I have a gluten allergy - but when people ask me what food I’d choose if I could eat it, I usually say Cinnabon. Or Subway.
Those two choices might be worth days of aching muscles, a pounding headache, stomach pain, diarrhea and possible brain fog.
(Actually, no, they aren’t worth it.)
Some people choose to eliminate gluten from their diet due to the ‘health craze’ that started a couple of years ago, whereas I have no choice. I can’t eat anything with gluten. No wheat, rye, spelt, barley or malt.
That means no Cinnabon. No Subway. And no sweet treats that most people don’t even think twice about before indulging.
When I was diagnosed as having celiac, it was well before it was well-known. In fact, it was 14 years ago and I had just turned 21. Prime age for drinking beer with friends on a patio or at a dance club.
After my blood test came back 98% for celiac, it was bye-bye beer, and hello rice cakes. Yum.
Back in 2002, we didn’t have the gluten-free choices we do today. I didn’t get to have a donut with my coffee, or have pizza delivered on a Friday night. I couldn’t order wings at the pub while watching the game because they were either battered, or fried in the same oil as something that was flour dusted. I couldn’t grab a cereal bar while running between college classes, and I couldn’t go to an all you can eat restaurant to celebrate my friend’s birthday.
My choices were limited.
Within 2 weeks of removing gluten from my diet, I felt 100 times better. In the following months I lost a lot of weight. I felt amazing. I started going to the gym. Then I went every day. I was in the best shape of my life.
Fast forward 5 years or so later when a national pizza chain introduced gluten free pizza, and restaurants started to offer wheat and gluten free menu items. With more choices, and new ways of making some of my old favourite foods, I started to put on weight.
And people thought not eating gluten helped you lose weight.
It can, if you eat a healthy balanced diet that doesn’t have the high sugar, high calorie gluten-free foods like cakes, brownies, breads, pasta and pizza. Since I had gone without for so long, I wanted to try everything that the food industry came out with.
I started to use my ‘disease’ as an excuse for indulging. At a birthday party I’d tell myself, “Well, I don’t usually get to have cake, so I will have a slice. Or two.” At dinner parties I would always bring a homemade, gluten-free dish that I enjoyed because typically I couldn’t eat most if not all of the food that was being served. But, usually the host would feel bad, and have some sort of gluten-free product just for me. I always felt obligated to eat it, even if it wasn’t all that good.
When more gluten-free options and products were available, I started to relax with the rules that helped me feel and look my best. I didn’t check ingredient lists and product labels as often as I previously had. I didn’t stress about cross-contamination as much when ordering at a restaurant. I got lazy with my celiac.
But, I always stayed away from obvious things like Cinnabon and Subway. I did not want to suffer through symptoms for a food. At least not on purpose.
Even though I was eating gluten-free, I noticed I no longer felt as good as I knew I could. So, I brought back some of the things that helped me when I was first diagnosed.
• Check all labels for ‘safe’ ingredients
• Have separate jars/cans of commonly shared foods; peanut butter, jam, etc.
• If you aren’t sure, don’t eat it
• Treat yourself to gluten-free treats on special occasions only
• Make your own food/recipes
• Limit the amount of store bought, processed gluten-free food
I lived by these rules 14 years ago and I felt amazing. Today, I still check labels, but I don’t worry about the ‘may contain traces of wheat’ or ‘processed in a facility with products made from wheat.’
But, maybe I should worry. Maybe I should pull up my socks and get back to treating my celiac like it’s a new diagnosis. We all get comfortable with time; even with food allergies and intolerances.
So, I’d like to know how you stay gluten-free and stay safe? How do you make sure that you aren’t having any trace of gluten, but still enjoying your food? Do you try new recipes?
I’d love some tips and ideas so that I can once again be gluten-free, and fabulous!
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