In 2014 Hannah Liistro, health blogger and nutrition enthusiast, decided to go gluten-free. Pasta, sourdough, and even vodka were taken off her weekly menu, and sweet potato, chickpeas, and fruit were added on. Three years later, she’s pounding bagels and baguettes — and we’re confused.
With all the back-and-forth surrounding gluten, it seems that once a person quits gluten, they wouldn’t want to go back. After all, a gluten-free diet is supposed to promote weight loss, heal your gut, and even (depending on who you ask) prolong your lifespan.[related]
So we checked in on Hannah a few months later and uncovered her inspiring story.
When did you go gluten-free?
“I read this book called Wheat Belly,” she said. “The tagline for the book is literally, ‘Lose the wheat, lose the weight.’ That title was super attractive and interesting to me.”
Hannah went entirely gluten- and grain-free, her heart set on weight loss. No gluten to speak of and very little dairy were on her horizon — Hannah was dedicated to her Whole 30-esque lifestyle, clinging to food rules and regulations like glue.
“My diet consisted of a lot of salmon, chicken, turkey, other meats, plenty of fruits and vegetables, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, eggs, dairy-free yogurt, too many sweet potatoes, nuts and seeds, nut milks, and allllll of the nut butters,” she recited. “I’d burn through a jar of almond butter in less than a couple of days.”
She omitted grains, beans, processed foods like chips or fries, sugar that wasn’t from fruit, and processed oils. Despite her lack of an allergy, she avoided these foods like the plague, convinced (like so many who cut out gluten) that this would make her healthier and happier. “I thought I needed to be on this diet to be healthy,” she said.
When did you make the switch back to bread?
The diet failed to give her the weight loss she wanted — but she still pursued. One day, though, Hannah couldn’t take it anymore.
She was on a family vacation in the Southwest.
“I was super hungry all the time because, well, we were hiking so much!” she told us. She’d been eating all the potatoes and eggs she could manage, carb-heavy meals adherent to her gluten-free lifestyle. But she always still felt hungry.
“One day, my scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes came with toast,” she remembered. “I was not about to let my body go hungry. So I went for the toast.”
The basis of Hannah’s gluten-free rule was that she truly believed she was intolerant to gluten — that were she to reintroduce the substance, she would immediately gain weight and feel awful.
“I was so scared to try gluten for the first time,” Hannah said, “because I was completely paranoid and had convinced myself that I had a legitimate allergy. But when I ate it again, I didn’t feel a physical difference.”
What was it like to eat gluten again for the first time?
“I remember those two pieces of bread being slightly dry and cardboard-like, so my first experience with introducing gluten wasn’t the most tasty,” she laughed. “But I’m so glad it happened.” After eating the stale toast, she decided to introduce other forms of gluten back into her life, too. Now, Hannah goes for the gluten regularly.
Despite the lack of physical transformation throughout the journey, an invisible change took place when she bit into that slice of bread.
“I feel like a rockstar, queen, unicorn now that I eat gluten again,” she expressed. “It is incredibly liberating to go to a restaurant and be able to order whatever I want and not care if there’s gluten in it.” Hannah now orders glutinous menu items with purpose, priding herself in the choice.
“Give me alllll the pasta, paninis, and bagels. Bagels!” she exclaimed.
How do you feel now, months later?
“Deciding to live a life with gluten rather than a life without has been one of the best decisions I've ever made for my health, my happiness, and my longevity as a human being,” she said. “I am happier and freer, and I enjoy going out with friends and cooking way more than I did when I was gluten-free.”
“I now recognize that the reason I consistently binged on almond butter and blew through a jar in two days was that I was in total deprivation mode,” she concluded. “While I’ll never go back to restricting foods, I am, in a very big way, grateful for the experience that I had. It’s got to me where I am today. And where I am today is the best damn kind of freedom I’ve ever felt.”
Life’s too short to hate on bread — we’re with you, Hannah. Here’s to many more doughnuts, sandwiches, and great garlic bread.