Tips from a Gluten-Free Newbie

Navigating the gluten-free world is not an easy task, at least not initially. Though I’m still learning, here are some very basic tips from my first few months of living gluten-free:

1) Eat fresh, whole foods, and cook for yourself. Ditch all that processed jazz, and eat mostly plants, fresh dairy, and meats. Farmer’s markets are the ideal place to shop for this kind of food.  Additionally, gluten-free processed food can often be expensive and surprisingly caloric, so ease up, cowboy.

2) Learn to read labels. Since it isn’t always possible to eat fresh foods, you’ll need to become well-versed in the many names for gluten. It’s easiest to stick to the gluten-free aisle at the grocery store, though be sure to look for that pesky phrase “manufactured in a facility that processes wheat.” (I used to be able to eat this stuff; now I’ve gotten way more sensitive.) Eventually, though, you’ll want to venture beyond that tiny aisle, which should be no problem if you’re armed with knowledge and the right resources. Jane Anderson’s about.com articles are extraordinarily helpful, as are the lists of gluten ingredients in Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s The G-Free Diet (though all that damn bread on the cover just keeps mocking me).

3) Buy the white truffle oil. This tip comes from the Gluten-Free Girl. Giving yourself permission to use higher-quality, more expensive items from time to time  will help make your cooking experiences more joyful.

4) Talk to your friends. I was worried I would feel isolated after my diagnosis, but my friends very quickly embraced it. Explain to them what celiac is, and they’ll become your champions. At a BBQ right after my diagnosis, one friend informed me that he had double-checked all the ingredients he’d used to marinate his chicken kebabs, just to make sure I would be able to enjoy them. Another good friend always makes me a gluten-free snack when I visit her house. When my boyfriend makes breakfast, he makes sure to cook my eggs first before heating up his flour tortillas so that my eggs won’t be contaminated. The list of small but incredibly meaningful acts of awareness goes on and on. Even at restaurants, my friends will help me explain celiac to waiters, which brings us to our next tip…

5) Talk to strangers. If you explain your condition clearly and calmly, most waiters will go out of their way to make sure you have a fantastic gluten-free dining experience. And talking to new acquaintances about celiac isn’t a terrible idea either, though sometimes I do feel a bit like I’m drawing attention to myself. You don’t have to start off every conversation with, “Hi! I have celiac disease! How about you?” but when it does come up (and it will, since food is, like, life), most people have a friend or a family member who eats g-free, and they’re usually happy to share experiences and recipes. You can also seek out new friends with celiac through websites like Meetup.com in order to find others in your area with advice.

Most of all, remember that, usually, you will just plain feel better. It’s rough, but that’s a reward all its own.

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