Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How To Start A Gluten-Free Diet

When you change to a gluten-free diet, it seems to me that there are some predictable phases you go through. At first, there's the amazement of starting to feel better. Then that moment when you think, "Well, I don't have to be that strict about it." Followed by the moment when you realize you do. Of course, then there's the reality crash of realizing the enormity of what that means. The subsequent grief (and yes, there is grief) when you realize you'll never be able to eat a special family recipe again. The excitement when you decide to make your own version of that family recipe and it tastes amazing. Or the disappointment if it turns out to be a flop. If you like to cook or bake, there's the wonder of learning the rules of gluten-free flours and realizing your options are endless. If the kitchen isn't your favorite place, there's the sense of accomplishment you feel the first time you successfully order out at a restaurant. And always, always there's the camaraderie you feel when you meet someone else and find out he or she is gluten-free too. You look at each other with wonder, and instantly think, "They understand."

But before you can go through this fun roller coaster of emotions (it's all worth it, believe me!), there's something you have to do first.

You have to get through your first day of eating gluten-free.

And that may be the hardest, simply because, if you're like I was, you have very little idea what you're doing.

So how do you actually do it? When it comes down to it, simplicity is the key. When I was thinking about first trying out a gluten-free diet, I told a friend with Celiac Disease that I didn't know where to start. His advice was simple: start with breakfast. So that's what I did. Instead of trying to picture a whole day in my head, I just went meal by meal. And that's what I'm going to do with you, in the hopes that if you're struggling, you can take a deep breath and just focus on your next meal.  What you'll want to do is imagine what you normally eat for that meal, and then figure out the simplest way to make it gluten-free.

  • Want cereal? Try Barbara's Puffins, Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal, or Bakery on Main granola
  • Prefer hot cereal? How about Bob's Red Mill Creamy Rice Hot Cereal, Gluten-Free Rolled Oats, or Mighty Tasty GF Hot Cereal.  
  • Are you more of a toast in the morning kind of person? Rudi's and Udi's have both set the gluten-free world on fire with their bread that actually tastes like bread. If you like the warmth of homemade bread, but aren't ready to start buying an assortment of gluten-free flours, you can pick up a mix like Pamela's Gluten-Free Bread Mix or Bob's Red Mill Homemade Wonderful GF Bread Mix.
  • Like eggs? You're in luck. They're naturally gluten-free! Bacon? Well that's a bit more complicated because you do have to check that the brand you're buying is gluten-free (I've found that most are). But here's my two cents. If it's your first day eating gluten-free, don't bother with anything that's going to cause you stress or confusion. If it isn't obvious that it's gluten-free, move on to something else and save that idea for another day! On day one, your mantra is: simplicity.
  • And in that vein, if you want to get really simple, just chop up a banana, add some raw almonds and coconut flakes, and you're all set to go! 
Now Lunchtime: 
  • Sandwiches are a staple. I've already mentioned that Rudi's and Udi's have great bread. There are a lot of other brands out there, but I have yet to taste any that I thought could compare. So the toughest part is out of the way. Oh, but what to put in that sandwich? Once again, it gets complicated. In the beginning, everything in your fridge is suspect. You have to scour labels because you haven't yet memorized which brands you can trust. So how to make it simple? There are two things in the grocery store that don't require labels because there are no hidden ingredients. Fruits and vegetables. So for today, make it a vegetarian  sandwich and try a layer of hummus (many brands I've seen in the store will say gluten-free on them) topped with thinly sliced veggies (carrots, sprouts, peppers, cucumber, lettuce, spinach, etc.). If you want to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or something with meat, Trader Joe's is a great place to shop because you can print out their "no gluten" list and take it with you. And if you want to grab something on the go, many of Subway's ingredients are gluten-free, and they're even testing out gluten-free bread rolls now.
On to Dinner:
  • Gluten-free pasta gets a bad rap, but I think it tastes really good. Tinkyada, Bionaturae, and Ancient Harvest are three brands I love. Annie's also makes gluten-free mac and cheese if you're missing Kraft.
  • Pizza lover? Me too! I've noticed more and more gluten-free pizza shops popping up, but that might be because I lived in New York City and now live in Seattle, both gluten-free friendly cities. If you can't go down the street and buy a hot, ready-made pizza, you can still buy one in the freezer section at the grocery store. To start, there's Amy's pizza - check out Amy's extensive list of gluten-free foods; you won't be disappointed. There's also Udi's pizza crust, and a growing number of gluten-free pizza crust mixes. I've also seen gluten-free pizza crusts in the frozen aisle at many grocery stores. I've never bought any so I can't attest to them myself, but it would be a great way to throw together a fun meal.
  • There are a number of brands jumping on the gluten-free wagon, so while I'm not a huge fan of getting dinner out of a box, on your first day, as I said, go simple. Every grocery store I've been to in the last year has a gluten-free section now, from Massachusetts to Ohio and all the way out to Seattle. If that isn't the case where you live, you can order from a store online, or...
  • Rice is gluten-free. So is quinoa. And potatoes. And sweet potatoes. Cook up any one of these, saute a chicken breast or salmon fillet with olive, salt, and pepper, steam some vegetables, and you've got dinner.
I didn't forget snacks and desserts: 
  • Your options here are endless. Truly. Along with fruits, vegetables and nuts, there are a ton of gluten-free snack options at the grocery store. And more are popping up daily. I say try them all at least once, but if you're a bit wary of spending money on something without knowing if it's any good, check out my gluten-free product reviews or google the item you want to try. Someone has probably tried it and blogged about it!
Okay, so I know I've kept this basic and I've left a lot out. But that was intentional. Your first day is not about switching to a whole foods diet (although hopefully that's the ultimate goal), navigating eating out, or handling social issues surrounding food sensitivities. It's not about learning to bake gluten-free or becoming an instant expert. It's about getting the gluten out of your diet so that your body can begin to heal. Plain and simple. The sooner you're on a completely gluten-free diet, the sooner your body will recover and the better you'll feel. My diet right now is very much a whole foods diet, with little to no processed foods on a daily basis. But that took time, and if you look back at old posts, you'll see my eating habits shifting since the beginning. On that first day, I just took it meal by meal and didn't worry about the next day or the next month. That will come. But start with that first hurdle. Once you tackle the first day, you can handle the rest. 

