One of the unexpected benefits of being on this complicated journey with food and food restrictions is the ability to help other people in their own journeys with food, food allergies, sensitivities, and restrictions. Every time someone asks me for information or perspective regarding this journey, it helps me feel like there is a bigger purpose in it and it is not just something that I have to deal with alone. It is a club that no one really wants to join, but if life signs you up with a membership against your will, it is nice to know that you are not on this journey alone.
Today a friend asked me about going gluten free and wanted to know "How difficult is it, really?" She told me why she was interested in trying it and asked about the best way to go about it. Since she is not the first person to ask me this question, I thought it was about time I wrote about it on my blog!
So. Going gluten free. How hard is it really? I'll be totally honest, the first few weeks were not fun and I had meltdowns on a regular basis. Take everything you think you know about the food you eat and throw it out the window. You have to relearn how to shop for your food. You have to read EVERY label and research every restaurant before you go to see if they have a menu and facility that can accommodate a gluten free diet. I have been gluten free for almost a full year and I am still learning the ins and outs of this gluten free lifestyle.
The level of difficulty varies based on your level of gluten intolerance- someone with Celiac Disease (http://www.celiac.com) has to be much more diligent and careful than someone who is simply trying out the gluten free diet to see if it will help. If the server at a restaurant messes up my order and brings my burger out with the bun on it, I am able to simply remove the offending bun and don't have to send my burger back and have them cook me a new burger. (This happened to a friend of mine who does have Celiac and she had to send the burger back twice.) I can handle fries that are cooked in the same oil as things with flour, but if they have actually coated the fries with flour (to make them more crispy?) than that does not work so well for me.
Which leads me to my next point- what works for me and my gluten free diet might not work for you. I have come to realize just how individual and personal a person's diet is and, like gluten free flour blends, it is not one size fits all. That being said, here are some things that I have learned since going gluten free.
1. Commit to at least one full month of going GF. Everyone told me that I would feel "so much better!" after just a few days. Well, it took me a few weeks. If I had given up after that first week or two because I wasn't feelin' it yet, I would have missed out on getting to that point where I did feel better.
2. Find a mentor. I was very blessed to have several friends who had already gone gluten free and they were a huge help and encouragement to me.
3. Find what works best for YOU. There will be so much conflicting information and everyone will be trying to sell you the "best" way to eat GF, but you have to find what works best for you, your circumstances, and your preferences.
4. Find new ways of doing the things you love. Love pasta? Try brown rice or corn pasta. Can't bear to give up cookies and cupcakes? Check out Elana's Pantry or many of the other dedicated GF cooking websites out there.
5. Take it one day at a time. There is so much to process, and learn, and relearn that you will most likely feel overwhelmed at first. If you "mess up" and realize that you missed something on a label and accidentally had gluten, don't worry. Just learn from the mistake and move forward.
6. If you are like me, at some point you will most likely need to stop doing research in to every single aspect of GF living and just start living. I had to give up the need to know every thing there was to know about it (read every new article, every new idea that came out there) and just live my life.
7. Trust that what you are doing is good for your body. So much of the wheat products that we consume in our culture are so highly processed that they barely resemble food anymore. Wheat, in and of itself, is not the real culprit. It's what we have done to wheat and the amount with which we consume it that is the real problem. Cutting out wheat and wheat products is going to lead you in a healthier direction, and it can open your eyes to a whole new way of eating that is much healthier than our Standard American Diet of junk food and drive-though dinners.
8. Be careful not to assume that just because something is gluten free it is inherently healthier. There is plenty of unhealthy, gluten free junk food out there!
9. It will take time to learn all the tricks of the trade and a little trial and error on your part. Things like which GF flour blend to use (it depends on what you are making), how to store Udi's GF bread (in the freezer!), and how long you can store almond flour (3 months in the fridge, up to 6 in the freezer- it goes bad if you leave it in the cupboard) are a few of the details I had to learn the hard way.
10. Believe that you can do this. Realize how much you have most likely been taking food for granted and be thankful that you able to take this step to reclaim your diet. Just being able to go on a GF diet is a luxury that many people in this country can't afford. It is expensive, especially at first as you figure out what works and what doesn't, but it is worth it.
I hope that this helps you if you are starting out on the GF journey. I know it can be difficult, but hang in there- it's worth it!