My Healthy Diet Made Me Sick


My Healthy Diet Made Me Sick

Do you eat ‘healthy‘ but don’t feel healthy? In this episode, I share how following standard nutrition guidelines to eat whole wheat and whole grains likely contributed to my development of an autoimmune disease. If you currently eat wheat or grains, you must listen to this episode. 

Maria Marlowe

Maria Marlowe

Health Coach & Author


Maria Marlowe: [00:00:34] Welcome back to the Happier and Healthier Podcast. Today’s episode is a solo cast entitled How My Healthy Diet Made Me Sick and more specifically, how I believe it contributed to an autoimmune condition. This is part one of a two part series, so stay tuned for part two. Now, I know you’re probably wondering, does this mean that we don’t have to eat a healthy diet? And the answer is, of course not. We, of course, do have to eat a healthy diet. But what I want to do with this episode is encourage you to examine what you believe is the definition of a healthy diet. I always say if you ask 10 people what a healthy diet is, they’ll give you 10 different answers. One will say low calorie, another low fat vegan paleo, keto. In the public opinion, there are so many different healthy diets, but that doesn’t mean that they’re actually healthy for you. What I teach my clients in my online nutrition and cooking course is you have to listen to your body. If you’re following a quote unquote healthy diet, yet you can’t lose weight or you’re always tired. You have no energy. You have various chronic health issues, then it’s not the healthiest diet for you with this episode. I want to drive home the point that to achieve true health, you can’t be dogmatic about diet and follow blindly whatever is trendy. Instead, you must constantly do your own research and monitor your health through your ailments, no matter how small and inconsequential they may seem so that you can adapt your diet accordingly.

Maria Marlowe: [00:02:24] So to underscore this again, I will say if you think you’re eating a healthy diet, but you don’t feel very healthy, whether you have chronic gas and bloating, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, skin conditions, etc etc, then I can almost guarantee you you’re not eating the healthiest diet for your body. In this episode, I will specifically address gluten, wheat and whole wheat products and how I believe they contributed to my auto immune condition. And I’ll also explain why most functional medicine doctors advise everyone, not just those with celiac, to avoid these foods. So let me take you back to 2008. This was the time that I became interested in changing my diet. I had grown up on the standard American diet. So at this point, absolutely anything would have been an upgrade. I was inspired to change my diet, mostly because I had a really, really bad acne, as I’ve talked about in the podcast before. But I did also have a number of other health problems. I was overweight. I had really bad chronic digestive issues. I was getting strep throat quite frequently. Ear infections, viruses, colds, flus, you name it. I probably had it.

Maria Marlowe: [00:04:03] Now, to give you an idea of what I was eating prior to 2008. For breakfast, I’d have two to three bowls of Cheerios with one percent or skim milk.And I’ve also talked about this before. The reason that I had two to three bowls instead of one was because I used to love looking at the USDA food pyramid, which advised me to eat 10:54 servings of bread, cereal, rice or pasta a day. For lunch I would have a salami sandwich on white bread or sometimes I’d bring a cookie sandwich, which was two Keebler M&M rainbow cookies sandwiched between two slices of wonder bread. And for dinner I’d have either steak or Domino’s Pizza. In addition to that, I’d have McDonald’s French fries and chicken nuggets regularly. In the morning I’d have Mickey D, cheese, Danish and hash browns. I literally wouldn’t eat anything else. I would just eat the hash browns and the cheese Danish. I’d eat potato chips as a snack out of the vending machine after school. And I’d literally even eat an Endimen’s cheese Danish. Just the cream out of the center. I’d also snack on things like cheese string cheese. Sometimes I just eat that. Mozzarella out of the bag. And this is just a little glimpse into what I was eating prior to 2008 when I decided to eat healthier.

Maria Marlowe: [00:05:34] My first step was to reduce highly processed foods and junk foods. So I ended up eliminating so many of my favorite foods at the time, including things like frozen pizza, bagel bites, hot pockets, mozzarella sticks, quesadillas. I also added in more vegetables, which at the time I thought that meant that I could only eat salads. I didn’t know what else to do with vegetables. I also added in anti-inflammatory foods like wild salmon, turmeric and ginger. And one of the biggest changes I made was that I replaced white flour and refined grains with whole wheat and whole grains. Now, as you can tell, based on what I was eating previously, this was a huge improvement over what I was eating before. However, one of my main focuses became eating whole grains and whole wheat. And I believe that this played a huge role in causing an autoimmune condition. While it is true that whole wheat and whole grains are healthier than refined grains and refined white flour. The truth is, when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s still not a healthy product. I had swapped my Cheerios for a Ezekiel sprouted whole grain cereal, which I thought was literally like the healthiest thing you could possibly eat at the time for lunch. I was having whole wheat wraps or sandwiches on sprouted grain bread. During the day. I snacked on things like whole wheat, pretzels, crackers and cookies, and dinner was whole wheat pasta with salmon and a salad. So as you can see, every single meal and even my snacks became a wheat fest. And with all the wheat I was consuming. That meant I was consuming a hefty amount of gluten.

