When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, it was shocking…and overwhelming! I didn’t know how to start or where to begin. At times it felt like the most basic of things…feeding myself…was the most difficult. Then to consider feeding my family as well…it was crazy for awhile.
At first, I looked at it as a new challenge. I was determined to learn and to conquer this. Besides, I knew I was sick and was hopeful that I would feel better soon. And indeed I did. With new health came new found energy and I was grateful for the new lease on life.
However, as time went by, I went through a time of mourning. It seems strange to me now, but I was sad for the food I couldn’t eat, sad for the ease of life before, and felt isolated by food all the time. I hated telling people I had celiac disease when I was at a group dinner or event. I didn’t want to talk about it…so I quit going for awhile. I was frustrated at having to think so hard about such a simple thing like eating. I often felt (unintentionally I’m sure) slighted by people who would invite me to a gathering, then forget to provide food I could eat. I think because I didn’t talk about my celiac disease, people forgot about it themselves.
Eventually, I came through this time and began to move forward. My desire for those foods I couldn’t eat has waned (or I have learned to make them gluten free!) I have become better at planning ahead and being prepared for group gatherings. Sometimes it is still frustrating to be a non-wheat eater in the land of the bread bowl, but it is easier now with more awareness and products available at my regular grocery store.
Here are some of my tips as you adjust to a gluten free life. I wish you all the best!
- Get in the practice of reading labels. It is easier all the time, with so many companies labeling their products. But gluten can be found in some very surprising places. So read those labels!
- Be willing to be creative. You can try some gluten free alternatives, but be willing to think broader when adapting recipes. For example, if a recipe calls for crackers as a binder, or a coating, I rarely use gluten free crackers. They are for the most part too hard and crunchy. I might use gluten free bread crumbs, or gluten free cereal, or maybe mix some gluten free flour and corn meal together.
- Realize that most food is gluten free. Really…it is! Look at the positive side, and not at what you are having to give up. As I began to realize that I could usually find something to eat, and that something was usually the healthier alternative, my outlook improved.
- Be prepared. Probably the hardest thing for me to learn was to plan ahead and be prepared. I am definitely a “fly by the seat of my pants” girl. Thinking ahead when on vacation, or calling ahead before I went to a conference to make sure I had a lunch or dinner option available was difficult for me to remember. But slowly I have learned to take food with me, or to check ahead and see if a gluten free dinner is available.
- Traveling can be interesting, to say the least. And you don’t want to ruin a trip by feeling sick from eating gluten. We have changed our vacationing style, and now mostly stay in condos or places where we can cook for ourselves. I have found that even when being careful, I feel better if I eat food I know is gluten free. We at least do breakfast and lunch on our own. Plan ahead, check places out online, and take what food you can with you. And remember…most plain food is gluten free. You just might have to skip the dessert table. But your waistline will thank you for that!
- For the most part, I avoid the gluten free cookies and snacks that are prepackaged. They are frankly horrible from a nutrition point of view. Plus they are not very tasty, and they are really expensive. Occasionally I will buy some Glutino chocolate cookies (Oreo knock offs) and Walmart has a maybe even better Great Value gluten free Oreo wannabe. There are some really good gluten free crackers on the market. But I have found that I am better off finding naturally gluten free snacks (like popcorn, nuts, fruit, chocolate…so thankful chocolate is naturally gluten free!!) than buying processed snacks and desserts. My budget is better off as well.
- If you have been gluten free for awhile, and your symptoms are still lingering (especially abdominal/GI symptoms) you might have lactose intolerance. Many celiacs do. I would recommend cutting out lactose for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. You might be able to tolerate a small amount of lactose once you are off it completely for awhile.
- Don’t stress out. Just start somewhere. Eliminate known gluten, and take it a day at a time. Eventually your knowledge of what to eat, what not to eat, new ways of cooking, and how to deal with eating out will come around. It gets easier, and then it becomes the new normal. And then you start feeling better, and then you realize that your health is worth it…it is worth all the work, and fuss, and change!