It was bound to happen at some point in my life. That doesn’t mean I was ready for it, but I can see that it was absolutely bound to happen. I’m talking about my doctor putting me on a special diet. It happened a month ago; “I want you to go gluten free.” Yikes! I am a HUGE pasta fan and am such a pizza snob that I refuse to order from anyone other than my favorite pizza place. Needless to say, my initial knee-jerk reaction wasn’t a good one. Still, I came home and began looking up tips on how to start a gluten free diet. I didn’t just want the how to though, I also wanted to know what the benefits of a gluten free diet are.
Thankfully my doctor didn’t just leave me on my own with nothing more than an “do this” recommendation. She told me to buy and read the book Wheat Belly” by William Davis, MD (buy it new HERE or buy it used HERE). I’ve always been the type who loves learning, so I ordered the Kindle version the day of my appointment and dug in. To say I was surprised by the info in the book would be putting it mildly. I mean sure, we all know that our diets affect our health, but I don’t think we quite connect exactly what we are doing to ourselves with the diet we currently eat.
How to Start a Gluten Free Diet
I’m grateful to have a medical provider who really does want to know why I have the symptoms I have instead of simply treating them. That is a rather new experience for me to put it mildly. As I’m sure you know, most conventional doctors are happy to simply treat the symptoms without ever finding out why. In my case, she believes the chronic pain and other issues I’ve suffered from for over a decade may simply all be due to a gluten sensitivity and since she believes in the benefits of a gluten free diet, here we are.
How to Go Gluten Free for Beginners
While I was doing research on how to go gluten free, I discovered that while there are a ton of gluten free recipes online, there really isn’t much info on how to start eating gluten free. Most places only give you a few tips, but it seems to be the same gluten free diet tips regurgitated over and over again. The truth is that most of them were “okay” but weren’t much help when it got down to brass tacks.
Tips for How to Eat Gluten Free
As I learned more about how to go gluten free, these were the nine things that stuck out the most to me. They’re also gluten free tips that I haven’t seen mentioned very often. They are by far not every tip you’ll need to live a gluten free life (Six Dollar Family), but they’re what you will need to get started.
1. Educate Yourself on How to Eat a Gluten Free Diet
The first thing you should do when you’re learning how to start a gluten free diet is to educate yourself. No diet – especially one that can be as restrictive as eating gluten free – is successful unless you arm yourself with the knowledge of how to make it succeed. You need to know the why’s and the how’s. You need to know what your goal is. You need to know what the benefits of a gluten free diet are and more. Without that education, you are setting yourself up to fail.
2. Decide on Trace Gluten
Trace gluten is found in a huge number of foods that are naturally gluten free. Quaker Oats for instance are naturally gluten free. However, because of how Quaker’s suppliers handle things, there is a possibility of trace gluten being mixed in. If you have Celiac disease, these trace amounts of gluten can continue to cause health issues even if you’re otherwise eating a gluten free diet. For those of use that are learning how to go gluten free but don’t have Celiac, those trace amounts of gluten are not nearly as dangerous.
This means that if you do not have Celiac disease, you will need to decide how you want to handle these trace amounts of gluten. You can either choose to not worry about them or you can go strict gluten free. In my case, I don’t worry too much about trace, but I avoid it IF it’s easy to do. I like using oats in my meatloaf recipe and since I don’t want to pay more for gluten free oats, I use regular Quaker oats and don’t worry too much about cross contamination.
I’m still seeing the benefits of a gluten free diet even without being super strict on trace.
3. Start a Gluten Free Diet Slowly
When I first began eating gluten free, I jumped in with both feet and gave up gluten cold turkey. Big mistake. BIG. There is some evidence that gluten produces exorphins that are similar to opiods and that going cold turkey can produce the same type of withdraw effect. Going cold turkey did exactly that for me before I even knew it was possible. After 72 hours of dealing with body aches, irritability, exhaustion, a migraine and other symptoms, I gave in and ate gluten. My “symptoms” improved almost immediately but I still felt horrible. My headache was gone, but it was replaced by a bloated, nausea feeling in my stomach.
