Taking on a strict gluten-free diet can be scary and this fear can keep us from our ultimate health. For the first few years of my diagnosis while I was in my early 20s I was overwhelmed by the idea of being 100% gluten-free. It was too hard. Too time consuming. Too confusing. Too isolating. Too restricting. Too much missing out on good stuff! It wasn’t until I continued to be sick and learn more that I realized enough was enough. My illness was real, I was slowly seriously damaging my body and I needed to take care of my self because no one else would.
Talking to a friend of a friend today and motivating her to take the steps to start a gluten-free diet to treat her health problems and get tested for celiac disease reminded me of all those fears from years ago. Fear is normal but focusing on your health and little steps will get you through it.
My tips on how to start a gluten-free diet and deal with the fear of the unknown (for those who need to be strict in their diet and exposure to gluten):
- Read and learn as much as you can. Many doctors and even gastroenterologists don’t know a lot about celiac disease or the effects of gluten on inflammation and auto immune diseases. It was through my own research I learned that my terrible canker sores were a sign of celiac disease. There are lots of website about celiac disease and healthy eating. A few of my faves are Gluten Is my Bitch, My New Roots and Oh She Glows. I have also found my local library has a lot of gluten-free cookbooks. Before buying I like to check them out to make sure they are worth the purchase. I love this cookbook “It’s All Good” by Gwyneth Paltrow because it’s a “secret” gluten-free cookbook filled with healthy and pretty simple recipes that happen to be gluten-free. It features lots of clean recipes and ideas for flavourful and good for you food.
- You will make mistakes and it’s ok. One thing that was hard for my mom and I who are perfectionists: not realizing the hidden sources of gluten. We often felt defeated but it’s a learning process. Don’t feel bad about making mistakes just learn from them and keep moving towards a gluten-free life! My friend tried to make me a gluten-free feast this past weekend and then realized the cooking spray he used had flour in it!?!? He felt so bad but it happens and that’s how you learn what to avoid. We just whipped up something else for me to eat and it was no biggie at all!
- Take this as an opportunity to make positive changes. A gluten-free diet done right is healthier and I now follow a much much healthier diet than I did when I was a 20 year old student living off of bagels and diet cokes. The limited choices available for eating out of the house has forced me to learn how prepare meals and be organized about packing lunches and snacks.
- RELAX. Let’s not forget about stress and how it can worsen digestive symptoms and your overall health. Exercising, meditating, journaling etc. are good ways to reduce stress. When I have been gluten poisoned but not in my I can hardly get out of bed stage, I find a light run sometimes helps my symptoms and helps lessen the pain. Stressing about gluten only complicates things for your digestive system.
- If you don’t know how to cook it is never too late to slowly learn the basics. If you don’t already cook start with learning how to make an easy salad dressing, stir fry, omelette, soup and pasta dish. You don’t need to become an amazing cook but being healthy and gluten-free is a lot easier if you can make a few things at home in your safe kitchen and pack some lunches for work. And speaking about safe kitchens I am currently lucky to live alone but if you share yours with someone who eats a lot of bread they need to slowly learn how to keep the kitchen gluten-free friendly for you. Also- don’t go kissing people who have just eaten a huge sandwich or chugged a pint! Sounds ridiculous but if your aren’t using the same toaster as one that has had bread in it you shouldn’t be kissing someone who just ate a bunch of it.
- Focus on the foods you love that are already gluten-free. Mine are: potatoes, rice, seafood, goat cheese, eggs, greens, chocolate and wine. Focus on all the good stuff and things you can make to replace the stuff you are missing. Nachos, home made french fries, most meat dishes have always been gluten-free. This is helpful when eating out, which is where most of my panic still comes from. I try to avoid eating at restaurants that have no clue what gluten-free is or think it’s in normal rice and potatoes. My friends have gotten great at accommodating my diet and those few times I have to go somewhere I am not sure about, for example for a birthday, I will call in advance, check the menu and talk to the manager and if I’m still not sure I will just have a glass of wine. You aren’t being picky you are making sure you are not made seriously ill for the next few days/weeks.
- Tell the haters to shut-up, in a nice way. There will still be a few people that don’t get it and will tell you to just eat bread or it’s all in your head and just ignore them. People who love you will slowly learn with you and help you out with your new lifestyle. My friends pick me up new products and love trying new gluten-free recipes but this didn’t happen over night. The important people in your life will learn not to double dip in the shared containers. Peanut butter, butter, jam, mayo, cheese etc. And you will learn to always serve yourself first at a group meal before bread gets into and all over everything. When I go away for the weekend with friends and or people I don’t live with I will write my name in bold marker on the top of containers I want to keep gluten-free and tell everyone that they can use them but cannot double dip any utensils that have been used on or near bread products.
- Now is the best time ever to be gluten-free! There has never been more certified gluten-free products. They are almost everywhere. Always read your labels and when you are uncertain check online and or call the company.
Yes it can be overwhelming to drastically change your diet but feeling healthy feeds so good. More specifically not feeling like I was being slowly poisoned to death was the biggest push to continue following a strict diet. Not spending my life lying in a ball, running to the bathroom or staying home having a date with the washroom is to this day the reason I will never ever ever eat gluten again on purpose!
You can do it! Good luck and feel free to send me questions!