Today marks the second day of 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living, a compilation of helpful tips and ideas from a different blogger every day. Diane of The Whole Gang organized this event with the intention of sharing our experiences so that we can all learn from each other. I'll update this with links to each post as they're written, ending on May 31st.

Easy Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping at The Whole Gang
Smoothing the Gluten-Free Transition with Smoothies at Gluten-Free Cat
Make Your Own Convenience Foods at Tasty Eats at Home
Cherry Vanilla Power Bars at Elana's Pantry
Easy Meals G-Free Style at Gluten Free Goodness
Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie at Food Sensitivity Journal
Magic Cookie Bars at Simply Sugar & Gluten Free
Gluten-Free Baking Tips at Diet, Dessert and Dogs
Gluten-Free Travel Tips at The Gluten Free Diva
Eating from Your Garden at Cook It Allergy Free
Gluten-Free Food Rules at Gluten Free For Good
Easy Gluten-Free Quick Bread Base with Endless Possibilities at Real Sustenance
Kids Lunchbox Ideas at G-Free Mom
Fast Food for Gluten-Free Teens at Celiacs in the House
Your Pantry is the Key to Living GFE at Gluten-Free Easily
BBQ and Picnic Tips at The Sensitive Pantry
Tips for Getting Your Kids to Embrace Whole Foods at Adventures of a Gluten-Free Mom
Everything I've Learned So Far About Gluten-Free at Silvana's Kitchen
Easy Gluten-Free Living at She Let Them Eat Cake
Easy Breakfast Burrito (Vegetarian, Soy-Free) at Book of Yum
The Value of Support at Glugle Gluten-Free
Thinking Outside the Bun at Alisa Cooks
Cooking by Color at Daily Bites
Entertaining at Simply Gluten-Free
Traveling on Day Trips with Gluten-Free Kids at Life As A Plate
Food Packaging and Presentation for Kids at Z's Cup of Tea
Buying and Cooking in Bulk at The Spunky Coconut
Gluten-Free on a Budget at Penny Pinching Epicure
How to Prepare Grains so they are More Nutritious & Digestible at Straight into Bed, Cakefree and Dried

{A message from my sponsor} A healthy lifestyle with a clean, healthy diet helps to improve and maintain your Body Mass Index (BMI). You can calculate your body mass index using this nifty calculator found on the official BMI Private Health Care site.


glutenfreeforgood said...

