Monday, April 7, 2014

Eight things I've learned about living gluten-free

Just over eight years ago, a severe case of anemia led to my celiac diagnosis.  At the time, I'd never heard of gluten...or celiac disease for that matter.  It seems like a lifetime ago that my world was turned upside down - at least as it's related to eating which is something most of us do at least three times a day.  Here are a few things I've learned in my quest to make sense of this lifestyle.  And yes, it's not just a diet.  To do it right, you have to accept it's a new way of life.

1. It's hard to learn new things as you age and for that reason, the younger someone is when they are told to follow a medically required diet, the better off they'll be.  Learning how to eat completely gluten-free is challenging for anyone and the average person takes six months to a year to really figure it out.

2. There are incredibly delicious gluten-free products available these days compared to just eight years ago.  From battered fried fish to donuts to pizzas to pasta and sub rolls -- and most anything else you can think of.  You might have to taste six barely edible pastas to get to the good stuff, but the good and even insanely delicious stuff is out there.  I don't suggest brands to people these days because my fave items are not necessarily someone else's.  Without question, there are consumers who love items I find totally inedible.  Since I was kind of a food snob to begin with, I don't find that fact particularly odd.

3. Dining out can be delicious!  Once you're set with your alternative, yet delicious, gluten-free groceries you might want to learn how to eat out safely.  You're in luck these days with so many great gluten-free menus being offered compared to just a few years ago.  However, ask the right questions before trusting the staff to feed you safely.  I prefer non-chains as always, but I'm thankful for the chains that do gluten-free right (though I still believe they are few and far between). 

4. You are not alone...or at least in the Metro Atlanta area, you don't have to be.  The fact is that having gluten-free friends can help make your life easier.  Think about it.  The more gluten-free people you know, the easier it is make lunch dates or couple dinner dates that you can enjoy to the fullest.  If everyone in your circle continues to choose non-gluten-free friendly places to dine at, you're eventually going to resent them for it.  Talk about the issue sooner rather than later in order to respect your friendship.  As sad as it is to admit, some friends might not be worth keeping around.  for instance, if someone you know thinks you're going overboard by sticking to your diet during the holidays, it might be time to move on.

5. Traveling is challenging for the gluten-free set, but it can be done.  And once you get the hang of it, you might end up having the time of your life!  I've had amazing dining experiences in New York, San Francisco, Dallas, San Antonia, Seattle, Sarasota, Pensacola, Orlando, Charleston, Asheville, Savannah, Chattanooga, British Columbia, Montreal, London and even Paris!

6. We don't have to settle anymore - period.  Every time someone says something like "I guess you're just glad to be able to order pizza again" I literally cringe.  No - actually, I don't care about ordering gluten-free pizza if the crust tastes like a cardboard box.  I also don't eat bread, cookies, crackers, donuts, wraps or anything else that taste like sawdust.  But I do eat delicious versions of all of those things.  In fact, there are times when I don't understand why so many gluten-free brands are out there for our demographic.  Have you ever counted the number of gluten baking mix brands in your normal grocery store?  There are actually only a few of them.  But there are over twenty brands of gluten-free baking mixes sold at specialty grocery stores in the Metro area alone!
7.  The gluten-free diet is not a weight loss plan.  Of course, we all know this, but many people still do not.  They're snapping up gluten-free pizza crusts, bagels, cookies, cupcakes and more - most of which are all higher in fat, calories and sugar than their gluten counterparts.  Most people gain weight when they first start the gluten-free diet - they don't lose it.  And that's good for the underweight group of people that need the extra pounds -- and not so good for the rest of us.    

8.  The easier life is, the less meaningful it is.  The big and small challenges in life are what make us stronger.  If everything was easy peasy, life would be pretty boring.  We're supposed to go through things in order to grow - to evolve - to become our best selves.  While being on a restrictive diet might be trivial compared to other challenges one can face in life, consider this.  Many people - probably someone you personally know - won't even get tested for celiac or food allergies because they don't want to give up their favorite foods.  Just the thought of doing this is unimaginable to them.  Doing anything new can be scary or hard or frustrating - or all of the above.  But being gluten-free can turn out to be a blessing if you allow for that possibility.  And I'm so grateful that at some point in the last eight years, I experienced exactly that!             

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