Maria Marlowe: [00:07:17] So gluten is a protein found in many grains, most notably wheat, but also grains like semolina spelt cumut, rye and barley. It’s what makes bread and baked goods really nice and airy and fluffy. So if you’ve ever tried gluten free bread, you’ll notice that it’s a lot denser. It kind of feels and looks like a brick as opposed to a fluffy piece of bread. And that’s because there’s no gluten in it now. Not long after I had switch this diet to what I thought was a very healthy diet loaded with whole grains, I noticed something peculiar started happening whenever I ate my beloved whole wheat products. OK. So this is a TMI alert. Before I share with you and I need to share this, though, because I know so many people have this issue, but they ignore it. They sweep it under the rug. I’ve seen my clients do it. Friends do it. Family members do it. I did it personally. So I think when we don’t talk about things, then everyone just has to deal with the problem and nothing ever changes. So that’s why I like talking about some of this gross stuff sometimes. So what was happening was every time that I would have my bowl of Ezekiel cereal or have my Ezekiel bread or the whole wheat wrap had literally have to run to the bathroom sometimes mid cereal because I had really loose stool.

Maria Marlowe: [00:08:42] Now all the media at the time, dietitians, etc, all the messaging was around eating whole wheat and eating whole grains. So it never occurred to me that whole grains or whole wheat could actually be bad for me. I just reasoned that the reason that this was happening was it’s the fiber cleaning out my colon. However, this is not normal. This is completely abnormal. And it’s a sign of inflammation. It could be a sign of infection. But because it was happening with the food as a sign that I shouldn’t be eating it or when I was eating the products, I would get a runny nose and start sneezing after just one or two spoons of sprouted whole wheat cereal. And for a long time, I didn’t put two and two together. This was before my body detective days. This was before I became a health coach and studied nutrition formally. S

Maria Marlowe: [00:10:00] So it wasn’t until I was working at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition that a co-worker tipped me off because I was eating the cereal at my desk one morning. And he said, you know, because every morning I would eat this cereal, my nose would start running and then I’d start sneezing like a crazy person and he’d sit next to me and eat here the whole fiasco. So, you know, he came over, saw what I was eating and is like, you know what? You probably have a gluten intolerance.You’re sneezing on your runny nose is likely a sign that you have some sort of sense of. Liberty or intolerance to it? So with a little more research, I decided to cut out wheat and gluten. And lo and behold, my sneezing fits stopped, as did the loose stool and the bloating that constantly plagued me up until that point. Unfortunately, though, I did not catch these little warning signals early enough and more severe damage had already been done out of seemingly nowhere. I developed what looked like a big shiny scar on my chest, even though there was no physical trauma to the location it just really sprouted out of nowhere. It started quite small and then it eventually grew to about 1 inch wide by 3 inches long.

Maria Marlowe: [00:10:49] So I went to a dermatologist and they diagnosed me with morphia, which is a form of localized scleroderma. And this is an autoimmune disease in which your body creates excessive collagen and deposits on the skin forming what looks like scar tissue, even though nothing happened to that skin from the outside. So I was sent to a rheumatologist and I even tried my luck with some other dermatologists and doctors, but none really knew what caused it or more importantly, how to get rid of it. None of them asked me what I was eating or cared enough to ask the question why? Why did I get this? For a long time, the scar really bothered me because I didn’t like the way that it looked, but because it didn’t hurt and because none of the doctors or dermatologist seemed that worried about it, I learned to live with it and just not focus on it.

Maria Marlowe: [00:11:48] Now you might be asking yourself, why am I bringing this up in a podcast about gluten? And the reason is that all autoimmune diseases are believed to stem from leaky gut. The more technical name for leaky gut is increased intestinal permeability. A growing body of evidence is suggesting that gluten is a major contributor to leaky gut. So what happens when you eat gluten or food containing gluten when the meal reaches your intestines? An enzyme produced in your intestinal wall is going to break down the gluten in to its protein building blocks which are gliadin and glutenin Now, as these proteins make their way through your digestive system, your immune system in your gut is reviewing everything for potentially harmful substances. Now, if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity, the proteins will be absorbed. However, those that do have a gluten sensitivity. Your body is going to identify gliadin as a dangerous substance and produce antibodies to attack it. Additionally, consumption of gluten causes the gut cells to release Zonulin, which is a protein that can break apart the tight junctions that hold your intestinal lining together.

