It’s not easy being gluten-free (and vegan)

As I say goodbye to gluten and animal products for a week, I open my arms to leafy greens... at least a little bit. Photo by Chloe Marco.

Chloe Marco

As I say goodbye to gluten and animal products for a week, I open my arms to leafy greens… at least a little bit. Photo by Chloe Marco.

Lucy Marco

It’s 5 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, and after a long day of school, you’re ready to chow down on some snacks. So you head over to the garden and grab a handful of kale and spinach. Not exactly that ideal greasy, fattening snack you crave, is it?

This week I will be experiencing what it’s like to live vegan and gluten-free: to some that might sound rejuvenating, to others it might sound more like torture. As someone who regularly consumes animal products and gluten, I’m not exactly thrilled by this idea, but I’m interested to see what I discover giving it a try.

Dietitian Frances Diep told me that what we eat definitely has an impact on mood and attitude.

“Most people have better energy and mood if they’re paying attention to their hunger throughout the day and eating three meals and at least 2-3 snacks per day,” Diep says. “Gluten-free diets have become more popular in recent years because of claims that eating a gluten-free diet can be beneficial for a wide range of health concerns, but these claims have not been supported by much evidence.”

On the subject of vegan diets, Diep claims, “People who choose to follow a vegan diet may do so for ethical or environmental reasons, or may choose to aim for a vegan diet due to beliefs that eating a vegan diet will lead to better health.”

So after some research on this dietary combination, and with the help of some gluten-free and vegan friends, I was able to make meal plans and figure out how not to die of malnutrition, or so I hope.

I have no idea what to expect.


Day 1

I started off the day with a gluten-free waffle, some vegan yogurt and strawberries. The cashew milk yogurt was very similar to normal yogurt, but the waffles just tasted like hay. I carried on throughout the day, feeling pretty confident with sticking to this diet. For lunch, I had rice, dried mango, almonds, pecans, an apple, and gluten-free, vegan knock-off Oreos, which were sub par.

My friend offered me the rest of her latte, and momentarily forgetting that I was vegan for the week, I willingly accepted it, but I stopped myself right before taking a sip. The things I do for this blog.  

Dinner consisted of gluten-free noodles and faux-meat spaghetti Bolognese, which, surprisingly, wasn’t too bad. At the end of the day, I felt pretty unmoved. No signs of change yet. Honestly, it was a bit anticlimactic. 


Day 2 

I spent a long time in the bulk isle at Wheatsville, due to the endless options. There’s so many oat and nut options. Photo by Susan Adams.

Oatmeal is so underrated. I said it. This morning I had gluten-free and vegan oatmeal if you couldn’t already tell, as well as probably the best smoothie I’ve ever had (made with almond milk).

I do feel different, and I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is.  After a wimpy lunch of an apple and rice, I felt like I needed assistance on meal ideas because mine are lame. I asked my vegan friend for some advice, and she kindly sent me an entire novel’s worth of recipes and veganism tips, giving me some good thoughts on how to carry on with this experiment. 

I went back to a wholesome grocery store, and replenished my stash of gluten-free and vegan ingredients. Let me add that not only is it hard to find food that both doesn’t contain gluten or animal products, but it’s also pretty expensive. Insanely expensive. Weekly grocery budget for a family of five expensive. 

Dinner today was gluten-free sesame tofu. I went in with low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. 


Day 3 

There were definitely signs of change today. According to the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission, some people believe that going gluten-free can help control things like headaches, depression, chronic fatigue and weight gain. After today, I am thinking there might be something to this claim. 

About a quarter-way through the day, following a breakfast of a passable gluten-free English muffin, I was bursting with energy. The last time I remember this amount of liveliness might have been when I got an American Girl Doll who somewhat resembled me, for my seventh birthday. I literally couldn’t stop smiling no matter how hard I tried. Ask anyone in my second period. 

But things quickly took a turn for the worse. After lunchtime I was completely drained. I had a never-ending headache and every time I blinked, my eyes would stay closed for about 10 seconds longer than they should have. The minute I got home I melted to the ground in a puddle of exhaustion, never to return again. 


Day 4

It would be an understatement to say that most of my diet consisted of fruit during this week. What can I say? I like fruit. Photo by Susan Adams.

Update: I returned. Today just felt like a prolonged episode of Earth Sunrise on Discovery Channel, a show where they literally just film the sunrise for a full hour. 

I started the day feeling barely alive, having a random assortment of fruit for breakfast. Energizing, I know. My low energy level pretty much stayed the same throughout the day, rising ever so slowly. 

Now let me get something straight, I am someone who doesn’t usually fall asleep in class, even if I am incredibly tired; some higher power won’t allow me to do it. So when I fell asleep during my Algebra ll test, I didn’t know how to react. I fell asleep during an algebra test. An algebra test. For a good five or 10 minutes, too. Once again, not sure if this is connected with my diet … just an observation.

Dinner tonight was rice and alternative beef, which was actually really good. Vegan food has really impressed me so far.


Day 5

The end seems so close but so far. I dragged through today with random bursts of energy and random bursts of exhaustion, never overlapping. My friends frequently asked me if I was OK, based off of my slumped posture and half-shut eyelids.

I’d aggressively reply with, “Yeah. Why?”

I guess you could say I was at the end of my rope. 

I went to lunch with my friends and watched them as they feasted on anti-vegan and gluten-filled items, filling me with rage and jealousy. That was when red beams shot out of my eyes and flames rose from my hands, I then grew about three feet taller and let out the most ear-piercing screech ever screeched.  

OK that last part might have been a stretch, but internally it was very similar. I definitely haven’t adjusted to this lifestyle completely.

I do have a much larger respect for those who are vegan, gluten-free, or both. It takes dedication and discipline. 


Day 6 & 7 

The last two days were drastically more uneventful: my energy was still incredibly low. I noticed my productivity level was lower than usual, and my ability to get excited about tofu, lentils and texturized vegetable protein was seriously waning. My mom thought she was being nice when she brought home a grande double mocha with whipped cream, but alas it wasn’t allowable on my current diet.

I ended my journey with a vegan, gluten-free microwaved pad thai that was surprisingly … almost decent.

This exhausting and sometimes tedious journey has taught me a lot about how food can affect your life.

I can definitely appreciate those who follow a strict diet and go through all the effort either for their health or their moral beliefs.

I was personally not as prepared as I should have been and probably should have planned menus more carefully. I found myself crashing from lack of calories. I think if I were to follow this diet more methodically, I’d see more positive change.

Kids, if you try this experiment at home, be sure to get your protein!