Writer Wellness–One Simple Change for More Energy & Focus

I often like to dedicate Fridays to talking about the writer as a person—time management, character, attitude, health, and all the more “human” components that affect how well we perform in our craft. Top athletes do mental exercises, watch nutrition, make certain to get enough rest to ensure they are running at peak performance. Why shouldn’t we?

I am not going to claim to be an expert at writer wellness, but today I am going to give you my two cents about a simple change that can help you operate at a higher level of efficiency and make you feel like a race car on rocket fuel. Just so you know, my advice and $2.75 can get you a grande coffee at Starbucks, so take it for what it is…my opinion. I will tell you that Who Dares Wins Publishing, the vanguard of excellence in the new publishing paradigm, has just launched Writer Wellness by Joy Held, and she is a real expert. So I highly, highly recommend that you get a copy of her book and check out her web site the first chance you get.

Back to my opinion :D…

Our work is a product of us, and if we are chaotic, unhealthy and strung out, it is going to negatively affect our writing. Too many of you are not sleeping well. You’re tired and wonder what happened to all of your energy. It might be hard to focus and you just don’t feel good in your skin. You want to be best-selling authors, but might wonder how on earth you will ever have the energy to do all that needs to be done. Today I would like to share some of my story in hopes that it might benefit many of you reading.

I have a tremendous amount of natural energy and I rarely drink more than one cup of coffee a day. I sleep eight hours with no trouble and am rarely ever sick. This wasn’t always the case. I still remember the day I had gained so much weight that I was officially in the plus sizes, a land of zebra stripes and rayon where polyester stretch pants go to die. I huddled in a corner and cried. What moron did they put in charge of designing plus sizes? Oh, yeah, a line of cheetahs across my a$$ really made it look smaller.

No matter what I did, my weight kept climbing. I was exhausted all the time, had terrible stomach problems, and I was always sick with something. I actually did exercise. All the time. But, no matter how much I worked out, my weight just kept climbing. My thyroid was fine and most of the doctors just rolled their eyes when I told them that I was eating healthy and working out.

Long story short, after some horrific health problems, I finally found the real culprit behind my weight gain and health problems. I had a massive wheat and dairy intolerance. See, I was eating “healthy.” I did the Special K challenge and added more whole wheat and skim milk…and just got sicker and heavier. Plain fact was that my body didn’t know what the heck to do with the wheat and dairy, so it just stored it as fat. Also, because I was eating so much stuff I was allergic to, my immune system was in a constant state of agitation causing all kinds of problems—eczema, allergies, stomach upset, joint pain, mood swings, etc. We can also assume that I was suffering chronic malnutrition because my body couldn’t use what I was giving it.

Gluten intolerances are often hard to spot because a gluten reaction is not a histamine response like when someone eats shellfish or strawberries. It is an autoimmune response. The body senses the gluten as an invader, and the immune system starts attacking everything in its line of sight. The symptoms can vary from person to person. My mother gets asthma attacks. I get a severely stomach upset, joint pain, and my heart rate (and weight) shoots up. It also makes me exhausted. I’d eat pasta and the only thing I wanted was sleep.

I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but all the sudden gluten-free is popping up everywhere. See, in my layman’s opinion, the food industry has created a massive health problem. Gluten enhances flavor. It stimulates the same dopamine response centers as cigarettes, sex, drugs and alcohol. It’s called “comfort food” for a reason. The gluten protein is very difficult for humans to digest, but it does make food extra yummy and even addictive. Think of gluten as the nicotine of the food industry.

Gluten stimulates appetite. Food manufacturers started adding it to everything—salad dressing, soy sauce, hot dogs, lunch meat, chips, etc. Eat a regular corn chip. Then try and eat one Dorito. It’s tough. We have a hard time staying out of the bag. The reason? Gluten is an appetite stimulant that makes us eat more food so we buy more. Problem is, the food industry added a substance that had a potential to be an allergen to everything! Think if they suddenly started adding peanut oil to everything. How would the peanut allergy rates rise due to overexposure? That is what they did with wheat.

Back before the 50s, the only time you ate wheat was if you ate bread, pastry, cake, or something fried. It was easy to tell when you were having wheat. You could see it. Now? The food manufacturers have subtly slipped this ingredient into virtually everything. So, as a society, we have been overexposed and, as a result, many people are walking around with an intolerance that is wrecking their lives and their waistlines as it once did mine.  

