Whether it is just following dietary trends or a necessity arising from health problems, going gluten free is not easy. Anyone who made the full switch can guarantee you that. But for some reason there are still so many programs on the TV or articles in blogs and magazines trying to convince us otherwise. What should one really expect from their gluten free lifestyle? How does it look in practice?
I’d like to point out that this blog post does come from someone whose diet is purely gluten free (as I already mentioned in my last Let’s try post), yet it is in no means meant to convince anyone to go gluten free as well. This is a decision that should be taken very seriously as it can have very severe medical implications. Please talk to your doctor if you are tempted, or maybe even a certified dietitian. Don’t trust the voices on the internet, they’ve never seen you and have no knowledge as to your health’s state – and going gluten free is not something everyone is safe to do.
Gluten is everywhere
There are so many things that I would never expect to have gluten in them – and yet there it is. Going gluten free may be easier than going corn free (good luck on that one; you’d be surprised that even things like canned peaches contain corn!), but it is still a considerable challenge. Wheat is not only a great binder but it is also a great, and most importantly cheap, filler.
I hope you enjoy reading the ingredients’ lists.
Oh, and of course, there are grains other than wheat that contain gluten. Including grains that go into the production of alcohol. You cannot be gluten free without knowing absolutely everything about the ingredients that you need to avoid.
There will be some hard goodbyes
Sure, there are plenty of gluten free substitutes around, but we are all creatures of habit and we have our favourites. It is more than likely that you will have to give up on your beloved brands. You can find gluten in a chocolate bar, really, nothing is sacred here.
The same can be said about eating out. It becomes so tough after going gluten free, it can be really upsetting at first. Even things that are very much gluten free, like chips, are outside our reach in bars or restaurants – cross-contamination will become your most hated word. And even if you are doing this for medical reasons, trust me, it will damage you emotionally in ways you didn’t expect.
You will eat some really bad food
At first you’ll be desperate for the food that you have lost. It is natural; and it can be applied to other part of life too. We crave the forbidden fruit most, especially if it wasn’t long since we last tasted it.
When I first started my gluten free diet, I ate a lot of really bad food. I mean: really bad. Stuff I’d never touch otherwise. Any cake or bread was a miracle for me, no matter how disgusting it was. I was ready to eat the doughiest, tasteless, hardest pieces of hardly bound together… I don’t even have the right words to describe how much I just wanted cakes. Any cakes. All my food fussiness went away; I was prepared to eat mud if someone told me it can be made cake-like.
But eating like this one will never get used to being gluten free. It is not a whim but a life choice. Being gluten free on Wednesdays and Fridays doesn’t cut it. And if we are to eat food we don’t find tasty, this whole going gluten free thing will not last long. It is as simple as that.
But going gluten free will open plenty of doors you never considered before
However, ever since I became completely gluten free I have discovered just so much food I can eat – and tasty food on top of that!
Instead of my morning cereal, I munch on buckwheat muesli with hazelnut milk (buckwheat muesli – who outside of the gluten-free crowd can honestly say that they have ever considered that?). I pick quinoa over pasta, although I occasionally give in to red lentil or rice pasta too. And I eat just so many salads, and bakes, and fruits… My diet is now the definition of what bloggers consider eating healthy.
And ever since I turned towards more unusual food choices – and more non-processed food as well – I noticed my sugar intake decreased too. True, I still use honey and eat fruits, but unless I am baking something specifically calling for white or brown sugar, you just won’t find it in my house. It was never my intention to cut it out as well; it just sort of… happened?
Learning how to cook will become crucial
Because buying ready meals is borderline impossible now, you will find yourself cooking more. Personally I have always been a baker not a cook – hence this step was the hardest for me. Cooking is just so much fuss, and effort, and simply something I have no heart for.
Yet it is essential to be happy on a gluten free diet. There is no other way out of ‘all the take-aways contain gluten’ slash ‘most of the processed food contains gluten’ dilemma. Making something yourself is simpler and tastier. No reason to resist that.
