Two years gluten-free: ‘How quitting wheat transformed my life’

Marundu Muturi during the interview at Nation Centre in Nairobi on March 6, 2024. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

When Marundu Muturi first decided to cut wheat foods from his diet, he saw it as a short-term experiment, one that would last no more than a couple of weeks.

But as his body began to transform, the bloating in his stomach disappeared, and his skin cleared up, Marundu felt inspired to commit to a wheat-free lifestyle. This meant no bread, no cakes, no mandazi, no biscuits, and no chapatis.

Going cold turkey

“I was very militant about it. I threw away all the wheat flour in my house and went cold turkey for two years,” he recalls.

This decision came around the 2020 pandemic period when Marundu was working from home.

“I realised that when I was working from an office, I'd eat lots of wheat foods. I’d wake up very early in the morning, pick up mandazi from a restaurant on my way to work, eat chapati at lunchtime, and then snack on some kind of wheat-based treat in the afternoon,” he explains.

“But while working from home, I went months without eating wheat foods.”

Chapos are the devil

The 36-year-old soon saw his weight drop.

“Eliminating wheat made it easier to manage my weight because I was cooped up in the house. My stomach was less bloated, I felt better, and my skin didn’t break out as often. When I tried eating gluten again, my skin would immediately break out, and my stomach would get gassy. So, I decided to review my relationship with gluten, although I do allow myself the occasional chapati,” says the IT expert, chuckling as he adds, “Chapos are the devil.”

During those two wheat-free years, Marundu can count on one hand the number of times he indulged in chapati or mandazi.

“Making the choice was simple, but having the discipline was the most difficult part,” he admits.

For many people, finding alternatives to wheat foods like bread and cakes is the hardest part of adapting to this lifestyle.

“You don’t need to eat chapatis. There are arrowroots and many other foods out there. It’s interesting to realise that you don’t need to eat as much food as you think,” he says.

More challenges

Another challenge is peer pressure, but Marundu didn’t face much of that. “Interestingly, when you tell people, ‘I don’t eat wheat,’ many are very understanding and even curious. You’d expect them to make fun of you, but most just say, ‘Ah, cool,’” he shares.

However, visiting friends and family posed another challenge, especially if chapati was on the menu.

“Whenever I visited friends, I’d worry, ‘What if they’ve made chapatis? Should I tell them I’m off chapos or just eat and take medicine later?’ Luckily, my friends knew about my diet, so they’d either avoid making chapos or have alternatives like rice or ugali,” he says.

Family influence

Having relatives already living a gluten-free lifestyle made things easier.

“I have an aunt who runs a gluten-free business for flour, cakes, and bread. She’s gluten intolerant, and I thought, ‘She’s okay without eating wheat foods, so why can’t I?’ My cousin also doesn’t eat gluten. I took cues from them,” he says.

Marundu first got the idea of dropping wheat from Instagram.

“I wondered, what’s this ‘gluten-free’ word that’s thrown around on Instagram, mostly by women? I was curious because I had started thinking of exercising to watch my weight. The easiest thing was to watch my diet,” he recalls.

Marundu Muturi during the interview at Nation Centre in Nairobi on March 6, 2024. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

Gym avoidance

“I told myself, let me see what part of my diet I can change without first joining a gym. In the two years, I got in shape. It was a real confidence boost because I felt healthy. I felt like I could run up a flight of stairs with ease, something I couldn’t do before,” he adds.

Four years later, has he backslid? “Now, I give myself a bit of leeway. Maybe the occasional slice of bread or cake, but not much,” he says.

Constant cravings

Does he have cravings? “The craving for sweet snacks, of course, never stopped. But that’s where discipline comes in. You will always want to eat junk food. I don’t know anyone who craves eating salads. You have to make sure that, even if you have cravings, you can control your impulses. That’s the work.

I think there’s a misconception about change. When you stop doing something, it doesn’t mean you don’t want to do it anymore. It becomes a conscious choice. Most people expect it to work like magic, but it takes a lot of work because every day you’re faced with so many challenges,” he says.

Marundu loves burgers, but he hasn’t found any gluten-free options. “Sometimes you allow yourself an indulgence,” he admits.

Planned slip-ups

Diets always have slip-ups. His first slip-up was during a friend’s birthday.

“The cake looked good, and we were drinking muratina [a traditional alcoholic beverage]. I thought, ‘I can eat cake.’ So I did. It was an impulse decision. But I went prepared, carrying antihistamines.

If you’re going to a wedding and you’re a groomsman, you have to eat cake. You can’t be that dude. You’ll be a party pooper. No one’s asking you to eat the whole cake, just a piece. But I still count them as slip-ups,” he says.

The feeling after a slip-up is the worst, he admits.

“But you can’t dwell on it. You might feel like you betrayed yourself by eating cake, but you dust yourself off, move on, and try to do better the following week,” he says.

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