I now eat clean, and what a difference. I have plenty of energy and am blessed with excellent health. Yes, it requires extra effort, but it is worth it for the way I feel. If some of you out there are struggling with weight, body pain, constant fatigue, try pulling gluten out of your diet (Casein—dairy—is similar to gluten so that might have to go, too). It takes three days to get the offender out of your system, and it will be very easy to tell if you cannot tolerate it. You will feel as if you’ve been hit by a wrecking ball the next time you eat it. People think I have this amazing self-discipline, but I really don’t. I just know how horrible I feel eating that stuff, and I prefer feeling great.

I say it’s like putting molasses in the gas tank of a Ferrari vs. putting in high-octane fuel. What a difference in performance!

As writers, we are often multi-tasking. We regularly work a regular day job on top of our writing. Two jobs! Spouses, kids, pets and dust bunnies don’t disappear all because we want to be a novelist. We need all the energy and focus we can get. If you’re in a slump, try taking out the gluten. Even if you aren’t allergic or intolerant it will make you eat healthier and the weight will fall off. Gluten is tough to digest, so it can make even people who aren’t intolerant feel sluggish. There are other grains that are less taking on the system. The first four months I cut out wheat I dropped 30 pounds (much of the weight was edema caused by the allergy).

I now have energy like I did when I was a kid, and that makes a huge difference when it comes to my profession. Thanks for indulging my segue, and I hope it blesses you with good health. Make sure to pick up a copy of Joy’s book. She is the expert, and she has many tips, tools and tactics to help you guys be productive, healthy and more creative.

What are some tips you guys would like to add? How to you stay fit and healthy? What are your challenges?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.


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  1. I totally agree with you and this is excellent advice! I look at any type of carb as sugar because at the end of the day, that’s what it really is. I’ve drastically reduced my intake of carbs in the past and lost a ton of weight as well as gained a bunchy of energy. It’s hard though but you will notice a difference!

    • writerwellness on January 21, 2011 at 4:30 pm
    • Reply

    We were in the same place at one time, Kristen. I discovered a wheat and dairy intolerance after my children were born, but once I got a handle on my diet all is much better. Our writing will always reflect our health so it’s best to be in good health to have at least a fighting chance at writing a decent sentence. Thanks for your great post today. My blog next week will have a daily tip for each of the five key concepts of Writer Wellness: journaling, fitness, relaxation, nutrition, & creative play. I hope your followers will take a minute to drop by. Be well, write well. http://www.writerwellness.wordpress.com

  2. Thank you for validating the dichotomy of writers’ lives. It can be difficult to work two jobs and manage a house as well. I will try some of your tips on diet as I agree with you, when we eat healthier, we feel more energized. I have a weakness for potato chips, but I will make my diet part of my weekly resolution to see how it will impact my writing. Thank you for pointing out how they are connected.

    1. I know they add gluten to the flavored potato chips. See if eating a GF potato chip helps. Thanks for taking time to comment :D.

  3. I have to avoid dairy for similar reasons. I don’t know if it is the Casein as you suggest but I do know that ice cream gives me a hangover you wouldn’t believe. We are talking on the level of a Tequila-binge type of hangover. Milk is for cows, not for humans.


  4. Great post, Kristen. I don’t have an allergies to wheat but do have to watch my carbs. Cutting down on wheat, i.e. bread and pizza wouldn’t go a miss to help me loose those extra few pounds I gained during my Christmas pig out.

    Also like you, I am very energetic (although, unlike you, I like and need my sleep), but still, it never hurts to have some extra help, especially now I am nearing the big four-O…..Opps, what I really mean is I am still a thirty-something. 😀

    1. Oh, I need my sleep. I am in bed by 10 and not up until 7. I also have to make sure to take a day of rest or it craters my week. 😛

  5. I am a gluten-dairy free newbie doing the diet in support of my son who for the last 5 (yes 5) years has defied a medical diagnosis – rashes that look like his body is decomposing, joint pain that virtually crippled him, etc. After being on a VERY clean diet (meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit,nuts, and seeds) we are seeing the first decrease in severe pain since August and this after less than a week and his rashes although not healed (let’s face it, that kind of damage is going to take awhile) are significantly less inflamed.

    And guess what? I, who am usually a champion tosser and turner at night (I realize now due to chronic gut pain) have been sleeping through the night like a baby.