Maria Marlowe: [00:13:07] So the way that I like to explain your intestinal lining is this. First of all, it’s only one self-check. So I usually if you saw me now, I’m basically making two fists and pressing them together. So that would be two cells right up next to each other. Right. And where your knuckles fit into each other. That would be where the tight junction is. And so this tight junction, you can think of this as a door that is blocked by a bouncer at a club. So it’s only supposed to open and let nutrients pass through the door from the inside of your got out into your bloodstream. And that’s the only thing that’s supposed to get through. It’s supposed to keep the bacteria, viruses, partially digested food particles, antigens and toxins inside your gut and out of your bloodstream and surrounding tissues. But when you eat gluten, in our analogy, the gluten is going to cut to the front of the line at the club. It’s going to knock the bouncer out, push open that door and let his rowdy pack of friends through. So the pathogens, the antigens, like the aforementioned gliadin in antibody and other toxins are going to go through that door into your bloodstream and the surrounding tissue. Now, this is what leaky gut is and it not only causes inflammation, which we know is a root cause of a wide range of illnesses.It’s also believed to be a major root cause in all autoimmune diseases.

Maria Marlowe: [00:14:37]  Now, not all people will have this response to gluten. Those that have a genetic predisposition or have been exposed to a cocktail of environmental factors that makes them more susceptible, such as chronic antibiotic use. childhood trauma, stress. A poor diet, which let’s be honest, as many people, these are all factors that will make you more susceptible to developing a leaky got. Now, there’s a lot of pushback on this and the mainstream people will say things like wheat has been in our diet forever. Bread was the first food. Whole grains are so healthy, etc. etc. But if you experience gluten sensitivity, you can see for yourself how much better you look and feel simply by removing it from your diet. No other changes made. So some of the most common signs of a gluten sensitivity include and this is going to be a laundry list reoccurring abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea or constipation or both bloating or gas sneezing when or shortly after eating a gluten containing food. Developing inflammatory skin conditions or rashes. Especially an itchy, blistery type of skin rash. Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. Chronic fatigue. Joint pain. Unexplained infertility. Low bone density, iron deficiency anemia, mouth ulcers, headaches, cognitive impairment or brain fog or any sort of memory issues. So you can’t remember where you left your keys. You can’t remember people’s names. Everything’s a little bit foggy. That’s what Brain fog is and another sign of gluten sensitivity, which we’ve already talked about, is an auto immune condition.

Maria Marlowe: [00:16:23]  Now, there are a number of different theories for why there is such a market rise or market increase in gluten intolerance. So if you want to learn more about that, I do talk about it more in-depth in my book, The Real Food Grocery Guide. In short, some people believe it’s because the way that we prepare bread now is much different versus how we’re prepared at thousands of years ago. Because back then, all bread was fermented like sour dough and the fermentation process could take weeks or months even. And during that fermentation, it broke down the gluten protein. Now, others believe it’s because of the use of agricultural chemicals which are sprayed on wheat to drive them out, which has become a standard practice in the US. And these chemicals are also sprayed on other crops, like other grains. And there is some evidence that may support this theory. And that is the fact that people who have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance often can’t tolerate oats and oats, do not contain gluten. However, they are sprayed with the same chemical glyphosate to dry them out. Now, that’s why you’ll often see on oat packages like gluten free or made in a gluten free facility and not cross-contaminated all of that stuff. But the best way to make sure if you are consuming oats to avoid that chemical being sprayed on it. Always choose organic.

Maria Marlowe: [00:17:58] So long story short, gluten and wheat are not health foods. And based on my research and interviews with dozens of integrative and functional medicine doctors, plus my personal experience, plus the experience of my family and hundreds of clients, I can unequivocally say that wheat is not a health food. I’ve never met a single person who feels better with wheat in their diet after doing an elimination, a proper elimination for at least two weeks. Now there are definitely people who decide that after an elimination they’d rather live with a little bloating or a little extra weight versus giving up bread. And that’s fine. That’s their personal decision. However, I don’t think this is a wise decision because I believe that these so-called minor ailments and minor aches and pains are our bodies early warning system. They are there to help alert us that it’s time to change course so we don’t develop more serious issues. For example, leaky gut and an auto immune condition down the line. If you currently eat bread or other wheat products and you feel puffy or bloated all the time or you experience any of those symptoms that I just mentioned, then I challenge you to cut gluten and wheat out completely for two full weeks. I bet you you will feel a huge difference.You’ll probably see a difference in your digestion, in your energy levels and your mood in your skin. You’re going to feel like a new person.

