Gluten-Free Living: The Beginning

This is the start of a new series about gluten-free living! I hope you all enjoy! Earlier today, Caitlin over at Healthy Tipping Point asked for some advice via Twitter about gluten-free living.  She was recently diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity and wanted some tips about living gluten-free.  I was more than happy to offer up some of my best tips for getting started with a gluten-free lifestyle.  Check out HTP and see what others also had to say!

Finding out you have to be gluten-free can be a daunting discovery, to say the least.  Thankfully, there is much more awareness about gluten sensitivity and there are loads more products in stores that make living gluten-free a little less restrictive - they even have gluten-free beer now! The first bit of time is always the most difficult, so here are my best tips for going g-free without losing your mind or feeling deprived:

1. Celebrate: No, seriously, celebrate a little.  Getting diagnosed and figuring out what is wrong is such a large, time-consuming, and money draining part of the battle for so many people - now that you know the issue you can address it, Google it furiously, and start healing.

2. Focus on the CAN: Even after being gluten-free for over a year, the comment I get most when I tell people I can't eat gluten is "Wow, that sucks!"; but living gluten-free really doesn't suck at all! For someone who has a gluten sensitivity (whether it be small or full scale Celiac disease), living gluten-free can be a liberating thing. When going gluten-free, the hardest part for me was realizing what I can't eat - bread, pasta, pies, cookies, cupcakes, etc. After the initial wave of mourning, I realized that there are more things that I can eat than things I can't eat.   Think about walking into a farmer's market and all of the beautiful veggies, fruits, jams, eggs, and whole foods beaming in the sunlight in all of their fragrant glory. You can eat that. One of the biggest pitfalls of going gluten-free is getting trapped in the restrictive mentality which can leave you feeling frustrated and depressed, instead - celebrate and live in the foods that you can enjoy.

3. Start small: The first trip to the grocery store after going gluten-free can be daunting. In fact, it may be straight up anxiety inducing.  To navigate this - take a deep breath and march on.  Focus on things that are naturally gluten-free.  I usually advise my friends who are going gluten-free to try and live without packaged gluten-free foods for at least a month or two.  Your taste buds and body need time to adjust.  Plus, you should be a bit particular about your gluten-free products - unfortunately, many of them are just glorified junk food full of starch.  There are an increasing amount of good-for-you gluten free products out there that you can incorporate into your life, you just need to take the time to dig for them. Which leads to my next tip....

4.  Investigate: Going gluten-free means becoming a master label reader (and also means you and Google will be best friends).  Again, this can be overwhelming because gluten is sneaky.  You would be surprised where gluten is lurking - soy sauce? Yup, made with wheat (try gluten-free tamari instead), your favorite cookies? They may have barley malt extract. Oats? They may cause some discomfort (Oats have some cross contamination issues with wheat and can cause issues for those with higher sensititives.  Bob's Red Mill makes gluten-free oats if you want to play it safe).   If it's questionable, look it up online or call the manufacturer to ask about the status of their product.  I usually buy things that are marked and certified "gluten-free" which means that those companies have paid extra money to get their products tested to make sure they do no contain gluten and are not cross-contaminated in the manufacturing process.  Unfortunately, the FDA is a bit (ahem, a few years) behind passing legislation that requires gluten to be disclosed in ingredients so while wheat is marked in bold letters, other sources of gluten such as barley and rye, do not have to be disclosed.

5. Ask, ask, ask:  Eating out can be one of the most difficult things to do when you're gluten-free.  My fiance and I love to eat out, but it can be challenging even though he is in a culinary school (and has lots of knowledge about prepartation methods and ingredients) and I've been gluten-free for over a year.  To have the best dining experience possible always, always ask your server if something is gluten-free.  If they are unsure, ask to talk to the chef or manager.  Specify that you have a gluten sensitivity and ask that they note it on the meal ticket.  This helps the kitchen staff know to change gloves if they have been handling gluten and helps ensure that your meal will be safe.  Again, gluten is a sneaky thing and hides in places you wouldn't think - like sauces (Nearly all creamy sauces are roux, a mixture of flour and fat, based and are a no-go for the gluten sensitive).  When in doubt, ask, ask, and ask again.

6. Research: This goes along with the former points, but spend some time research gluten-free living.  Gluten-free blogs are great for this!  Reading gluten-free blogs really helped me learn all the in and outs of going gluten-free and also provided some food inspiration.  Check out my blogroll for a list of gluten-free blogs that can help with the transition – also, read Gluten-free Goddess and her posts about gluten, going gluten-free, and gluten-free FAQs.  They are invaluable!

7. Get cooking (and baking):  Missing cupcakes or your favorite restaurant pasta dish? Get in the kitchen!  You can re-create the things you miss in your own kitchen.  Cooking and baking are two very helpful things when going gluten-free because you can control your ingredients, change up your meals, and experiment!  View cooking and baking gluten-free as a challenge; you’ll be surprised what you come up with.

8. Avoid temptation: Temptation is everywhere when you’re gluten-free – or at least that’s how it will feel.  It will seem like everyone else is eating pasta and cupcakes and bread while you’re stuck eating lettuce.  Don’t fret!  If you know you’re going to be in a situation where temptation will be lurking – bring your own snack or eat beforehand to ensure that you don’t fall victim to that bread roll (trust me, the feeling is so not worth it).  People often ask me if I am ever tempted to cheat and eat gluten and I usually tell them “Of course! But I don’t – because, to my body, eating gluten is like eating rat  poison, it’s just not worth it”.

9. Have a support system: This is huge.  Make sure you talk to your friends, spouse/significant other, and family about your new lifestyle.  It is going to be tough in the beginning, but having a good support system will do wonders for you.

10. Try new things: Going gluten-free opens up a whole new culinary world!  There are ancient, wholesome grains to try, new flourless cakes to bake, and new beer to drink. Get out there and enjoy it.

I hope those tips help you navigate the beginnings of a gluten-free lifestyle!