"You have Celiac Disease". This was a pretty devastating thing to hear at the tender(ish) age of 29. All of the culinary delights I loved, I could no longer enjoy. The first few weeks were an emotional rollercoaster. However, after about a forth-night on the diet I felt about 10 years younger (but thankfully without the crushing self-doubt and anxiety I possessed at 17). So even though it seemed like a big life change, it is one that has immeasurably improved my quality of life and overall health. With that, it's improved my happiness which is most important of all. I can assure you, once you make the adjustments and take the first step, the rewards outweigh any amount of pizza and croissants.
Here are just a few tips to help you navigate a gluten free life. I'd recommend to doing lots of research and find out as much information as possible on the disease.
Back to basics:
I didn't really eat well before being diagnosed. I ate an abundance of processed foods and my house was known by every delivery driver worth their salt in Galway City. So it was a bit of a shock and you start thinking about all the stuff you can't have. But if you change your mindset, you realise there is so much good food out there that you can have. It may seem cringe-inducingly like the advice of some self-help guru but thinking 'I can't wait for my homemade curry later' as opposed to 'I wish I could have pizza' does actually change your mindset and make you happier with what options are available to you.
After some time on the diet I started choosing a lot more whole foods and very few processed foods.
Gluten free products are expensive! So buying whole food where possible will be better for the bank balance. However, you should still stock up on some gluten free snacks so you don't feel deprived or tempted to cheat.
Weekly Food Shop:
Obvious one, but read every label. Occasionally, I completely forget and might miss something like barley in a chocolate bar. I can't help but cringe when typing this as it reminds me of the last time I accidentally poisoned myself with gluten. I read the label after a particular chocolate bar and instantly started to cry in frustration. Or last summer I bought a jar of beetroot and forgot to check the label and it also had barley in it, the next few days I paid for my lack of diligence.
The technical bit
Gluten is found in flour made from wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale.. The list is long enough, check it out [here].
Oats don't have gluten in them but they could be contaminated if they are made in the same place as other flours containing gluten. So make sure to look out for gluten free oats. Also with oat milk, it must say that it's gluten free. Some celiacs may not be able to have oats at all, so if your symptoms are still persisting you might need to cut them out also. More info on that [here].
You'll find gluten free pasta is quite different from the real deal and the water gets very starchy. So you have to give it some extra care. I usually empty the water half way through and put in fresh boiling water. Make sure to not overdo it as it gets mushy very easily.
If you are into baking, look out for naturally gluten free flours. Like Buckwheat.. you wouldn't think by the name but it is actually gluten free and it's really nice.
You can also try Gluten free bread mixes and sweet stuff if you are not too confident with baking, it's a great way to get started into it if you want to.
For living in shared accommodation:
As you probably already know, it can only take a tiny crumb of bread to make you sick. So it can be really tricky living in shared accommodation.
If you don't want to buy a separate toaster you can use toaster bags to avoid cross contamination
Use separate utensils and chopping boards. This is a tricky one, as it's tough and I would usually also wash stuff before using.
Use separate condiments like butter and jam jars. I buy squeeze mayo, honey and the least jars where possible.
Eating out (in Ireland we can only dream about this now of course):
It's important to declare that you are celiac to your waiter. Sometimes they will ask you if you are Celiac anyway so that they can let the chef know. When I was newly diagnosed, I wasn't really pushy about it, but after a while you get used to it, because it's better to do that than be sick later.
Ask about separate fryers. The chips might be gluten free but if they are fried in with wheat breaded products there may be cross contamination. Even up to a few years ago some waiter's would almost get offended when you asked if something is gluten free, but education and understanding in this area has improved hugely of late.
Some places might have gluten free pizza bases, however, if they are making the pizza in the same oven or on the same surfaces as the other pizza's there may be cross contamination. The day I discovered Four Star had gluten free pizza, I was so ecstatic. I ordered it 4 times in the space of 2 weeks. But on the fourth time, I was very sick. Needless to say it was all too late when I checked their website and it said "We can't guarantee gluten free, not safe for celiacs", gulp.
Not to worry though, there will be restaurants in your area that have gluten free options. I have a few local places in Galway that I feel confident ordering from like Milanos Pizza, Lana in Salthill, The Golden Rickshaw, Papa Rich, Hooked and the Galway food Parlour.
I was really low in Vitamin D in particular and was only alerted to this about a year after diagnosis. Once I started taking prescribed Vit D, I noticed a huge difference, I had so much more energy and my hair became a lot thicker. So you might need to take supplements for a while to get your levels back up. I won't go into specifics but there is a short article [here] worth checking out. Your doctor or the celiac clinic will do some tests for all these anyway.
Low Fibre - so people think that going gluten free means you are choosing to be healthier. But in fact a lot of gluten free foods are low in fibre. This was something I was missing out on and did not take into consideration at the start and before I got diagnosed. There are some good tips [here] which helped me to get back on track.
Family & Friends visits:
While some families and friends will be understanding of the condition, not all will be aware of it. If I am going to a party and I'm not sure if there will be gluten free options, I will bring some snacks just in case. Many places are very accommodating these days, so it's generally not as big a worry as it used to be for me.
Do not despair:
It can be a challenge at the start and very disheartening to not be able to eat what you want. However, it does get easier. I remember being very concerned going on my first big holiday after going on the diet. I was heading to Thailand for 2 weeks with my friend Roseanne who was Vegan (at the time it wasn't popular as it is now). We did worry that we wouldn't be able to eat anything over there. But we were pleasantly surprised as it turned out we had so many options to choose from. We even found a wonderful Gluten Free Vegan bakery in Chaing Mai beside our hostel.
You can't change the diagnosis, it is a lifelong condition. But you can choose how you deal with it. I hope it won't be long before you feel better. Let me know in the comments or on Instagram if you have any questions or want to chat ♥️