Grocery shopping times will increase proportionally alongside your grocery bills
I mentioned reading the labels on everything, right? With time you’ll learn what to avoid and this process will become a bit less painful – but your grocery bill will remain as high as ever. Going gluten free is not cheap. Everything will be at least double the price of the gluten equivalent. It is just the way it is.
Of course since there is more and more gluten intolerant people, prices are doomed to fall a bit. For now, prepare your credit card. Oh, and probably get used to Chinese food. Chinese food, heavily based on rice and rice flour, is your friend.
The judging will be real
For some reason the mere thought of someone going gluten free infuriates a certain type of person. They refuse to believe that this can be due to medical reasons (How can food hurt you? mentality; I wish we could just serve them agaric mushrooms to prove the point) and consider it a stupid fashion that does not need to be catered for.
I cannot eat gluten. I get very very very unwell if I do – starting with headaches and stomach pain that last days and days through to severe symptoms such as limb pain and high fevers. If I eat even a little bit of gluten, I am out of function for at least next three to four days. It is not a whim. It is a disease that ruins my guts and can be potentially really dangerous to my wellbeing in general.
There are plenty of other gluten intolerant folk around; I am sure most of you know at least one person. But even if this was just a fashion choice – why would it matter? I have never seen anyone being outraged by someone not eating blueberries. Or eggs. Or any other ingredient (minus the vegans – I think vegans have it even worse than the gluten free crowd when it comes to society’s disapproval).
It should not be anyone’s business what others want or do not want to eat (unless it is other people, or a species on the brink of extinction). And when health risks come to play, this is really not a place to ignore: please, do not serve me anything with gluten. Yet it happens. All the time.
I can get used to people giving me bad looks or even openly criticizing me. I cannot get used to people serving me food I am not allowed to eat, because they think I am a health freak of some sort.
Yet you will find great refuge in the blogging world
Going gluten free does feel very lonely. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are ok with not eating gluten as well (less fuss, less cross contamination, less food envy… there are plenty of reasons to do that), but many of you may not be. There is no ground to be upset with people who refuse to stick to your diet though; it would be an act of good will if they did, not their obligation. It cannot be expected. After all, they are free to eat what they like.
Luckily there are just so many blogs offering advice on how to deal with going gluten free or just offering gluten free recipes. It is especially useful at the beginning of the road, when one knows little to nothing about gluten free cooking and baking, but this sort of support is good to have all the way through.
The one that saved me from crying my eyes out about all the things I cannot bake anymore, is definitely Minimalist Baker. I have made at least half of her recipes by now, but the recipes are not the only thing I am grateful for. It was her bakes that gave me back hope – and pulled me out of the lowest of lows, when I needed them. And I am sure that her cooking book that I just received last week will quickly become my go-to inspiration whenever I feel like slipping.
Because slipping, well, slipping happens to me all the time.
At the end of the day you will have to let it go – or you will go nuts
If there was one piece of advice I could give to anyone going gluten free, it would be: just embrace it. Accept the fact that either you want this to be your life or it just… will be your life whether you want it or not. Give in. There is no way out of it; you just have to make it work somehow.
Clinging on to what it used to be or (even worse) what it will never be, cannot lead anywhere good. Stop thinking about all the food you cannot eat. Think about all the food you can eat instead. Flip your mindset or you are in for a very unpleasant ride.
No matter how positive you will try to stay, there will be times when you will just collapse. I get these meltdowns now and then, where all I can do is sit down and cry, and ask the very dangerous question of why I cannot just be normal. They will be hard to get out of if you have no one by your side to help you – but impossible if you always focus just on the negatives.
After all if you go gluten free it is… it is just who you are. Nothing more and nothing less. And as any sort of self-acceptance, it takes time and love to find one’s confidence in it.
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