Maria Marlowe: [00:19:35] So if you do take me up on this challenge, I do want to know how it goes for you. So send me a message on Instagram @mariamarlowe and Marlowe is m a r l o w e just drop me a direct message and let me know how it goes. I’d be really, really curious to know now if you need some help in figuring out what the heck you’re going to eat. If you don’t have gluten in your diet, then you can head to and you can sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get a free three day meal plan or you could just go to the recipe section. All the recipes on my site are gluten free. And just a little note if you do decide to take me up on this challenge. Gluten is also found in a wide range of packaged foods where you wouldn’t think that it is. So it’s used as a stabilizing agent and many processed foods such as salad dressings and mayonnaise, just for example, it’s using a lot of condiments. So if you are avoiding gluten, make sure that you get into the habit of always reading ingredient lists for any of the packaged foods that you buy, even if you think it’s like, again, like a condiment, like ketchup or mayonnaise. Right. Simple things like that. Always read the ingredient list because you’ll be surprised where gluten and other additives are hiding.

Maria Marlowe: [00:20:57] Also, check your supplements. A lot of supplements, medications and even beauty products can sometimes contain wheat gluten. So just really get into the habit of reading labels on everything. And if you’re going to make a commitment to eliminate gluten, be sure to eliminate it completely. So let’s talk a little bit about what the experts say about gluten, gluten sensitivity and leaky gut. So there’s definitely a lot of talk and a rise in interest and. Well, going gluten free, but there’s also a lot of naysayers who think that only people with celiac should avoid gluten. Now, on one side, we have doctors and researchers who are advocating that everyone go gluten free because it’s damaging to everyone. One example would be Dr. Vincent PJ, who is the author of Happy Gut and an all around gut health expert. He was on my podcast Way Back. Episode three, it was one of my most popular episodes. So if you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend you go back and check it out. Another very well-known, prestigious, well-respected doctor who advises everyone to go gluten. And he even says all grain free is Dr. William Davis. He is a cardiologist that I deeply respect. I really admire his work and I’m thankful for his work because it helped heal my mom from heart disease. So he found that wheat or he talks about how wheat is actually a cause for heart disease.

Maria Marlowe: [00:22:39] And my mom, many of you guys may remember back, I guess it’s over a year ago, she was diagnosed with heart disease. They thought she was going to have a stroke any day and she drastically changed her diet. So she has been gluten free for over a year now. And she changed a lot of other things, too. She got rid of sugar and processed foods and started eating more real whole foods. And not only is her heart healthier, she used to have debilitating digestive issues and chronic back pain to the point where and hip pain went to the point where she literally couldn’t even walk sometimes. And those are also completely gone as a result of giving up gluten in general. Any expert or doctor who promotes a paleo style of eating, a keto style of eating, a pegan style of eating like Dr. Mark Hyman, who is the medical director at the Cleveland Clinic’s Functional Medicine Center. Any of these people are going to be promoting that. Everyone should be gluten free. Personally, I’m also in this camp based on everything that I’ve seen, experienced and witnessed other people experience. I really don’t think there is any place in the diet for gluten. It seems to spark inflammation some worse than others. Some it takes a longer period of time to manifest. But based on everything I’ve seen, I think that it’s really just a matter of time and certain people can tolerate things better and certain people are willing to tolerate things a little bit more little ailments or bloating or gas or other issues.And some people are not.

Maria Marlowe: [00:24:20]  So I think it’s just it’s really a spectrum. And the longer and the more gluten that you eat generally, the worse it’s gonna be. I know that bread is delicious. I’m Italian, so I grew up eating quite a lot of bread. Luckily, there are lots of gluten free options that tastes really great and lots of other foods that you can eat as well. So that’s the gluten free camp. That’s the camp I’m in. Now, in the middle, we do have some doctors and researchers who believe that only people with gluten sensitivity or celiac should go off of gluten. So, for example, Dr. Amy Myers is in this camp, but she does promote a gluten free diet heavily. But she frames it that it’s for people who are gluten sensitive or celiac. So she stopped short of saying that everyone is gluten sensitive or everyone’s negatively impacted by wheat and gluten. But she does also make it clear that a very large number of people are gluten sensitive. Many who don’t realize it. Now, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the industry educated side, we have a camp which believes that gluten sensitivity is not a real thing and that only people with celiac need to eliminate gluten. And this includes university professors and certain registered dieticians that are educated by the system.

