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Archive for October 26th, 2017

I stared at the delicious berry cobbler, its sweet aroma enticing my empty, growling stomach. I had woken up early and decided to bake a breakfast treat for my family. They had enjoyed it before heading off to school, and now it was my turn to eat breakfast. I wanted to enjoy what I had made, but couldn’t bring myself to dish it up. The square pan of cobbler made 6 adult-sized servings. Three were gone, so that meant three servings were left. If I wanted to serve it to them again, there would be none for me. The same thing happens whenever I bake muffins. A dozen muffins equals two mornings of muffins for my husband and two kids, and so I go without.

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking That’s dumb. Why doesn’t she just eat what she wants and serve her family something else the next day? If so, you have probably never tried to shop and cook for a gluten free family of 4 on a tight budget. My family has been gluten free for nearly nine years, and during half of those years we were either unemployed or living paycheck to paycheck with a grocery budget that was no more (and sometimes less) than what I spent before we had kids, when we were not gluten free.

If you’re not familiar with the upcharge on gluten free products, here are a few examples: I bought a 5 lb. bag of regular wheat flour (to make pinata paste) for $1; the cheapest 5 lb. bag of gluten free flour that I can buy is almost $12. I used to buy loaves of wheat bread at the dollar store; a 2-pack of decent GF bread at Costco is $9. Bulk gluten free oats are triple the cost of regular oats. Gluten free crackers typically cost twice as much and contain fewer ounces (although they come in the same size box as their wheat-containing counterparts). If you order a GF pizza at a restaurant, they typically charge $12 for a small, one-topping pizza that feeds one man or two kids.

$20 for 5 items

My purpose in pointing this out is not to complain about our circumstances, but demonstrate how difficult it is for a family to be on the gluten free diet without it having a huge impact on your finances. When health magazines and blogs are touting the benefits of the gluten free diet, they often fail to mention the hidden costs. Yes, we cut costs wherever we can by using naturally gluten free carbs like corn tortillas, potatoes, and rice, but when you are on a restrictive diet for years – potentially a lifetime – you have to have variety and give kids some sense of normalcy. In order to do this I’ve cooked from scratch for years and limited our use of GF convenience products.

The Dark Side of Being Gluten Free
Due to the high cost of GF foods when money was especially tight, I developed a scarcity mindset about food. I would buy GF products when they were on sale, intending to bless my family, but because the portions were so small and expensive, I struggled to actually give the food to them. I carefully doled out portions, and often held onto the last portions of something so long that the food expired before being eaten because I didn’t want anything to run out. This struggle turned into a full-blown crisis when my son hit middle school, and I realized he was still eating the same portions I’d served when he was in second grade. Every rib was visible, and while he rarely complained of hunger, I knew he wasn’t eating enough. And yet, every time he sat down with a bag of snacks and started munching, it threw me into a panic. I would hand him a bag one minute, then snatch it away the next because we couldn’t afford for him to mindlessly much on our expensive food.

About the time my son was starting 7th grade, I was experiencing a health crisis from the stress of our finances on top of my mother’s cancer, surgery, and subsequent dementia. I went on a grain free diet, hoping to heal my gut and get over the sensitivity to corn that had developed from years of eating too much corn. (One of the side effects of cutting out a food, like wheat, is overconsumption of other foods, which can lead to a sensitivity to those foods.) Since I stopped eating grains during that time, I gave my servings to my son. During the two years I did this, I lost 20 lbs. and my son grew 6 inches. I came to realize that it was the only way I could sustain our tight grocery budget while providing enough food for him to grow.

As awful as it sounds, my solution to our grocery budget problem was to feed my son by starving myself. For the past three years, I have baked for my family without eating what I bake. This morning, as I stared at that cobbler, the Lord brought a verse from Deuteronomy to my mind that the Apostle Paul mentioned when talking about the right of the apostles to be paid for their work:

The law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. (1 Corinthians 9:9-10)

It is painful for me to admit, but for years I have muzzled myself while cooking for my family in order to make this expensive diet work, and that is not God’s way. My guess is that I am not alone. I know how moms are, and we will go without in order to provide for our kids. I’ve worn the same ratty clothes for years in order to make sure my kids have clothes. My husband and I gave up date nights for years so we could keep our kids in their activities. My guess is that you probably do this too. There’s nothing wrong with making sacrifices for our kids, unless it takes us into bondage to the belief that we don’t deserve to enjoy the same benefits as our kids.

Most of us can handle a short-term sacrifice or season of survival-mode, but when it becomes a way of life, it can change the wiring of our brains. What starts out as a voluntary choice becomes an involuntary response that is so ingrained we don’t recognize that it’s happening, and may not even remember where it started. At first, I was happy to give my son my grain portions in order to help him grow, but it is not healthy for me to stay captive to the mindset that what’s best for my family must come at my expense. The truth is that God is able to provide for ALL our needs – not just my family’s needs, but mine!

There is a financial and psychological toll to the gluten free diet, on top of the emotional toll of living differently than the world around you. That may not be what you want to hear if you’re new to this diet and hopeful that it will bring healing, but a wise person counts the cost of each decision. So these costs are something I would strongly urge anyone to consider before embarking on this as a way of life. Yes, it can help relieve intestinal issues. I do believe this diet has made a difference for my husband and son, which is why they are still on it. However, in my case, my intestinal issues were likely triggered by stress, and the stress created by the demands of the healing diet I went on only exacerbated my stress and made my symptoms worse!

God ultimately healed my intestines by helping me deal with the issues that were causing my gastrointestinal system to shut down in the first place. I discovered that during times of prolonged stress your digestive system stops working properly, so if you want to heal your gut, allow God to first heal your heart. However, as I’ve also discovered, there can be secondary issues that arise when we try to address our digestive issues with the gluten free diet, like the psychological and financial toll, which also need to be healed by God.

I don’t believe it’s wrong or bad to be on the gluten free diet. But I also don’t believe it comes without risks. Thankfully, God not only heals bodies, he heals minds. He has already helped me overcome my scarcity mindset, so I’m able to feed my two kids – who are now both teenagers – without freaking out over the cost like I used to. My way of coping with tight finances was to make everyone eat less, but God’s way was to help us pay off our second mortgage, which frees up more money for food. When God meets a need, it doesn’t come at our expense, but rather from his provision!

I believe God gave me the verse above to shine the light of truth on a place in my mind that was still darkened by years of financial struggle. When God sets us free from physical or financial bondage, he also needs to set us free from the psychological bondage that accompanies it in order for us to be totally free. If you are in a similar place, I am praying for you today, and asking God to shine his light on the dark places that hold us captive so he can set us free.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20)

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