My sister recently approached me, asking how to go about adopting a gluten-free diet. Although she was never diagnosed, autoimmune disorders and digestive problems – likely stemming from a gluten sensitivity—run rampant in my family. Of course, I’m the only person who has managed to live entirely gluten-free. I guess it goes without saying, stubbornness also runs in my family. I digress.
As I’ve been living gluten-free for about six years now, I often find myself engaged in conversations with others curious about the gluten-free diet, especially those with persistent stomach aches and discomfort. Before anything else, I strongly urge anyone with problems to see a real doctor to rule out anything serious. But for those interested in saving some time and money (both of which doctors can tend to waste), I like to offer a quick guide and some helpful tips if considering a gluten-free diet.
First, there’s the basic rule: read the labels and eliminate anything made of wheat or white flour. Next, consume only foods found on the parameter of the grocery store, i.e. fruit, vegetables, unseasoned meats, nuts and dairy. Finally, try to avoid eating out at restaurants for the first week or two. For many, these rules sound easy enough. However, when seriously maintaining a gluten-free diet, there’s a lot more to know and understand.
In this day and age, using Google to find out information is pretty much commonplace, but it is important for living gluten-free. And when looking for answers to specific questions, a simple Google search isn’t always enough. I often consult at least 10 different Google results before making a decision because the gluten-free online knowledgebase is still growing and developing.
So much of socialising can often center on food. If eating gluten-free, attending a dinner party or eating out at a restaurant can cause anxiety or leave you hungry. Bring your dish or talk to the party host before if attending a party where food will be served. Look up restaurant menus or call ahead to know of gluten-free options before dining out.
Talk to Your Server
Just because the restaurant offers gluten-free entrees or even boasts of a gluten-free menu, doesn’t always ensure a wholly gluten-free eating experience. When eating out, politely chat up your server and explain your sensitivity to gluten. You certainly don’t need to get into the gory details, but make sure your server understands that you cannot have anything made with wheat or flour. Casually alerting your server of a gluten intolerance will hopefully inspire personal attention to your meal and ensuring a safe outing.
Get a Gluten-Free Mentor
When I first started eating gluten-free, I stayed lost. However, I was lucky to have a friend who had been living gluten-free for nearly ten years, and she kindly offered to serve as my gluten-free coach. Whenever I was unsure of an ingredient or what to eat at a restaurant, I would text my friend, and she would just reply with a ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’ (Mind you, this was before Internet phones.) Regardless, this simple exercise helped me learn and build a wealth of knowledge to better arm me for living gluten-free.
Embarking on the gluten-free lifestyle isn’t just about changing what you eat, but it also requires you to change how you eat. Avoiding bread and cookies is one part of a very complicated equation.