    There’s not too much incentive to ever return to gluten if we are getting these kinds of results. Thanks for spreading the word.

  6. Kristen:
    Thank you for writing this article..

    I knew there was more that we had in common then just writing and the love of social media….last year I found out that I am allergic to diary, wheat, eggs, soy, and yeast. I removed them from my diet and I dropped 10 pounds, eating “clean” changed my energy level and removed the brain fog. I was amazed that everything I thought I was eating and doing to be healthy was actually poisoning me. I jumped right on the Jamie Lee Curtis Activia Yogurt plan bus, which later I found was making me bloated AND causing severe stomach attacks.

    Along with the food allergies, I found out I am allergic to all kinds of pollen, mold and dust that when even eaten or overloaded can cause heart palpitations, panic attacks, dizziness. and even vertigo. Eating a microwaveable sweet potato last year almost sent me to the hospital with a severe allergic reaction…It was mold on the potato that had probably grown in the store. Rinsing everything is now something I must do to prevent ingesting mold or dust that I am allergic to. It is just crazy!

    The fact that I am allergic to wheat saddens me, but like you said…wheat, soy and yeast are placed in almost ALL products today unless you buy organic or allergy-free…even dairy is hidden in ingredients if you don’t know the other names it goes under…like you said casein or lact -anything!

    It may be a struggle at times…but it sure makes a difference when you eat “clean”…I feel like a different person. I never thought that it was the food I was eating, but then it made a great difference with my son also …he was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in first grade. At 16, he is on a clean diet, getting allergy shots and had his tonsils removed. He is no longer on ADHD medications and is active in sports and band…excelling in school. Just with this change he was a different kid.

    Maybe your next book should be on The Benefits of Living a CLEAN Life…I will co-write it with you…I have a ton of research already in relation to ADHD in kids/Adults and how this affects women in perio-menopause and menopause.


    1. Thanks. Trust me, I have thought about writing a book about this, and I will keep your offer in mind for sure. I was actually misdiagnosed with epilepsy. The gluten/casein had my system so jacked up I couldn’t function. Part of how I became a writer is that I was so ill I couldn’t work and I had no energy to leave my house. I kept exhibiting symptoms of a stroke, so they sent me to the top neurologists who started treating me for epilepsy. The more they tried to treat my symptoms, the more seizures I had (petite mal). Turns out that the meds were actually giving me the seizures. Apparently if you give a non-epileptic seizure medicine, it can give them seizures. I no longer could drive, go to the store. I was 29 years old and a total disaster. Pulling gluten out of my diet saved my life, so I am a huge advocate of clean eating. Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is a very timely post for me. I ate mostly low carb for many years, but when I hit menopause, I decided to “get healthy” and eat a low-fat, mostly vegetarian diet. I gained 80 pounds and developed asthma. It’s only recently that I pinpointed wheat as one of the culprits. Just not eating wheat over the holidays meant I not only didn’t gain as usual, but actually lost weight.

    But I’ve discovered in my research that gluten isn’t usually the main culprit in asthma-related wheat allergies. There are other proteins in wheat that cause respiratory problems. This means a person may not be allergic to gluten, but to wheat itself. This means you can eat rye and oats, which contain gluten. For those who want to keep some whole grains in their diet, this info might help.

    Thanks for this!

  8. The wheat and dairy intolerance is something I struggled with 15 years ago….and diet really does make a big difference! You’re preaching to the choir on that front. Thanks for thinking of writers as humans.

  9. Thanks for spreading the word about your healthy diet. I am also a natural female physique athlete, so I thrive on the “eat clean” diet. I have tried every diet from low-carb to raw vegan to high protein. In my opinion, it’s all about discovering what is the right diet for YOU. I could write for days on this topic, so I better cut myself short before getting on that soap box!

    See my tips for Fitness Friday: http://wp.me/p1gAw0-1k

    We’re thinking along the same lines. 🙂

  10. My grandpa was Celiac and they also were leaning towards epilepsy prior to his diagnosis. He didn’t get diagnosed until he was in his 80s. I also have an autoimmune disease, so I’m empathetic towards you. I have flares that completely knock me out. Usually in the fall with the weather change. I can develop odd symptoms out of the blue that last 6-9 months. Totally, not fun. I’ve been trying to eat healthy lately, but my stomach gives me grief. It’s funny how the things that are supposed to be good for you make you feel bad. I do know I’m not Celiac, I was tested for that previously.

