I got a call yesterday from a woman who called herself a celiac disease “newbie”, and she was scared to death. Her story is fairly typical of so many people who find out they have gluten intolerance. First there’s excitement they finally have a diagnosis and then there’s depression over the fact they have a disease. Oh, I remember the feelings well.
What I wanted to share with you was a great plan for avoiding mistakes when you’re trying to transition to a gluten free lifestyle. The doctor or nutritionist probably handed you a list of safe and unsafe foods. You need those lists, but when you are having emotional trauma, it’s hard to concentrate. The young lady I talked to yesterday had tried to follow the gluten free diet, but kept making mistakes that made her sick. One time she ate some candy believing that candy was all sugar and coloring and didn’t read the label. It turns out it had a gluten filler and she got really sick. Of course, she got upset and was feeling discouraged about her ability to avoid gluten.
First, reading the label should come before eating any food. Eating something, getting sick and then reading the label is not a good plan. She found out the hard way that label reading is probably one of the most important techniques to use in order to stay gluten free. I remember when I first started label reading. I thought to myself, “Darn! This is going to take forever.” But after a while it gets easier and many foods are now labeled as gluten free because of the new law.
The best plan for transitioning to a gluten free diet is to start simple. First eat plain fruits and vegetables with rice and fresh chicken or meat. Keeping your meals really plain and simple the first month gives you a chance to mentally and emotionally adjust to the new lifestyle. It also will help you see that a gluten free menu doesn’t mean you can’t eat anything interesting. I made myself beautiful and colorful fruit salads that even my family loved. While they ate dessert, I ate my colorful salad and my youngest son would insist on having some. I was so happy when that happened, because it meant my lifestyle was obviously going to have a good influence on my kids (the verdict is still out on my husband!).
I ate the safe and simple foods for a while, until I was emotionally convinced I could eat without getting sick. Then I started adding other safe foods such as some of the processed foods clearly labeled “gluten free”. I also started cooking recipes, but kept those simple too. I made a gluten free casserole that actually turned out pretty good (in my opinion – but then I’m the cook so I don’t know if my opinion counts).
Trying to memorize a list of unsafe ingredients all at once can be tough to do. If you move slowly, you can practice label reading without spending all day in the grocery store. Trying to read dozens of labels while learning terminology can be really discouraging and make it seem like an impossible task. Over time, you can develop your own lists of brands that you like and are gluten free.
The point of all this is to take it slow and be patient with yourself. As you feel better and better, this will be what motivates you to live the gluten free life.