How I Found Out Grains Make Me Hungry (And Why I’m Happy About It)

I stopped eating grains in June of 2013 to see if I could improve my health by changing my diet. It was my nutritionist’s idea and I was finally desperate enough to listen to her, even though grains had been a major part of my diet for decades.

I stopped eating oatmeal for breakfast and brown rice at dinner. I said good-bye to rice pasta and corn tortillas. At least I didn’t have to go through bread withdrawal; I’d given up wheat products years before, when I discovered that gluten was making me tired and depressed.

I started feeling better immediately. My constant fatigue lifted and my limbs felt lighter. The heaviness that made the smallest task seem like a challenge lifted, and suddenly it was easy to do things I had avoided before.

I became a new woman in no time at all.

My awareness of the effect grains have on my body and my energy makes it a lot easier to avoid eating them. The only real problem with giving up grains is that I miss them. When it comes to food, I like variety. No grains means very few starch options, and there are days when I think I’ll scream if I have to eat another sweet potato.

So I suppose it’s natural that, after four months without grains, I was wondering if maybe I could have just a little, now and then, without suffering ill effects.

Friends came to town and we decided to take them to a local Ethiopian restaurant.

Ethiopian food served family-style (photo Nyala Ethiopian Restaurant)
Ethiopian food served family-style (photo Nyala Ethiopian Restaurant)

In the past, we had enjoyed our Ethiopian meals served family style. A big tray lined with injera bread, piled with spiced meats and vegetables is set before you, along with a basket of more injera cut into strips. You use the bread to pick up the meat and vegetables. Savory dishes served as finger food; what could be more fun?

Traditionally, injera is made entirely of teff, a tiny grain grown in Africa. Most American restaurants make their injera with some wheat flour added, but Nyala  offers injera made from teff only. I knew I couldn’t eat injera with wheat in it (gluten is not my friend), but 100% teff might be OK. I decided to give it a try.

By the time our food arrived, I was pretty hungry. I dug in with the others, using the teff-only injera to pick up the spicy meat. As I ate, my stomach growled. At first, I thought my empty stomach was just behind the eating curve. But by the time the meal was nearly done, I was even hungrier than I’d been before. With every mouthful I took, I got hungrier and hungrier and hungrier.

It reminded my of the book The Phantom Tollbooth. Milo is served a meal of Subtraction Stew. The more he eats, the hungrier he gets. He is told that in Digitopolis, people only eat when they are full.

As a kid, I thought this was a hysterical idea. Experiencing it for myself as an adult, I didn’t like it as much.

I had started out hungry, not full. And I hate being hungry.

I came away from that meal acknowledging that grains, especially grain ground into flour, makes me hungry. I eat food so I’ll stop being hungry. I’ve recognized in the past when something like fruit juice or caffeine increased my appetite and made changes as a result. But this was the most direct and immediate example of a food making me hungry that I’ve ever experienced.

I could be upset that my attempt at having just a little grain was a failure, but I’m not. I’m grateful to realize that grains cause me this problem. For years, grains were a big part of my diet, and for years, I struggled with my weight, because I was hungry all the time. I didn’t know then that the food I was eating was causing the problem, but I’m glad I know now.

2 thoughts on “How I Found Out Grains Make Me Hungry (And Why I’m Happy About It)”

  1. Wow. I never knew that could happen. And I must say, that photo absolutely makes my mouth water. I’ve never eaten Ethiopian food, but I’m tempted to seek it out now. But I’ve been withdrawing from gluten myself recently, counting myself lucky because i can eat other grains. Thanks for this! it is definitely something to be aware of.

  2. I still love me some Ethiopian food. Very tasty, and good for vegetarians and meat eaters. My new favorite is lamb tibs — ummy yummy! I still eat there. I just have to use a fork instead.

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