“Gluten-free.” When first hearing those words, all you might envision is a life without bread and pasta. (If you’re Italian-American like me, this can be even more frightening.)
It is a daunting task to undertake such a sweeping lifestyle change, because gluten is present in many foods where it may not seem obvious, like salad dressings, condiments, malt vinegar and soy sauce. Let’s not forget about beer. In fact, gluten’s ubiquitous presence can leave you standing in the supermarket aisle ready to rip your hair out. The folks at my neighborhood store have mopped up more than a few of my tears.
But all is not lost; after you learn to exercise the muscle of being gluten-free, it’s quite effortless. The toughest part to contend with is your head, and that may take a while. Here are my top 5 tips for managing the process with minimal stress:
#1: Accept it.
You have a condition, and it’s one you’re going to have for a long time. There’s nothing wrong; this diet modification is simply what’s required for you to live healthfully. In the moments when you get stuck, upset, angry or frustrated, remember this: Your health is the priority, and someday that loaf of bread won’t look so precious. I promise. Playing Russian roulette, and dealing with its physical and emotional aftermath, simply isn’t worth it.
#2: Work with it.
Rather than trying to replace all your favorite things with gluten-free substitutes (which can pack on pounds and empty your wallet very quickly), open your mind and palate to exploring new flavors. Fall in love with vegetables, or find a cuisine that uses minimal wheat and start there (Thai cuisine, for example).
#3: Explain it.
Your friends and family can be your biggest allies here, so explain that this is not a diet, a fad, or something to be taken lightly. You can become very ill if they do not work with you. Educate yourself to empower them; explain the physical effects, and how it can take you out for a few days if they aren’t careful. This is not to scare them, but rather to get them to understand the gravity of the situation.
#4: Own it.
Don’t be afraid to dine out, but be prepared to be diligent. For a while, you may have to eat salads until you are comfortable discussing your condition with the wait staff, and understanding how to explain it to them. Do not be nasty with the wait staff, or talk down to them — enroll them in your well-being. Sometimes it’s not enough to explain that you can’t have gluten; you might also mention wheat, soy sauce, breading, flour — make it crystal clear and easy for them to help you.
#5: Celebrate it.
Revel in the fact that you are now on your way to health. There will be some ups and downs along the way, but flash forward to a year from now and I promise that the benefits far outweigh what you are giving up. For some, that includes glowing skin, baby-soft skin everywhere, a leaner body, and eyes that are clear instead of puffy. There is no slice of bread that would be worth giving all of that up.
And remember, this site is here to support you on your road to health.
So what exactly is gluten?
It’s the umbrella term for proteins found in wheat, rye and barley.
That means if you’re gluten intolerant, it’s easy to avoid the obvious foods, like bread. But there is a veritable grocery store of foods that also contain gluten. Add in the fact that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require manufacturers to label products as “gluten-free.” It does require them to declare if wheat is an ingredient but not rye or barley.
What does all this mean? It means that you need to know what natural and artificial additives and ingredients are in foods. You need to read labels, and double-check to make sure there is no cross-contamination or lurking glutens. Remember, you own this thing.
To get you started, here are a few lists:
In addition, here are some favorite sources of information and yummy goodness:
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: http://celiaccentral.org
Gluten-Free Girl: http://www.glutenfreegirl.com
Blackbird Bakery: http://www.blackbird-bakery.com
Gluten-Free Fun: http://glutenfreefun.blogspot.com/
We’ve now created a Gluten-Free 101 section for this site to help you navigate your way through. Come on over and explore!