My husband, John, is visiting the blog today with this article about overcoming the fear of going gluten free. – Barbara
I was at a business meeting recently where the conversation turned to diets. When I made the suggestion that eliminating bread and pasta would not be the worst thing in the world, everyone looked at me like I was insane. One person said, “Cut out bread and pasta? That ain’t happening. I couldn’t live without bread and pasta.”
This person’s reaction to a life without bread and pasta is typical. In my friend’s case, he is Italian. Bread, pasta, and pizza are a cultural thing for him. To suggest that he should give up these foods is to suggest that he change his culture. Most people don’t react well to cultural change, especially if a person has maintained those cultural habits into adulthood.
Wheat products have become so ingrained in our diets here in the U.S. that they have also become part of the American culture. Consider the fact that Americans eat about 251,770,000 pounds of pizza per year, approximately 6 billion pounds of pasta each year, and an average of 53 pounds of bread per person per year. Ultimately, Americans consume a lot of wheat (I didn’t add cookies or cake). It has become part of the standard American diet. For most people, an elimination of wheat from their diets would entail a radical lifestyle change.
However, when someone is diagnosed with celiac disease (CD), this lifestyle change must take place. Gluten (the protein found in wheat, rye and barley) must be totally eliminated from one’s diet if a person expects to heal and get well. A gluten free diet is the only treatment for CD. There is no cure.
Even though people with CD must follow a gluten free (GF) diet out of necessity, that doesn’t necessarily make the switch any less traumatic. Cutting out gluten containing products from one’s diet can be both emotionally and practically difficult to accomplish.
Here are some of the things I did to minimize the trauma of going GF. These helped make the experience so much easier than I could ever have imagined.
1. I Adopted A New Attitude Concerning My Diet
Those of us who have experienced undiagnosed CD understand the discouragement of years of being sick and not knowing why. Then when we are diagnosed, it’s like a revelation. We now know the reason for our sickness. Then comes the rest of the story.
For those who have CD, switching to a GF diet is not one option among many. CD is an autoimmune disorder, and if left untreated, it can lead to a host of medical problems, including intestinal damage, mal-absorption problems, other autoimmune disorders, and even cancer.
We are then confronted with a choice. Stop eating all gluten containing products or never have the possibility of getting well and possibly suffer the consequences above and even possibly get cancer and die.
Let me put it more practically. I could go GF and perhaps experience no muscle pain, no joint pain, no fatigue, no stomach bloating. I could become healthier, which would allow me to be there more for my wife and children. I could become more productive in my career and serve more in the community. Or I could feast on that piece of French bread and a plate of pasta. Clearly giving up the French bread and pasta would be a small sacrifice compared to what I could achieve off of gluten.
The real choice here was obvious. If I went gluten free, I had the chance to be well and live the life God wanted me to live. This is the new attitude I adopted concerning my diet.
2. I Sought And Received Support
When I first went GF back in 2004, I was fortunately not alone. John, my oldest son (15 at the time) also went GF, as did my then 7 year old son Michael. The boys understood the severity of the illness, and since they also were experiencing health problems, they also wanted to get well. The three of us wanted to get better so we helped each other stay on track. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
My wife, Barbara, was also very sympathetic. She was always big on fruits and vegetables so the change didn’t really affect her. She already consumed very little gluten. She wanted me to get well so she did everything possible to make the transition easier. Since she is a fantastic cook, she made our GF food a lot more enjoyable.
As time went on, I began to discover that there were other people who were also on GF diets. I met people at church, at work, and homeschool activities who were also suffering from CD and were on a GF diet. Eventually, the sense that I was the only one dealing with this started to diminish. I was becoming part of a community. The celiac community has always been there to provide help, encouragement, and information.
Back in 2004, there were not a lot of blogs or sites devoted to a GF lifestyle. To those who were there, thank you for your help. As the awareness of CD grew, so did the websites. Eventually GF internet sites became a mainstay of my new GF life. I was now able to read how other people were coping emotionally and practically with their diet. The internet also made it possible to discover what products were safe and which were harmful. I was also able to find out which new GF products were the best. The internet has become one of the most important means of support for those on a mandatory GF diet.
