Steve Hofstetter is an author, comedian, and comedy club owner (he also happens to be my husband). He’s watched my transition to a healthier lifestyle, and he took his own journey towards a better diet that led to giving up the main foods in his diet; gluten, sugar, and dairy. In his own words, here is his experience.
How I Gave Up Dairy, Sugar, and Gluten
by: Steve Hofstetter
When Sara and I first started dating, if she told me that I’d be dairy-free fewer than 18 months into our marriage, we probably would have stopped dating. And not just because it’s strange to bring that up on a first date.
“Want to go for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge?”
“Only if we get married and you give up dairy.”
“Oh, I just forgot, both my legs are broken.”
That thought also would have been strange because I have kept more than a few dairy farmers in business. My go-to lunches were grilled cheese or a bagel with a shmear. I wrote my college essay on starting each day with a bowl of cereal. And I regularly went through two gallons of milk a week. Cows trembled at the thought of me.
Things changed on March 20th. That morning, I received the results of a blood test I’d taken to get life insurance. Every item checked out fine. With one small, insolent insulin exception.
“Pre-diabetic.” Reading those words on official letterhead can floor anyone, but they destroyed me. I was 32 and slim. I didn’t drink soda, and I only indulged in dessert once or twice a month. I wasn’t washing down Pixie Sticks with Mountain Dew. I had a low-sugar diet, especially for the average American.
Sara had been trying to get me to quit sugar cereal for months. So when I called her, I was more afraid of an “I told you so” than actually having diabetes.
She went easy on me, and started educating me on how to reverse what I’d started. The more I learned, the more I realized that my diet was full of sugar. The sugar on the cereal was one thing – but the body also processes flour into sugar. My grilled cheese and bagel habits were full of flour. Add in ketchup-covered fries with the grilled cheese and orange juice with the bagel, and I was also consuming extra sugar every time.
Gluten was everywhere. I ate tons of pasta, lots of sandwiches, and even when I was being “healthy,” I covered my salad with croutons. Sugar was even more insidious. In the marinara on my pasta, in the soup I had with my sandwiches, and in the dressing I put on my salad. I needed to make a change.
The night of March 20th, I had a show in Delhi, NY. Delhi is an aggie town in upstate New York not known for its health conscious options; their idea of a diet is light ranch. I went into a supermarket with the mission of finding better options than the glue and chemicals I’d been putting in my system. I walked through every aisle, and I left with just almonds and grapes.
The conversation that followed with the pear-shaped clerk is what really inspired me to change completely. Noticing her curiously eyeing my almonds and grapes as if I had just plunked down a six-pack of beer and a pregnancy test, I asked if it was odd to see someone eating healthy.
“No, I eat healthy all the time,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll skip lunch and have a slim fast and a diet coke.”
And that’s when it hit me – our society’s view of healthy is not healthy – it is skinny. To most of us, health is short-term benefit in exchange for long-term risk. Thus, I was the picture of perfect health: a 32-year-old skinny guy on an express train to diabetes.
When I got home, Sara and I went through our kitchen and got rid of everything with added sugar. Feeling good about ourselves, we also ditched the gluten. And then it was time for the unthinkable: the dairy.
The human digestive system was not designed to react well to another animal’s milk, let alone hormone-infused milk. That is why so many people are lactose intolerant, and why it takes most people longer to digest dairy than most other foods. But I lived off the stuff. Sara would have to pry the milk from my cold dead hands. Which, if I kept up my diet, would happen sooner than I’d like.
So I made a deal. We wouldn’t buy milk the next time we bought groceries, and I’d see if I could live without it. And four months later, I still haven’t had any. I didn’t realize just how simple it was. We stopped buying cheese. We stopped buying milk. And when dairy wasn’t easily available to me, I stopped craving it.
Sure, I miss pizza. I missed grilled cheese. I miss the occasional slice of cheesecake. And I miss the hell out of a good bagel. But because I’ve been off dairy, sugar and gluten for so long, I get sick at the thought of it.
Our bodies are machines, designed for certain functions. And when we eat processed food like sugar and gluten and dairy, we are mucking up the gears of that machine. Cleanses don’t work, because people who cleanse just put the crap right back in. But when we eat well, we can eat as much as we want because our bodies know how to handle food. And, despite the marketing to the contrary, Velveeta is not food.
On a recent overnight trans-Atlantic flight, I was tired and hungry, and the flight attendant put some tiramisu in front of me. I ate half of it before I felt really ill. My stomach was turning, and it wasn’t the only part of my body that rejected the trifecta of dairy, sugar, and gluten. Let’s just say there were a few more noxious fumes in the cabin than usual. As much as I want to apologize to all those cows I tortured, I also want to apologize to the row behind me.
When I first started eating healthier, I was afraid of two conflicting things. One was death. The other was giving up the lifestyle I’d grown used to. My fear of death won. Incidentally, I was also afraid of becoming one of those annoying preachy health food people. Turns out I had only annoyed by them in the past because I was gassy, and thus annoyed by everyone.
The tiramisu reminded me that the brief good taste of dairy is not worth what it does to you. Four months into this new lifestyle and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I look better, I sleep better, I work better, and I am oddly calm. It’s hard to say exactly why I am calm – perhaps because I look at other people chasing down slim fast with a diet coke, and I am glad I’ve been unplugged from the Matrix.
The craziest part of the story is that a few weeks later, another check up refuted the original blood test, and my pre-diabetic state was chalked up to equipment error. But in that same checkup, I was commended on just how healthy I was. I was finally the actual scientific picture of good health in every measurable category – leaps and bounds past what I had been less than a month prior. And I don’t even work out – hell, I my fingers are sore just typing this. My health excelled simply because I had cleaned out the gears of the machine.
I never would have been able to do this on my own, as Sara’s knowledge and support fuels a great deal of my diet. I’m lucky to have her. And since she sleeps next to me, she’s lucky I stopped eating dairy.