It's all the rage these days-being gluten free. It's nearly as popular as bobby socks in the 50s, or as Taylor Swift at a middle school sleep over. And with all the hype, you'd think I'd be reveling in being part of the in-crowd. After all, I haven't eaten gluten for over 2 years now. How hip is that?
The reality behind my gluten free life style is much different than many people assume. The choice to give up bread, pizza, pastries, pasta, Christmas cookies, and even the croutons on my salad was not so I could lose weight or fit into a size smaller pair of jeans. I simply wanted to be healthy enough to walk across the room without having to lean on something to rest. When I was diagnosed, I was so anemic that even after multiple transfusions and prescription iron, it took over a year for my blood levels to get back to normal.
Eliminating gluten allowed me to recover. It wasn't something I did on a whim, and it's certainly not something I stick to because I enjoy it. But I do enjoy being healthy, so I say "no thank you" to caramel rolls and cracked wheat alike.
If you are recently diagnosed or have a friend who is gluten free (GF), after two and a half years without a slice of bread, I'd like to offer a few thoughts.
Quick: think of five easy things to have for dinner
... got 'em? I bet they all contain gluten. In Western societies (the US, Canada, and Europe) wheat is almost synonymous with food. In fact, we use the word bread to mean food. (Give us this day our daily bread, unless we're gluten free. Then please substitute rice or potatoes.) Because of this, it takes a mental shift to be gluten free. Mexican and Asian foods are often easier to make GF than traditional, American meals. Just make sure you get GF soy sauce as most brands add wheat.
Being gluten free can be socially awkward
Food is a connector. We eat with people to build bonds and strengthen friendships. Having to say, "No thank you," every time someone offers you a brownie or invites you to their house for dinner gets old really fast. It takes some finesse to keep your GF diet from interfering with your social life. I generally offer to have people to my place or to bring the refreshments myself. As long as I don't mention that the food is GF, no one notices!
A common solution when going out to eat with a group is for friends to search the menu, see that the restaurant has salads, and say, "Oh! You can eat salad, right? Then we're good. Let's go there!" Lettuce is nice in moderation. But sometimes it's great to eat real food. I'm not saying everyone should rearrange plans to accommodate my medical condition, but if I'm hesitant to join you for lunch, this is probably why.
A solution for those of us who are GF is to have a list of restaurants in the area that have GF options. When friends are making plans, suggest one that has something more than just lettuce as your meal option.
There are some really easy ways to eat gluten free
You just have to think outside the traditional American meal. Eating fresh food that you prepare yourself is certainly one of the easiest ways. Meat, veggies, fruit, rice, and milk are all safe for people on gluten free diets. (...with the possible exception of dairy. Many GF patients, including me, have to take about a year or so off of dairy while their body recovers.) Eating gluten free becomes expensive and tricky when you try to eat traditionally wheat-based foods. Embrace enchiladas, stir-fried veggies, baked potatoes, Pad Thai, and homemade stew.
Some people out there still think I'm doing this for kicks
As if never having even a bite of deep-dish pizza or a donut is anyone's idea of fun. This diet keeps me alive-which is a lot more fun than the alternative. But if I had things my way, I would occasionally eat a Double Stuff Oreo.