On any other diet, I would have given up right then and there, but since this was doctor ordered, I wanted to give it another chance. It took 4 weeks to fully wean my body off gluten without those withdraw symptoms. I started by removing gluten from one meal a day, then two, then down to only allowing it 5 out of 7 days and so on. Finally, it was fully removed.
When you’re first learning to eat gluten free, take it slowly. Otherwise, your body may rebel – as mine did- and you could find yourself unsuccessful.
4. Skip the Processed Junk
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re learning to eat gluten free is automatically jumping in to go out and buy a bunch of processed gluten free foods. Usually these gluten free options are almost as unhealthy as their gluten containing counterparts. Gluten free boxed dinners that are high in sodium and carbs. Gluten free dessert mixes that are high in sugar and carbs.
I don’t think I have to tell you that those types of foods are not going to help you be any healthier. Not only are they not always healthy, but they are usually pretty expensive too which can make it very difficult to eat gluten free.
Buy Gluten Free Ingredients – Not Meals
To make eating gluten free easier both on your family and your wallet, buy ingredients and eat fresh. You will find only one prepared gluten free item in my home currently; a box of gluten free mint chocolate chip cookies that I keep as a treat for myself. Normally I have a couple boxes of Barilla gluten free pasta around too but I need to hit the grocery store soon and pick some up. Yes, Barilla is the best that I’ve found. You will, however, also find gluten free all-purpose flour and other ingredients. With ingredients, I can cook any meal I want and still keep it gluten free.
5. Keep things as normal as possible at first
Part of the reason I advise you to buy ingredients that are gluten free vs. processed gluten free foods is because when you’re making such a huge life change, keeping things as normal as possible will help make the adjustment easier. Cook as many of your normal recipes as you can using gluten free ingredients. Don’t change your kids’ snacks right off the bat unless you have to. Keeping some normalcy in your life will make it easier to wean yourself off gluten and for your family to make the needed changes.
6. Flush Your System
Another super important thing to do when you’re first learning how to go gluten free is that you will want to flush your system with lots of water. Not only will more water help your body function the way it should but it will also help remove gluten from your system. This will help your body with any gluten withdraw symptoms you may experience.
7. Don’t Tempt Yourself
I can not understand someone who eats gluten free, but has a family who does not. Frankly, I do all the cooking in this house and it will be a cold day in He*l before I fix two meals for dinner just because my family is eating too. I do not have the willpower to avoid certain foods if they are made in all their glory. Instead, my family eats what I cook.
Now with that being said, I love my family and I want them to eat meals they like and that are good for them. The truth is that gluten isn’t any better for me which means it won’t hurt them to eat gluten free either. So instead of making them eat things they don’t like and tempting myself with gluten filled foods, I cook meals they like using gluten free ingredients. They have yet to actually notice.
8. Read every single label
Gluten is everywhere. Literally. As in gluten is in things that make me question why gluten is in them. When you’re first learning to go gluten free, read every single label before you eat something. If you aren’t sure, Google it. If you still aren’t sure, skip it. The last thing you’ll want is to accidentally get something that contains gluten in your stomach. I made that mistake once. My stomach cramped and hurt for 2 days after.
9. Replace your cookware and kitchen items
Finally, and this one is super important if you or a family member has Celiac, consider replacing all your cookware and bakeware plus any kitchen utensils, dishes, etc. Anything that has potentially come into contact with foods that contain gluten. The reason for this is in how gluten can adhere to those surfaces. It is considered a sticky molecule and is really hard to get rid of once it’s on a surface.
The only things you may not need to get rid of is glass bakeware. Glass is a non-porous surface so it’s harder for gluten to stick to it. The exception is if your glass is scratched or etched in any way. In this case, replacing it is best since gluten molecules could be hiding in those scratches or etching.