Maria Marlowe: [00:25:47] So the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which sets the curriculum and testing for registered dieticians, has been sponsored by some of the largest food companies and agricultural associations, including General Mills, Kellogg’s and a host of other food manufacturers whose main ingredient is wheat. These food companies sponsor trainings for r.d. So it’s no surprise that they teach things like a fortified cereals and breads are a great source of nutrients and part of a healthy diet. They even warn against removing these processed foods from the diet and whole grains from the diet, saying that it could lead to malnutrition, which is absolutely preposterous if you think about it, because fortified foods are fortified meaning on their own. The food product has little to no nutritional value, and so they add in synthetic vitamins to make the nutrition facts panel look a little bit better.

Maria Marlowe: [00:26:46] So a healthier way to fortify yourself then would be to simply take a multivitamin and ditch the highly processed, fortified foods. Now, if you’re interested in learning more about this, about the role of the food industry in registered dietitian education, I suggest you check out the work of public health lawyer Michelle Simon. She has a great expose, called And Now A Word From Our Sponsors. You can look that up online. There’s also an organization formed by a number of registered dieticians. It’s called Dieticians for Professional Integrity, and their basic purpose is to advocate for the removal of sponsorship dollars by multinational food companies because it is tainting the education of registered dieticians. Hopefully, eventually we will see a day where nutrition education is based on science and not based on political and economic interests.

Maria Marlowe: [00:27:47] A quick break from this episode to share with you an amazing opportunity. Are you interested in turning your passion for health and wellness into a career that helps hundreds, thousands or even millions of people live healthier? If so, consider becoming a holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. The original and top health coach certification program I studied there in 2012 and it completely changed my career path and life. I went from an uninspiring job in finance to an exciting, fulfilling and rewarding career as a full time health coach. The program is offered as a one year or accelerated six month course, and it teaches you a mix of nutrition, coaching and business. They have some of the top teachers, including Dr. Walter Willett, who is the chair of Harvard’s Nutrition Department for 26 years. Dr. Marion Nestle, a professor at NYU and author of one of my favorite books, Food Politics. Dr. Mark Hyman, who is the medical director at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. Dr. Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, Gaby Bernstein. And so many more millions of people are suffering from diet related illnesses. And I truly believe the world needs more health coaches. That’s why I’ve teamed up with and to offer an incredible opportunity to make studying there even easier. You’ll get fifteen hundred dollars off tuition plus one on one mentoring with me. Plus, you’ll be added to my private Facebook mentorship group where you can connect with other students and grads and also practice with them to get your three bonuses. Simply email me at [email protected]. That’s m a r i a m a r l o w e dot com with the subject IIN and I’ll personally send you back the email that will allow you to get all of these amazing bonuses if you feel called to explore or start a career in health and wellness. Definitely reach out.

Maria Marlowe: [00:30:06] Ok, rant over. Just to kind of wrap it up. There’s a great quote from Dr. William Davis, who is author of two of my favorite books. I’ll link to those in the notes. And he said, Whole grains are indeed healthier than white flour products, just as filtered cigarettes are healthier than unfiltered cigarettes. Less bad does not mean healthy, despite the pleas of well-meaning nutritionists. So, as I always say, be a body detective.

Maria Marlowe: [00:30:41] It’s one of the first things that I teach my clients. You have to continuously be looking for signs that something you’re doing in your diet or your lifestyle is not working out and it’s causing harm. I know things like bloating and gas. You know, they might just seem really annoying. But if it’s happening on a chronic basis, like every day or multiple times a week for months, then it’s become chronic and you really have to look under the hood if it happens on a one off occasion. OK, fine. But if it’s happening when something’s happening repeatedly, that’s when you really want to start being that detective and asking questions, experimenting with elimination, looking at your diet. All of these things, because that’s a sign that something is not right. This is all the stuff that I wish someone would have taught me before I went on my whole wheat binge. I wish someone would have taught me about the potential dangers and downsides of consuming wheat gluten. I wish someone would have taught me how to be a body detective and to really examine and question whenever something was off in my body. I had no idea what normal digestion looked like. I had no idea that if he didn’t have normal digestion and you didn’t have good poops, that you should really go see a doctor and see what’s going on. And I had no idea what a healthy body really looked like. So I hope that this episode can at least shed some light for you and tip you off to both the dangers of weeds and the importance of being a body detective. So I hope this episode inspires you to take a better look at your diet and your health.

Maria Marlowe: [00:32:25] And if you want some more guidance on how to do this and how to optimize your diet, you can check out my book, The Real Food Grocery Guide or My 10 Week Online Nutrition and Cooking Course, which you can find both at

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