This is such a great post! I love your inclusion of all the phases (grief, frustration, wonder, etc.) you go through while adjusting to this lifestyle. Although there are some ups and downs to this, you focus on the positive, which is what we should be doing. Living a gluten-free lifestyle isn't hard when you follow these tips you've listed above. Good job!
Peace, love and easy gluten-free living!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Iris, this is an excellent post. I do like that you kept it simple. I found myself reading it and thinking "what about...?" but if we put all of that in this article, then boy, wouldn't it be overwhelming? LOL It's all about simple and easy gluten-free. And honestly, you're right - day 1 is about getting started, about getting on the road to healing. This is exactly what it should involve - just getting through, meal by meal. Day two, repeat. Day ten, eleven, twelve - then we can start with more complicated things! It's definitely a process. Thanks for taking us through your journey as well as for these tips.

Ricki said...

Great tips, Iris. It can be really overwhelming when you first begin to eat GF, and I think keeping it simple is the best approach, too (and of course it gets easier!) :)

Wendy @ Celiacs in the House said...

Great advice for beginners. It is so much easier now than 5 years ago.

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Such great advice, Iris! We can always count on you to get to the heart of the matter regarding both feelings and the food. Your point on your friend saying just start with breakfast is a really good one. So often we flash forward to days, weeks, upcoming family events, etc., and we just need to follow the old advice of taking it one step at a time. Eventually all falls into place. Yes, there might be some hit or misses, but keeping it simple as you've outlined really does make everything go so much smoother.

Thanks so much for this contribution to the 30 Days event, Iris!


hunterslyonesse said...

I love how you focused on what we CAN have rather than what to avoid. It's such a pain when first starting off gf for most people that focusing on can't becomes overwhelming. It's always great to see those of us who focus on the CAN. :D

Sherri said...

Yes! A great article. Glad you mentioned the grief I certainly felt because this way of life isn't a choice it's a must. Have to agree with Wendy - it's much easier now that 5+ years ago when I started.

Alisa Fleming said...

Great post! I find that for people who are already a bit health minded, smoothies for breakfast and salads for lunch (with a simple grilled chicken breast or similar) work great too!

AndreAnna said...

This was awesome! I like how you mentioned the grief - because it is tangible and true. There really is a mourning period and it's nice to be reminded you're not crazy because you cry one day because you can't have Nanny's Cinnabon Recipe anymore.


Diane-The WHOLE Gang said...

Great tips. Love how you broke it down by the meals of the day. Brilliant!

Maggie said...

What a great idea Iris! I love how you broke it down into mealtimes. That makes so much sense and it makes it so much more manageable! I think gluten-free pasta is great too. It does get a bad rap and I'm not sure why. No one ever notices! This post needs its own section on your blog - I think it's so helpful!

Nancy @SensitivePantry said...

Iris - Great information and essential for anyone starting on a GF diet. I really resonated with your comment about meeting that one other person in the crowd who's GF--all of a sudden life gets a little more normal because you realize you're not alone. That's what I love about connecting with GF folks online. I love this community!

mcmiller said...

I actually give people nearly opposite advice - instead of looking right away at GF versions of their favorite things, I suggest they start with foods they enjoy enough to eat every day that never had gluten in them to begin with. Chipotle's rice "bol" for example, something I ate nearly every week so it wasn't new or weird. Amy's soups over a bowl of rice, or a giant salad with goat cheese, dressed with oil and vinegar, or a simple fruit and fruit juice smoothie - all meals that haven't changed a bit.

My rational is that if you jump right into the substitutes, you will always be comparing taste and texture to the thing they replaced. I went several months without Italian pasta before trying GF pasta and now I enjoy it even more because I can't *really* remember what regular pasta tasted like.

Iris said...

@Mcmiller, That's great advice too! I really believe that what works will be different for everyone, so I appreciate you sharing your approach. And your reminder that Chipotle has gluten-free options...I haven't been there in forever!

DavePR said...

Great Post. Some other good gluten free breakfast options are Kinnikinnick's glazed donuts or waffles.

Tia @ Glugle Gluten-Free said...

I love this because it gets people out of that mindset of of looking at the whole thing at once. The one-day-at-a-time or even one-meal-at-a-time approach is so much easier to handle. Great post, Iris!


kristina said...

I have heard such wonderful things about udi's and rudy's bread. I have tried udi's but have found it to be small and quite dry. Is rudy's better? I am in need of a good bread.

Iris said...

Kristina, I like Udi's so I don't know if I'm the best person to ask if you don't like it. :) But I think Rudi's is really good too. Have you ever made homemade gluten-free bread? If you try Rudi's and don't like it, I would try making some of your own so it will be fresh.

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