Things I wish someone had told me when I first went gluten-free
1. Keep it simple. A meal doesn’t have to be pretty and it doesn’t have to appeal to anyone but you. It also doesn’t have to be balanced. Not every meal has to have a protein, starch, and fat. Nor does every meal have to have vegetables or fruit. If you hit the major groups most of the time, it’s not going to hurt to have a couple of strange meals.
Unless you really enjoy cooking, don’t feel pressured to cook a gourmet meal (or cook at all) every night. An omelet with veggies, cheese, and maybe some GF toast is a totally acceptable “meal” and takes no time to throw together. If you were a take-out Queen before, you don’t suddenly have to become Martha Stewart now. It is possible to eat healthy foods without really cooking.
2. Eat fresh, whole foods as much as possible at first. An apple will never contain gluten. You don’t have to worry about hidden ingredients in fresh spinach. With as many things as there are to think about when going GF, make it easy on yourself and limit the number of times you can make a mistake by eating things that are naturally GF.
3. Don’t subsist on processed GF food alone. Pre-packaged GF food (such as donuts, cookies, and bread) is often more calorie-dense and less nutritious than its gluten-containing sibling. It’s also a lot more expensive. When you first go gluten-free, it is the most important time to be good to your body – it’s been through a lot and needs some extra TLC in the form of nutrients and antioxidants that will help “grow back” your damaged villi. Additionally, the ingredients in packaged products can change without notice (or without change to the ingredient list on the package), so your old staple can can suddenly make you sick without you changing a thing.
4. Supplement. A clean diet will work wonders but I also take a good multivitamin (Doctor’s Choice Sensitive Stomach) every day. When I get sick, I take special supplements to help: Fennel Seed (helps with bloating), Vital Nutrients BCQ capsules (helps with general stomach discomfort), and Peppermint Oil (helps with pain). I also drink chamomile, fennel, and ginger tea like it’s my job.
5. Become selfish. You don’t have to be demanding or snotty, but you have to watch out for yourself. If you aren’t 100% certain that someone will make you something that is 100% safe, politely decline their offer. You are the only one that will suffer when their food makes you sick. When going out to eat with a group of people, make it known which restaurants you feel comfortable eating at… or eat beforehand so that where they choose doesn’t affect you. There are many ways to politely decline someone’s well-meaning offer to make you something without hurting their feelings. I typically tell people the truth, which is that I do not eat anything someone else prepares for me (without my oversight) except for my husband or at very select restaurants.
6. Be cognizant of everything that touches your body or your food. Mouthwash, hand soap, body soap, lotion, hairspray, etc. – all of these products can contain gluten. Sure, most people don’t eat their hand soap, but they do pick up food with their hands and if there is gluten in the hand soap, it can transfer onto the food. If it touches your skin, there is a chance it could be ingested. I personally avoid touching gluten whenever possible. Become best friends with Purell and don’t ever eat anything that has ever been touched by gluten or touched by something that just touched gluten. It’s not worth it.
7. Prepare, Plan, Pack. I always keep a non-perishable snack in my purse for emergencies even when I’m only 5 minutes from home. You never know what you’ll get stuck doing and when you’re absolutely starving, it’s likely your brain isn’t thinking clearly about good choices. Almonds are my choice as of late, but I’ve carried raisins and dried cherries in the past and a bar such as a Larabar is also a good choice (although if you stuff as many things into your purse as I do, bars tend to get a little flattened).
8. Stick to what you know. Sounds like common sense, but if you have a big event coming up that you need to feel your best at, wait until after to try new products or eating at new restaurants. I like to pare down my diet even more than usual in preparation for an event when I know I need to feel 100%.
9. Realize it’s OK to be angry or sad. Feel like the rug was just ripped out from underneath you? It was. But it gets a lot easier as the years go on. As you become more adept at finding substitutes or finding new foods entirely, cravings for gluten will diminish and you’ll be motivated by how good you feel when you eat GF.
10. Be kind to yourself. When you make a mistake, brush yourself off and start over immediately. This GF thing is hard and there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Especially at first, it can be really trying to understand how something you have eaten multiple times a day for your entire life can somehow be poisoning you, and it’s really hard to stop eating it cold turkey. So when you slip up, whether on purpose or accidentally, cut yourself a break and start anew. No one is perfect and it takes a while for this all to feel really second-nature.