, I believe I need to follow the gf diet...I have terrible bouts of diarrhea, nausea, headache, fatigue, sluggishness, brain fog, u name it...I have a sensitivity to gluten and I know going without it makes me feel's just so expensive to eat that way...I wouldn't do it if I wouldn't be getting sick like this as it's to expensive to just do for the heck of it...there are lots of people that feel going gf will help them lose weight...well, it does at first then u gain it back because like me we eat more than what we should of the gf foods just because they are gf and put weight back on...I weigh now what I did when I went gf in 2011 after being told I was allergic to wheat...I lost 13 pounds in a few weeks of going gf and started to put that weight back on soon after because I was eating as much as I wanted.....that's not how it works....I don't have celiac disease, but have an intolerance to gluten and milk products...that's the just of it and I will be eating gf/lf for the rest of my life...I still want to lose another 75 pounds and am having trouble getting that to come off..i have lost 15 pounds since april of this year, 30 pounds since last march and 53 pounds since heaviest weight was 270.4 pounds...or somewhere close...u did an amazing job :) :) u listened to your body and did what you felt was right :) Great Job :)

  21. I just came across this blog - I too started a gf/df diet after finally deciding to do something about my worsening stomach issues.
    The "there must be some other reason I'm losing this weight" hasn't come so much from external, but from myself. I'm still in a bit of disbelief that going gf/df could really be the cause of losing approx 40 pounds in about 5 months. I wasn't really even that big to begin with, or in any case I wasn't concerned about my weight.
    It's always a bit reassuring to hear that other people have had the same experience, and a similar reaction! I also feel really awkward when people comment on my weight loss because I don't feel like I've done anything to 'deserve' this.
    However when I really think about the changes I've made to my diet, and when I say "no thanks" to the morning tea in the office, it does make some sense.
    Good luck with your ongoing journey!

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  23. I really enjoyed your story. I struck really close to me and what I have been experiencing. I am currently getting my thyroid evaluated and see a dermatologist for skin irritations they have only labeled dermatitis. I have done GF before, but was not consistent.

  24. I am living your story right now and you give me so much hope for my own path. I was recently diagnosed with 8 food allergies, things that I kept eating hoping to get healthy like asparagus, tuna, and nuts. Now that my allergens have been removed from my diet my size 16 jeans are falling off in just two weeks. BTW Oreos are dairy-free (not that you need to run out and buy a pack) but they do contain wheat - I know this because my five year old has a severe dairy allergy so our household has been dairy-free for the last five years.

  25. Inspirational! I am 3 days into a GF/DF eating plan for a variety of reasons. My husband is Celiac so it has made the GF thing quite easy. Dairy is still calling my name ( Hubby still eats it.) But I feel so much better already that I will learn to love Coconut Milk Yogurt. No swelling of hands and feet in the morning for the first time in years! Migraine is lifting and if I lose the extra 80 lbs over time that will be a bonus.
    Thanks for sharing your story!