    1. Still try cutting it out. I am not a Celiac either, but I definitely cannot eat it without dire consequences. And, if you can’t tolerate it, that will be obvious very quickly.

      1. Yes, one of my resolutions/goals for this year is to eat healthier. I’ve been trying to eat more fruits & veggies, but sometimes I think the fruit bothers me. I’m still trying to figure things out. I hate it when something makes me bloated! 🙂

  11. I was diagnosed as celiac when I was a young child. It’s been very interesting to watch the increase in awareness (and in the corresponding number of diagnoses and self-diagnoses) over the years. For those who want to eat gluten-free, the options are now much broader. I can even order gluten-free pizza from more than one chain — a big change from the days when the only bread substitute was rice cakes.

    Good luck to all of you who are recently on the diet or considering going on it! It sounds daunting at first, and a lot of label-checking is required (since, as Kristen pointed out, gluten is in everything), but once you settle into it, it’s really not that limiting these days. Especially if you have access to a health food store that carries gf baked goods (many of them do), and/or if you’re willing to do some of your own baking.

    Healthy eating in general is something I still need to work on. I may not be eating gluten, but I eat plenty of sugar, carbs, and fat. I could do with some of those benefits Kristen mentioned!

  12. @Kristin: Yep. I too have a problem with gluten, wheat, sugar and several other foods that were supposed to be good for me. You have nicely captured the problem here. Clean as my diet is, I still struggle. Other sensitivities I have yet to find, perhaps.

    @ Amy L Harden, I’d would love to connect with you. I want to hear about the research you collected for ADHD and food. Use the Contact page on my blog. Or tweet me on http://twitter.com/sleveo

  13. Here here! I follow the Sugar Addict’s Recovery Program. I feel way better in my 30’s than I did in my 20’s. In my 20’s I was one sick puppy. I can tolerate dairy and wheat but wheat does feel heavy and both make me crave (both contain opioid peptides).

    • Tamara LeBlanc on January 21, 2011 at 8:48 pm
    • Reply

    Fabulous post!!
    I’m a grown woman, 40 years old, and had NO idea what Gluten was or what it did to the body. I always thought it was a natural ingredient found in nature…ummm, DUH.
    Leave it to you, my favorite blogger, to set me straight.
    I’m gonna run and tell my mom to read this. She’s been dealing with a lot of pain in the neck health issues.
    thank you so much for the info.
    Have a great evening!

  14. My son’s health problems have baffled the Doctors for 5 years. This winter he has become so sick that in the “we-don’t-know-what-else-to-try” they have suggested that we “try” chemo-therapy because it “might work”.

    In just 5 days being gluten free we have seen the improvement in his skin in 2 years and the first improvement in his “arthritis” since this past summer.

    Why don’t more people know about the complications of gluten in a diet? The answer is really quite simple – the treatment is diet. That’s it, just diet – something from which Physicians and pharmaceutical companies can’t make a profit.

    1. Food industry would be in a HUGE legal problem. They are knowingly adding an ingredient to make food addictive, an ingredient that is a known allergen that they are not required by law to tell us is in the food. It’s INSANE! Don’t get me started. Casein is very similar in structure so if he hits a plateu where he isn’t doing better, pull out the dairy too. Use almond milk instead. It’s casein free, tastes great and is low in fat, high in protein and low in calories. Use olive oil instead of butter and just get used to eating things without cheese. I know there is soy cheese and rice cheese, but they taste like crap (my POV). All my best!

      1. I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic here when I say that in an effort to save my son’s life we have put him on a Paleo diet meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. No grains, no dairy and NOTHING processed.

        After 30 days we’ll introduce corn and rice but as I know he has had lactose intolerance issues in the past he might never go back to dairy.

        As I’ve said in just 5 days we’ve seen more progress than we’ve seen in 2 years (and that includes his being on some pretty strong medication). This is a route we will be continuing.

        My concern now, however, is that next year he goes off to college. I have roughly 8 months in which to teach him how to fend for himself food wise while on his own.

        Thanks for the comments and support.

