“Hi. My name is Reid. I’ve got Celiac Disease, and I eat Gluten-Free.” Now you say, “Hi Reid. I’d like to relate to you, but I could never stop eating croissants!”
I understand - it’s the response I would’ve given before my 39th year when some odd readings on a blood test and 3 months of investigation resulted in a Celiac diagnosis. It means my body sees all “gluten” as an enemy and my body attacks it, which brings about the destruction of my innards. There’s no cure, but the simple treatment is not eating gluten (not even a little, like none, not even a couple crumbs). If I do, my stomach will destroy itself and I’ll die young – that’s bad, so cold turkey isn’t “an option,” it’s a lifestyle.
Here’s a quick Gluten 101 course:
What is it? In short, it’s a protein found in wheat, rye & barley and sometimes oats. If you want a laugh, watch this video from Jimmy Kimmel Live where they ask self-proclaimed gluten-free (GF) eaters what gluten is.
What foods contain gluten? Well, when you’re diagnosed it feels like EVERYTHING! I digress. Wheat & flour make their way into TONs of foods: bread, pasta, most sauces (thickened with flour, remember) and soups, breaded everything, soy sauce (most contain wheat). And then, there’s anything that comes in contact with all the offending foods – for instance, no french fries for me because they’re cooked in the same oil as glutenous chicken fingers. The good news is that other starchy foods like rice, corn, potatoes, etc. are all non-offending.
Several years later, I’ve settled into my new approach. And I give the following tips to all the others who need to eat this way or have loved ones who needs to eat GF…
1. Your Attitude is Everything
In my opinion, your only option is COLD TURKEY, so accept it with a smile. It’s much easier on your emotions and your body if you just realize that you don’t get to cheat. It’s not like a diabetic where you say “I’ll eat this now, then just change my insulin dosage later.” Just say no. You’ll be happier with a long life, right? So smile about it.
You will make it harder on yourself by feeling sorry for yourself or pining over what your friends are eating. To be honest, only your closest friends & family care about your food angst – and even they don’t want you to make them feel guilty for eating that buttery roll right in front of you. So don’t let that craving grow when you’re out somewhere that you can’t do anything about it.
2. Read All the Labels – In the Beginning
For the first 6 months of my Celiac experience, I “went to school.” I read every label of every product I put in my body. I looked for offending ingredients on all foods not considered on the “safe list” (fruits, veggies, raw meat, etc.). After that, I mostly knew what was clean in my pantry and what wasn’t. I still keep an eye on new labels, but just know it gets WAY easier after a while.
3. Get Comfortable Asking the Restaurant Question
Here’s the question to ask every restaurant server: "If I say I need to eat gluten-free, do you know what I mean?" Then listen for something of an intelligent answer. I’ve found these 3 responses most common…
1. The best: “Absolutely. We have a GF menu. The chef knows what to do to help you. I’ll mark it specially on your order.”
2. Second best: “No. What does it mean? I’ll be happy to talk with the cook about your needs.”
3. The worst: “Oh no. We don’t have anything like that here…” with some uneducated mention of potatoes, rice, butter or vegetarianism (none of which have anything to do with Celiac).
Then make your judgment of the place. A #1 response means it becomes one of my favorite restaurants. If it’s #2, I ask a few questions then educate a bit and scan my food when it arrives. If it’s a #3 place, I settle in with a salad or something very basic (seriously) and probably won’t be back.
4. Learn Your Reaction
I can tell when some gluten sneaks in somewhere (a mistaken food or cross-contamination in a kitchen). For me, a day later I get a stomachache or headache. It’s different for everyone, since it affects how your stomach absorbs nutrients. Some experience headaches, rashes, mood swings - for some, it happens almost immediately. By listening to your body, you’ll know when some gluten sneaks in. It’ll teach you what to watch out for next time, what not to eat, or where not to eat.
5. Get Plenty of Goodies
Since there are many times when I don’t get to eat exactly what I want when I’m out (remember that salad I mentioned above?), I go a little overboard when at home. I’ve found all the best suppliers of cakes, cookies, breads, pies, pasta - and I don’t feel guilty about it. Especially in the early years, it was vital for me to overdo it at home to quell the cravings that built up when I couldn’t eat goodies out.
By the way, unless you have other allergies, I advise not mixing other “special diets.” Sometimes GF food gets mixed in with vegan, egg-free and dairy-free. If you're not allergic to other things, I suggest not trying these versions until after you’re solid with the GF diet (and most of them don’t taste very good, so there’s that).
6. Find Your Great Suppliers
Let me just tell you that the GF options are WAY better than when I was diagnosed! And I had it better than earlier “pioneers.” If you live on planet earth, you know a GF diet is “all the rage” – lucky for us, it’s a growing market. Yes, I know it’s more expensive, but suck it up. Every city now has restaurants, grocers, bakeries, and coffee shops with fabulous GF options. And if not, there are hundreds of suppliers that allow you to make GF yumminess at home. Below are some of my favorites:
There are so many great ones, so I’ll just mention my 2 absolute favorites…
Pamela’s – the absolute best GF baking mix for pie crusts, scones, waffles, etc. If you’re not using all her products, you’re crazy! By the way, I say “her” because Pamela is a real person. She doesn’t need to eat GF, but wanted to create great tasting products that GF eaters could truly enjoy.
GoPicnic – I love these for the taste and convenience.
Go to one near you and your GF palette will explode (Note: be sure to go hungry because there are hundreds of samples)!
ShopWell – a personalized app that helps you find GF foods.
Find Me Gluten Free – helps find GF-friendly businesses locally and while traveling.
Delight Gluten-Free Magazine – a bi-monthly international food & lifestyle publication for people living with food allergies and sensitivities. Personally, I love the pictures. They make me happy!
Box of the Month Club
Sign up for LoveWithFood – starting at $7.99 a month, you get a box of GF goodies delivered to your home. It’s a great way to try new products without having to spend a bunch of $ trying new things that taste bad.
Now, it’s your turn to tell your story! Are you Celiac (or gluten-intolerant) and eating GF? What secrets would you share? Do you have questions? Who are your favorite suppliers? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!