A distressed woman holding her own hand from grabbing a piece of gluten filled food.

Gluten, Why Is It so Hard to Give You Up?

Chances are you’ve heard lots of fellow psoriasis sufferers give their own advice and treatment recommendations. The best is when recommendations come from people who have no idea what psoriasis is!

I’m not suggesting that you try everything, but sometimes there genuinely are things we know make our psoriasis worse. And you know what? Sometimes we don’t make changes, even when we know they’ll help us. Why?!

So, how exactly does gluten affect psoriasis?

So here’s the thing – I have known for almost a decade that diet and gluten affect my psoriasis. Back in University, I went gluten-free and my psoriasis got so much better.

Years later a round of antibiotics caused a big flare, but it did eventually settle down (and I stuck to my gluten-free diet). But in 2014 or so I started sneaking gluten back in. A wedding cake sample here and an Oreo there. Eventually, I was officially eating gluten again.

My psoriasis steadily worsened, but I just couldn’t seem to kick the gluten habit. That is, until recently. A few months ago I started getting raging migraines for the first time ever in my life.

It took some experimenting, but I conclusively linked these migraines to gluten. My last “experiment” with linguini had me laid out on my bed, ice pack on my forehead, praying for death. And that was it. Not a single crumb of gluten since that day. Nadda. Nothing!

Make that change

This got me thinking. I knew that gluten made my psoriasis worse. I could even objectively understand that ingesting gluten meant I was likely causing, even more, chronic inflammation.

This was paired with potential consequences I wasn’t even aware of. But it took something unrelated, extreme pain in my head, to finally quit completely. Why did things have to get so severe for me to make a change? I think there are four reasons. Maybe you can relate!

The ultimate slow down

One thing we’ve learned from psychology is that the length of time between an action and its consequence directly affects how likely you are to change. If something you do today only has real consequences in 12 months vs. the very next day, you’re less likely to change your behavior.

I know this is true for me. My new psoriasis spots developed slowly. If instead gluten caused new spots to appear within 15 minutes, that would have been a different story.

The psoriasis consquence

The second thing we’ve learned from psychology is that the magnitude of the consequence affects behavior. The very gradual increase in itching and pain I experienced with my psoriasis did not at all compare to the raging pain of a migraine.

Of course, the itching steadily increased over time, but the day to day increase was so minimal it was easy to ignore. An all-consuming pain that makes you want to crawl into a hole and die is something else entirely.

A gluten-free habit

Even if you can convince yourself that you should change your behavior, that’s not enough. I’m currently taking a great course from Yale and the professor showed us some optical illusions.

She explained that even though we understand intellectually how the illusion works, we can’t make our eyes unsee it. One line still looks longer than the other; the elephant still seems to have five legs, etc. etc.

So knowledge is not enough. Knowing that gluten caused inflammation for me wasn’t enough to influence my behavior. I would have had to change my habits, and that is hard. The hundreds of self-help books that have been written on the subject agree!

But, bread is awesome.

This brings me to my last point. Bread is awesome. Pasta is amazing. Cupcakes, cookies, waffles, and pancakes are the bomb. They’re so good that it was ultimately going to take something BIG to tear me away from them.

Without gluten, groceries are more expensive, eating out is harder, going to potlucks is harder, and baked goods just aren’t as fluffy.

It’s the same reason we eat lots of ice cream, or deep-fried foods, even though we know we’ll pay for it later. Because sometimes it’s just plain worth it! If it was cucumbers causing my issues, I think I would have done away with them long ago. Cucumbers are good, but they’re not fresh-baked bread good.

Understanding the final impact

I’ve been off gluten for about a month now, and my skin is so much happier. Psoriasis on my stomach is much less red, and the itching is definitely under control.

While I’m fearful that I’ll accidentally eat gluten and give myself a migraine, I am grateful that I’ve finally kicked it for good. The looming threat of pain was enough to scare me off completely.

Now if only not exercising gave me migraines too, I could actually convince myself to go to the gym.

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