        And Yup, you can call me yet another angry mom at the medical system

  15. I know more and more people who have to avoid gluten now.

    For me, writing is such a sedentary lifestyle, so I’ve made a commitment this year to do the P90x program from beginning to end. The first week killed me. But now I feel great and have tons more energy,

  16. Thanks for sharing that story. I’m glad to hear that you are doing well after such a rough go of it. As for me, I’m sure my current pattern isn’t the healthiest. I’m never done writing before midnight and would count 7 hours of sleep a win. I workout consistently though and try to eat right. Men’s Health shames meat times, not so much the covers but I know those broccoli pictures aren’t airbrushed. Have a great weekend!

  17. We also hopped on the GF bandwagon after a health scare with my DH this last October. We both feel so much better and have lost over 60 lbs between the two of us. The best thing is that I’m no longer always craving carbs. I can leave things sit on the counter.

    We’re actually doing the Paleo version which cuts out all grains, not just wheat. There’s some great science behind why grains are such a problem for many of us in the Paleo Solution book by Robb Wolf (http://robbwolf.com).

    Glad you’ve found a solution that works for you! I can only hope that the medical/pharmaceutical and food industries wake up and are held accountable for the mess they’ve made. Will-power and commitment my shrinking ass.

    • Patti Mallett on January 21, 2011 at 9:59 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your story. So many people struggle with these issues, yet are not getting the help they need from their doctors. We must be our own advocates and not give up until we find the answers. Too many medical doctors don’t understand allergy issues and (even many allergists) often believe the problems are strictly psychological, though we know allergies do, indeed, affect our emotions in a second-hand way. Years ago I sat in an allergist’s office, in the paper shirt they gave me to wear, as the doctor lectured me. From his scratch test, he told me I had no food allergies, that I needed therapy, and that I had an eating disorder. To this day I wish I had handed him that “shirt” and walked out of the office. (I had to drive five hours to find the treatment that gave me my life back.) Please, people, the sacrifice is worth it! I would like to add that I quite enjoy the rice and soy cheeses. I think, perhaps, it’s all in how badly you miss a certain food and whether you are willing to allow your tastes to relocate. (Note: I learned to like black olives in my twenties because they looked so interesting, though I really disliked the taste at the time. They are a treat food now.) I had a ham and rice-cheese brown rice tortilla for lunch. Yum!

  18. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad you found what works for you. As for me, I don’t restrict myself from gluten and dairy but I stay away from meat except for fish and eggs. I’m more worried about cardiovascular disease than anything especially since that’s what killed both my grandparents. I need to cut back on my snacks intake. I eat too much of those mini-Oreo’s and other sweets. If I can cut those out, I would have a healthier lifestyle.

  19. Thank you so much for sharing this. I know that just cutting down on processed foods and restricting eating out to one day a week has changed quite a lot for me.

  20. This was a great article! I’m not GF but I went vegan in September and I’ve just been shocked at how much better I feel, how much more energy I have, and how much better I look. My weight dropped, my skin glows, it’s just amazing. I know it’s the dairy for me. If I eat it I feel bloated and sluggish, but I couldn’t appreciate that until I had gotten that junk out of my body. I agree with you about it not really being about having discipline, just learning to hear what your body tells you. And the food industry, just corrupt.

  21. I had a close friend with ciliac disease, so I know about gluten. Also, when I was 51 and facing menopause, I needed to change my diet. Not that it was bad; but I was using too much dairy. (I have never used coffee or alcohol in my life, this wasn’t a problem.) Now I do no refined sugar, no white flour, more stuff like broccoli, lots of yogurt, fresh fruit, etc. At age 70 (and about to have my debut memoir published), I feel as young as 20 (wish I looked it, too!). Cheers.

  22. Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve had negative blood tests for Celiac, but I’m suspecting (maybe hoping) my multitude of health problems are caused by gluten and possibly dairy, (though it seems only milk and ice cream really bother me). I know my state of health negatively impacts my commitment to writing and other things. I am contemplating trying a gluten free diet soon, but I worry about those commitment issues!

    1. Don’t worry about being committed. If you get it out of your system, your body will yell at you loud and clear if it can’t take it. Best of luck!

  23. Love this post, Kristen. Best thing I’ve done to date has been to cut back significantly my intake of white flour products. I’m still okay with small amounts but a heavy concentration (I.e., reg pasta) lands me in the headache dept real fast. That, combined with consistent exercise and walking has resulted in nearly two years of managed weight and even some real changes in my figure. Finally, I try not to obsess, but I do try to guard this new way of life with the same vigor an addict or alcoholic might guard sobriety. Thanks!

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