Part 2: How to survive
Read part 1 of my story here.
If your eating habits were anything like mine, get ready for some major change. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t sit on my couch and eat as many donuts as possible all day everyday. Yes, I love sugar but I also love to cook and I do my best attempt at eating healthy.
Unfortunately for me though, some of my favorite things were pasta dishes, burritos and anything containing bread. You just have to learn to live your life in a new way, and it is entirely possible.
Like I said, it’s possible. But in all honestly there are going to be times when your allergy will frustrate you, embarrass you and downright make you sad. But you’ll get over it. You’ll realize your health takes precedence over your cookies.
Here a few steps that have helped me survive the transition.
- Have a support system
- Be prepared
- Do your research
- Don’t let it effect your life or dreams
Have a Support System
The first step is very important, at least to me. It has helped me more than any other. Support is huge. My boyfriend, Ben, and I live together and he has been my biggest supporter through this. Thanks to him, eating at home doesn’t even take a second thought. Our house is entirely gluten free. We don’t buy anything I can’t eat.
Of course he cheats on that diet if we go out to eat, which he should. But our home doesn’t contain a trace of gluten. Just knowing he is willing to change the way he eats to accommodate me really made the transition easier.
My family supports me too. My family and my Ben’s family. When I told my mom about my new-found disease, she went out and bought a ton of gluten free food for me. She always keeps some gluten free items at her house in case I ever stop by and want some snacks or if I stay for dinner.
Ben’s mom has also been so great at accommodating me. Sometimes this is one of those situations where my allergy embarrasses me. I feel so bad that she makes a gluten free meal anytime I come over (and make something that isn’t red meat!), but she loves to do it. After dinner at her home one night I learned that Betty Crocker makes some bomb boxed gluten free brownies!
Being prepared is key. This can come into effect in many ways. The first is in my opinion, the most important. If you’re going out to eat at a restaurant, look up the menu ahead of time.
The first thing I do is scope the menu for any indication that they clarify what menu items are gluten free and what aren’t. I do a happy dance inside when a restaurant uses little symbols to declare an item gluten free. That makes my life so much easier.
Also, scan the bottom of the menu. That is where they often state if they can make adjustments to items to make them gluten free. More and more menus are doing this these days and I greatly appreciate the ones that do.
If your menu says nothing about gluten free items, decide ahead of time the items you’d like that appear gluten free, that way when you get there you can quickly clarify with your server. Unfortunately, many times you’ll end up eating salads in restaurants that don’t cater to the gluten free world. But hey, sometimes you can get some really great salads!
It also doesn’t hurt to call and ask before going. My mom recently planned a family dinner to an Italian restaurant which I was initially opposed to. Italian has nothing to offer for those of us no longer on the carb bandwagon. They listed nothing about gluten free items on the menu, so she called. Turns out they’ll make you gluten free pasta with some notice. Why they wouldn’t put that on their menu or website is beyond me.
Side-note: Restaurants=frustration. There’s no way around it, you’re going to be frustrated at times when eating out. I love food and I love experiencing new restaurants. Sometimes it is just so disappointing to be so limited. Sometimes all you want is the freaking chicken sandwich everyone else at the table got, but as usual, you’re eating a salad. It’s totally normal to feel this way once in a while.
If you’re writhing in your frustration every time you go out, it’s time to get over it because no one will ever want to eat with you again. But sometimes the frustration will just hit you and you can accept it and move on. If you want to have options, Mexican, Thai and Japanese restaurants always have a lot to offer. Lucky for me sushi and nachos are two of my favorite foods.
Another tip in the being prepared category: always have snacks. You never know where you’ll end up and if you’ll be hungry. And if you are hungry, you never know if you can eat what is offered. At least you know you’ll have something.
I went to a wedding recently and packed a big bag of snacks just in case there wasn’t anything I could eat at dinner. Luckily, I didn’t need them, but I was glad I had them just in case. I was actually really stoked to see they were serving mashed potatoes…. but they had bread in them! Seriously, who puts bread in mashed potatoes?!
Do Your Research
There are plenty of resources out there for us fellow gluten intolerants, use them. Plenty of websites exist that can teach you about your food allergy. Learn about food you need to look out for that you wouldn’t suspect would have gluten, for example soy sauce or chicken broth. (PS: most sushi restaurants have gluten free soy sauce. It’s called Tamari.)
Unsure if a certain ingredient contains gluten? Google becomes your new best friend.
Utilize helpful tools like Trader Joe’s gluten free shopping list. My boyfriend and I only shop at Trader Joe’s and lucky for us they have a list online of all of their gluten free products (not to mention, they label them in the store.)
Another tip that traces back to eating out, use Yelp. I’ve discovered many accommodating restaurants because of Yelp. You could simply search “gluten free” in your area and find restaurants. Or, if you see a restaurant that looks good, search “gluten free” in the reviews. I’ve found so many hidden gluten free gems by searching reviews.
Don’t let it Affect Your Life or Dreams
Even though discovering you can’t eat gluten may totally change your life, don’t let it affect your life. It changes your diet, not the way you live. Yes, it may pose restrictions on your life but don’t let a little thing like gluten pose anymore restrictions than what is necessary.
I admit that there have been times I’ve let my allergy hold me back. I denied an invitation to happy hour after work with colleagues because there was only one thing on the happy hour menu I could eat, that and I can’t even drink beer. I was too concerned with being the awkward odd one out then just going and enjoying myself. Frankly, it was silly, they all know about my allergy anyways. Don’t let it stop you from doing what you want to do.
If it puts obstacles in front of you that may keep you from accomplishing your dreams, push them aside. You may think it sounds silly that a gluten allergy could get in the way of your dreams, but for me, that’s a reality. My dream was, or is, to own a bakery.
That vision became clouded when I learned I had Celiac disease. Instead of letting it stand in my way, I’ve just altered my dream a bit, and quite frankly, it gives me an edge. Instead of opening a bakery I will open a kick-ass entirely gluten free bakery that produces such awesome products no one will even know the difference.
You Can Do It
It’s going to be a challenge, but take it as a challenge you’re willing to face head on that you know you can overcome. Please share any tips and tricks that you have to survive living gluten free.