3. I Sought Out GF Products
One of the first things I did to make the transition to a GF diet easier was to substitute GF products for gluten-containing products. This meant finding the best tasting and healthiest GF pasta, bread, pizza, etc. As many of you remember, back in 2004 there wasn’t a wide selection of GF goods in your market’s freezer. I usually had to order over the internet. Some of the breads and pastas back then were not especially tasty. But I persevered. See point 1.
Soon more and more GF products came on the market and some were quite tasty. We discovered Tinkyada rice pasta, Joan’s bagels, Against the Grain Rolls. Udi’s white bread and pizza became household staples. These products definitely replaced my desire for wheat products.
For me, however, GF products ended up serving as a sort of transition away from wheat to few grains in my diet at all (my kids still eat some of the above products when they get the urge, but they are no longer a mainstay in our home). Nevertheless, the fact remains that if the thought of no longer having bread, pasta, or pizza is too traumatic for you, there are some really good GF replacements which will fulfill your desires.
To make our new GF diet even more appealing, Barbara discovered all the new ways of cooking GF. She made sure there was no cross-contamination and used whatever GF ingredients were necessary to make our previous type of meals just as appetizing. More here. Eventually, our market began carrying products like Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose GF flour and GF panko breadcrumbs. It was now entirely possible to mimic our old meals with GF ingredients. And they tasted almost the same. After a while nobody recognized or cared about the difference. The food tasted good and it did not contain gluten.
4. I Sought Out Restaurants That Were GF Friendly
Ok, making this transition was a hard one. Many times when at a restaurant, I would say to the server, “I have CD so I have to be careful. I can’t have anything with gluten in it.” Usually I’d get that quizzical look and then the response would be, “What’s gluten?” Eventually I searched out restaurants that were more amenable to us GF’ers. Our county’s GF society had a list of GF restaurants that specifically catered to people on a GF diet. If I wanted to go to a restaurant where they did not know what GF was, I usually just resorted to not ordering soup, things with gravy, and bread, etc. and simply went with the basic steak, hamburger, and plain vegetables. In most restaurants, but not all, I found that I could order something that was GF. I just had to stay away from the things that I was not 100% sure of.
Today it’s a lot easier to find restaurants that are GF friendly. Most fast food restaurants have some kind of GF menu. If I really want a good pizza, I can get it at my local pizzeria which serves GF pizza in separate GF dedicated pans. It’s a pretty good thin-crusted pizza.
Today the trauma of going GF has been considerably lessened by the wide variety of available GF products.
5. I Didn’t Get Discouraged
It took about 8 years after going GF to start feeling significantly better. During that time it could have been very easy to simply forget the diet and go back to eating wheat. If I wasn’t going to feel better, at least I would enjoy my food. However, this was not an option. See 1 above. But why wasn’t the diet working? If you’re on a diet to lose weight, you should lose weight right? So if you’re on a diet to heal, you should heal and feel better. In reality my intestines were healing. I had sustained 46 years of damage and it would take time to heal. I eventually discovered one more thing to do to make this diet work.
6. I Decided To Make GF Food Delicious And Healthy
When I switched to GF products, I eventually began to realize that I was simply substituting one grain for another (wheat for either rice or corn) and often one processed product for another. I was simply mimicking the standard American diet minus gluten.
About three years ago, I decided to take my GF diet to the next level. I eliminated most grains from my diet. I no longer ate bread or pasta, though I had some rice. I also eliminated most processed foods and introduced new whole foods into my diet. I basically began to adopt a paleo type of GF diet with daily juicing. Within 3 months, my health dramatically improved. Apparently, my new type of GF diet was what I needed. The change was not a hard one to make. It seems I had lost all craving for grains.
But that change was not the only one. Barbara and I decided to take our previous gluten free recipes and modify them with healthier cooking methods and healthier ingredients (grain-free flours, organic spices, grass-fed meat, wild seafood, etc.). This turned our food into healthy and delicious creations. A culinary dream that was super healthy. Our desire with this blog is to share these recipes with you.
Gluten free doesn’t have to be something to be feared. It’s not something that has to be boring. It can be a diet that heals and brings wonderful new tastes and experiences to the palate. We would love to hear from you. Did you do anything special to make your transition to a GF diet more enjoyable?
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